As much as it pains me to say this as a fan of Celtics basketball (please stay, Kyrie, I’m sorry about white people), the highs of Celtics fandom aren’t their highest unless the Los Angeles Lakers are better than good.
Regardless of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s personal leanings (he looks like a Blazers fan), he’d likely appreciate a well-oiled Lakers machine, as television ratings continue to decline for the league, despite a collection of talent for the ages.
Which means some major change is in order.
Former agent and current Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka can’t be trusted to capably lie to basketball players about movie stars. Think about that. This isn’t meant to cast any aspersions on the average intelligence of basketball players as much as it is to highlight the lack of situational awareness from the man tasked with running the Lake Show. Of all of the popular sports franchises helmed by eccentric personalities in some capacity, Pelinka has made himself so toxic that his poor performance could poison the well before the start of a free agency period which features Kemba Walker, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford.
Last month, rumors circulated that Pelinka’s word carries little weight around the league. According to one anonymous agent, no one trusts him. If former Lakers point-god and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson is to be believed about Pelinka’s disloyalty, then we should probably believe the anonymous agent who made his opinion known a month before Magic did.
Pelinka, however unscrupulous, doesn’t deserve to bear all the slings and arrows aimed at the Staples Center. He may make most of the decisions, but he doesn’t own the team. That privilege belongs to Jeanie Buss, daughter of one of the best professional sports franchise owners in all of American sports history.
More on Jerry Buss, from ESPN:
Kobe Bryant told one of the day’s more memorable stories when he reflected on the time Buss asked him whether he could play for Phil Jackson again, after the legendary coach had called him “uncoachable” and other unsavory things in his book about the ill-fated 2004-05 season.
Bryant understandably balked at the idea. But Buss was persistent.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘Trust me,’” Bryant recalled. “And I did. And that has taken us to a whole ‘nother level in winning another two championships.
“But that came from his vision. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew how he wanted to go about it, but he also had this ability to convince you to follow him.”
Buss never spent much time selling his vision for the Lakers’ future to the public. Perhaps he didn’t feel he needed to. Perhaps he simply knew there was nothing he could say that would go over as well as his kids simply carrying on and doing as he would have done.
The franchise Jerry Buss built has fallen well short of his vision. At present, they’re struggling to convince us leadership knows how to run an NBA franchise.
Now, six years after Jerry Buss’ passing, his daughter is consulting the wife of a former player all while whiffing on their pick for head coach and boasting a turnover rate befitting a call center, according to ESPN.
It’s bad. But a step back from the front office reveals a team brimming with talented young players, a decent amount of space under the salary cap, and LeBron James. Still, despite cash to spend and the makings of a contender after a little capable wheeling and dealing, front office dysfunction could prove enough to keep valued free agents away.
The Lakers have little hope with Pelinka at the helm. They’re in desperate need of change. They can jumpstart the rebuilding process by making a single call to the most capable candidate on the open market. A man with a well-documented love of the game of basketball, a decent amount of time on his hands, a tan suit for every pre-draft dinner with leery mothers of budding superstars, as well as a desire to try his hand at running or owning a basketball team.
Make the Call, Ms. Buss: Offer the job to Barack Obama.
If leadership could be graded on a 1-to-10 scale, “fudges lies about megamillionaires to millionaires” and “did an OK job stabilizing the economy” come in about as far apart as one can imagine. There’s little that can be said to the contrary when the guy who went 2-0 in general elections with the middle name Hussein tells a rookie he’s the future of the franchise. And if 44 says your right-hand man can’t ride the plane, he doesn’t get on the plane.
No Drama Obama might not have been what we needed when cops shot Mike Brown. But basketball ain’t bullets and bodies.
No Drama Obama could right the Showtime ship.
Beyond the gravitas inherent in taking a step down in prestige to run one of the NBA’s crown jewel, President Obama’s prior duties correlate well to the daily management of a professional sports franchise. Beyond the obvious parallel between assembling a cabinet and a front office, a VP and a head of personnel or president, and so forth, Obama is only a few thousand days removed from eight years in a role where his popularity was directly proportional, for better or worse, to his effectiveness as a leader. Much in the manner a sufficient amount of controversy made presidents toxic to members of their own party once upon a time, a gaping hole at GM places undue stress on other parts of the organization to woo free agents, negotiate in good faith, and maintain a winning culture. Obama could effectively navigate the demands of a rabid intercontinental fanbase, 15 very rich athletes, and the need to compete as both a brand and a team constrained by the most agreeable salary cap in American sports.
Unlike the last position listed on his résumé, Obama can fire or trade personnel who actively buck regime change.
Obama’s quite the elitist when it comes to assembling his teams, searching for talent from recognizable programs known for putting out solid rotational players and dynamic stars like Harvard, UChicago and UPenn, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina of the Obama-era Administration Draft. His hire would quickly move the search for talent from team lifers to the cream of the crop. A longtime basketball fan, Obama’s got the clout to pry prized personnel from the likes of San Antonio, Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee and Golden State. The Lakers under an Obama pick for head of personnel only replicate an offseason haul with players the likes of Moritz Wagner, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee if the Monstars from “Space Jam” decide to turn their rematch into a war of attrition.
The family-owned, family-helmed Lakers, who saw Buss family drama result in the jettisoning of Buss’ brothers Jim and Johnny, are a dying breed in American sports.
In an era where naming rights are sold to the highest bidder with oft-ridiculous implications, the Lakers can ill-afford to hire a candidate who demands anything less than the attention and respect of staff, players and coaches from the first second of day one. Steve Kerr isn’t leaving Golden State, Phil Jackson is never coming back (to the organization or to form as a basketball mind) and Masai Ujiri has shown no indication that he’s looking to leave Toronto.
By hiring the first black former president, the Lakers can finally settle on a direction and get back to winning basketball and taking their pick of vaunted free agents every offseason, led by a man with a proven track record of hiring capable subordinates. They can do more than make a smart basketball play by wooing (let’s say in a fever dream) Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Greg Popovich or former Lakers head coach and eternal black auntie crush Pat Riley. They could reinforce their status as the Beyoncé to the other 18 members of Destiny’s Child, ushering in a new era in sports, like they did when they pried Kareem from Milwaukee, started a rangy 6-foot, 9-inch rookie point guard in the NBA Finals or paired Kobe with Shaq.
Sure, he’s not the best X’s and O’s candidate. Neither was Rob Pelinka.
The Lakers need a battle-tested leader who can right the wrongs of his predecessors, inspire confidence, and signal the beginning of a new era of competence and overall decency. They also need it in time to maybe land a generational talent to carry the team post-Bron.