With the Luke Walton hiring, it’s just about that time we discuss the most divisive subject among Laker fans………………………………………………………………………………..
First, let’s be real with ourselves on the subject of Mitch and Jim’s employment with the Lakers. As fans of the team, we don’t really have much of a say on what happens. It’s entirely up to Jeanie as to whom she employs as the GM and President of Basketball Operations. Let’s get right down to it.
Now This Is Going To Be Fun
July, 05 2012 – Jim, Jerry, and Mitch made a blocker buster trade with the Phoenix Suns to acquire Steve Nash via sign and trade. Courtesy of ESPN’s Marc Stein.
Nash will receive a three-year deal for an estimated $27 million because the Suns ultimately agreed to sign-and-trade him to the Lakers, who can absorb Nash via the trade exception they created by dealing Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks in December.In return, the Suns get four draft picks — first rounders in 2013 and 2015 and second rounders in 2013 and 2014.
August, 10 2012 – After weeks of rumors and speculation, the Lakers finally got Dwight Howard in a Laker uniform. Courtesy of Adrian Wojnarowski:
The Lakers will send All-Star center Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers, who also will receive shooting guard Jason Richardson from the Magic. The Sixers will send guard Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. The Magic will receive Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, rookie swingman Moe Harkless, forward Josh McRoberts, forward Christian Eyenga, a first-round pick from either the Nuggets or the New York Knicks in 2014, a protected first-round pick from the Sixers, a protected first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017, a second-round pick from the Nuggets in 2013 and a conditional second-rounder from the Lakers in 2015. In addition to Howard, the Lakers will also receive Earl Clark and Chris Duhon from the Magic
At the time, this trade was incredible for the Lakers. Bynum had worn out his welcome, especially after his antics in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals against Dallas. Throwing J.J. Barea off the court warranting an immediate ejection, was just the start. For the Lakers to get a player of Dwight’s caliber at the time, and only give up Bynum and a couple of picks, was a huge win for the Lakers. The only issue at the time seemed to be the fact that Howard was in the final year of his contract. With Gasol, Kobe, and Nash under contract for at least 2 more years, the thinking in LA was that there was no way that Howard wouldn’t sign with the Lakers in the 2013 offseason; especially with the guaranteed Championship that was coming our way with the first “Big Four” in basketball.
In my opinion, despite how rough the last 3 years have been, 2012-2013 was by far the roughest season in recent memory. The Lakers were incredibly talented with Kobe, Dwight, Nash, and Gasol. Mike Brown was going to get a full season to show us what he has with a stacked team, that was ready to become champions again. On paper, the team should’ve jumped out of the gate. In reality, they faltered and started 0-8 in the preseason and 1-4 in their first 5 games. The first bad sign was a collision Steve Nash had with Damian Lillard on November 1st, while playing against the Portland Trail Blazers. Initially, it was thought just to be a bruise, however it turned into a micro-fracture. When this was determined, it was said he would only be out for a month. Jerry Buss couldn’t see anything improving, so he pulled the trigger and fired Mike Brown on November 9th, 2012. Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff took over intermittently, while Jerry, Jim, and Mitch looked for a new coach.
The Fire Rises
The coaching search began, and 2 candidates immediately took the reigns as the front-runners. On one side you had Phil Jackson – 2 years prior to this season he had retired from basketball all together. As the fiancé to Jerry’s daughter Jeanie, Phil was ever-present in the stands or in the building in general. Often seen sitting a few rows up next to Jeanie he watched the team, and even stated that he was willing to listen to offers to rejoin the team as a coach as CBSSports.com reported at the time:
Phil Jackson has emerged as the clear leading candidate to be the Lakers’ next coach, and two people connected to the 11-time champion coach told CBSSports.com on Saturday that all indications point to Jackson wanting the job. “Phil wants it,” one of the people with ties to Jackson said.
