By Craig Kwasniewski
Most Lakers fans feel Jim Buss is a semi-functioning simpleton. We all went through his last reign of terror (Rudy T in 2005) and fear for the worst as Kobe’s career winds down. Drafting Bynum is the only thing he’s done right since joining the club and he’s riding that horse to the bitter end. That being said, up until last week the company line has always been, “We still feel we’re contenders!” or “In a lockout season you never know.” or “The Lakers only play for championships!”… It’s the basic Lakers hubris that the other 29 teams generally hate.
All that changed in what seems like a throw-away line in TJ Simers' article in the LA Times:
"I think we're going to be a tough out in the playoffs because of our defense," Buss says. "I understand how the fans feel and what they've been used to, because just like them I'm a fan. And I'm not happy when we lose.”
Do the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder refer to themselves as a “tough out?”
Tough out is the talk of a playoff contender not a championship contender. Jerry West said the exact same thing about the Lakers a few weeks ago when he called them, “very dangerous in the playoffs.” Translation: the Lakers will lose in the first or second round in 7 games.
Believe me, this quote, Kobe’s rant on Gasol’s trade situation, the Lakers dropping a stinker yesterday in Phoenix and Mike Brown STILL experimenting with the rotations halfway through the season are not coincidental. The players and their fans are losing patience and the reality is starting to set in: this is an average team at best. Jim Buss never talks to the media but he felt the need to calm the masses with TJ Simers of all people. Unlike his father’s extremely rare but well-measured media sessions, a Jim Buss interview has the opposite effect and sends the fans into full blow panic mode. Safe to say he doesn't really instill much confidence in ANYBODY.
(BTW – I actually like Simers when he’s not spending 500 words moaning about his family. Seriously, I hope the LA Times doesn’t pay him when he’s mailing in articles about the “bagger” or his daughters.)
Read that quote again and understand this: the Lakers are closer to rebuilding than contending. The front office knows it, the players know it and the fans are slowly starting to realize it. Instead of a tinker here or there (like using the $8 million TPE for a quality guard down the stretch for one last hurrah), the Lakers will probably move Gasol for long-term pieces. It's not a matter of f but more a matter of when. I just hope the Lakers can get close to equal for one of the best bigs in the league.