Phil was the clear fan favorite to return, though in my opinion, this would’ve been a short term solution to a long term issue. We had already had trouble getting away from Phil once before, and this time it would’ve been harder. Phil’s plan was to only coach home games and let an interim coach be there for the away games, because of his hip issues that ailed him throughout the 2nd title run. Later, he would take over Jim’s job as VP of Basketball Ops and Jim would be let go. This was never said in the media, however, this was the eventual plan. Jerry did not want this at all.
The second option, and front office favorite, was Mike D’Antoni. Jerry was fascinated with the showtime era, and felt that D’Antoni could usher the Lakers into showtime 2.0. D’Antoni had burned the Lakers with a Suns team that had maybe 2 stars between the years of 2005-2007. Jerry also sensed a change in the way teams were playing offense, and wanted to be ahead of the curve. He was right about everything, however, the timing and the team was not. Many Lakers fans felt that Jim and Mitch were the ones that hired D’Antoni, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The 3 had collectively decided that D’Antoni was the correct coach to go with, and in the end, Jerry was the one who pulled the trigger yet again. At this point, fans felt spurned by the decision, still feeling that Phil was the best coach for the personnel the team had at the time. In many ways, they were right. Howard, Gasol, and Kobe would’ve been perfect for the triangle. That said, on Nov. 12th, 2012, Mike D’Antoni was hired as the new coach of the Lakers. Ironically, during this entire process, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff led the team to a 4-1 record in the 5 games that he coached them.
Under D’Antoni, the Lakers limped to the All-Star Break with a 25-29 record. Questions of Dwight’s commitment, and Kobe’s harshness on his teammates, began to take over headlines. Even during the All-Star break, as reported by Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports:
Amid other reports that the Lakers’ chilly on-court chemistry was spilling into the locker room, we’re told that Howard “grabbed Kobe’s uniform, put it on, and imitated him in front of all the other players on the West team. He was joking and berating Kobe” to fellow NBA stars, including the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. The source added Bryant later arrived in the locker room, “said hello to everyone on the team except Howard, grabbed his stuff and moved as far away from Howard as he could.
It was clear that Kobe and Dwight were not getting along, but after the All-Star break, they seemed to put aside their differences and went on a tear, winning 20 of their last 28 games to finish the season at 45-37; finishing 7th in the Western Conference. Game 80 would spell doom for the team, however. With 3 minutes to go and the Lakers trailing by 1, Kobe Bryant drives to the elbow and is fouled by Harrison Barnes. When he fails to get up quickly, a silence fell over the arena. After 2 grimacing free throws, it was determined that Kobe Bryant had torn his Achilles, and was out for the rest of the season and postseason. With the way Kobe had been playing, this was a massive blow to the entire franchise. The Lakers would get swept by the San Antonio Spurs and a huge off-season would ensue.
The Clown Leaves Town
The Lakers traded for Dwight with the assumption that he was going to sign the 5 year max deal in the offseason, and remain a Laker for the remainder of his career. This was never a sure thing however, and with the tension and disdain that had grown between Dwight and Kobe, the 100% chance he was returning had started to fade. With Kobe out for the foreseeable future, the Lakers were desperate to keep the Center in LA, simply because the fall out would likely leave the Lakers in a scramble for players. Multiple reports came out from Howard’s camp, wondering if the Lakers were not only going to fire Mike D’Antoni, but also if they were going to use their amnesty clause on Kobe, who was in the final year of his contract; as Ric Bucher reported at the time:
The Lakers could have re-signed Howard rather than allowing him to agree to terms with the Houston Rockets, but they would have had to adhere to his demands. Not only did he want D’Antoni fired, but Howard wanted the Lakers to either amnesty Bryant, or control his verbal lashings toward Howard and others at the very least.
After the 2012 CBA, teams were granted one amnesty which would give the team the ability to amnesty a player and eliminate his contract. However, the Lakers front office was not willing to grant that for him. Despite signs on the sides of Staples and expensive billboards throughout LA;
The Center decided to spurn LA and sign a 4 year max deal with the Houston Rockets. This unprecedented move left the Lakers front office in shambles at the time. Instead of building a team around the All-Star center, they had to build around the coach they had, and his strengths.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: What was not reported much here was that Jerry Buss was no longer making decisions for the Lakers. The request from Dwight and his camp to fire D’Antoni and amnesty Kobe was solely on Jim and Mitch’s plates. In hindsight, the way the Rockets played this season actually ended up being a very smart decision by Jim and Mitch. Howard continued his uninterested play and went from top center in the league to pariah in the 3 seasons he played for Houston. SMART MOVE
2013-2014 Someone Call An Ambulance
After Howard left, the Lakers the front office was left picking up the pieces. With little to no cap space there weren’t too many options at the time. They constructed a roster that consisted of former high draft picks that never panned out. The hope was that if D’Antoni had been successful with scrubs before, why couldn’t he do that again. With players like Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, and the charismatic Nick Young, the team was constructed with the available players to fit D’Antoni’s offense. With the hopeful return of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers still had a strong foundation of Bryant, Nash, and Gasol. Bryant wasn’t set to return till middle of the season, though. They started off relatively well and finished 10-10 in their first 20 games. The injury bug crept in and dismantled the Lakers from the inside out. Kobe came back for 6 games but was then forced to sit out with a micro-fracture in his knee. Nash went from having knee problems, to having knee AND back problems. Gasol was never 100% and missed a chunk of games as well. In the end, not a single player played in more than 79 games, and the final roster count for the amount of players that had put on a purple and gold jersey was 19. Famously, in a victory against the Cavs, Robert Sacre fouls out at one point. There was no one else to replace him, so the Lakers were assessed a technical foul and would be for every foul Sacre committed past that. Despite all this, the Lakers somehow managed to finish the season at 27-55, which was a small miracle in itself. All fairness to Mike D’Antoni, he somehow led a group of rag-tag players to 27 wins, with an extraordinary amount of injuries throughout the entire season.
Regardless of who was suiting up for the Lakers the media, and former Lakers ripped into Mike D’Antoni. Kobe lost complete faith in Mike D’Antoni’s system despite only playing in 70 games with it. Byron Scott, Time warner Sportsnet commentator at the time, shredded D’Antoni’s defensive woes. James Worthy was not much better constantly berating D’Antoni for the same thing. The combination of the constant berating and the fact that Jim and Mitch were unwilling to guarantee a season beyond 2014-2015 led to Mike D’Antoni resigning. This was the last coaching hire the late great Jerry Buss made.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: I cannot stress enough to the Laker fans that Mike D ‘Antoni was hired by Jerry Buss. Despite constantly being told otherwise by the likes of Stephen A Smith and Magic Johnson, MDA was not a Jim hire. That said, D ‘Antoni did a lot of good things for this team. The shroud painted by Magic Johnson over achievements that D ’Antoni made was a disservice to a great coach, and extremely petty from a well-respected former Laker. I’ll give Jim and Mitch a DECENT MOVE simply because the team they had constructed without Dwight, fit D ’Antoni’s system. It’s not always easy to find the parts as they did. Ironically, the team we had last season would have been terrific for Mike D’Anitoni.
Purple And Gold; Mamba For Life?
During the 2013-2014 season, one of the more important decisions for the Lakers front office was to make sure Kobe was a Laker for life. Kobe was set to be a free agent in the coming off-season and it was important that the Lakers signed him to finish out his career in the purple and gold. For many, the contract extension, (2yrs 48.5 million) was a highway robbery, considering at the time, Kobe said he was still recovering from his torn Achilles. Many blamed Jim Buss for this contract, and rightly so, but few have actually given Jim credit for the contract. It was extremely important for the Lakers that Kobe finished out his career as a Laker. It was also important to the Lakers that they show the rest of the NBA players that the Lakers take care of their own. Considering the near future looked grim. it was important that they continued to fill up the arena even if it was just to see Kobe.
SIDE NOTE: Without Kobe, the last two seasons would have been far worse than they were. Yes, Kobe missed most of 2014-2015, but without him in 2015-2016, there would have been no fans. Without Byron, we would not have had a happy Kobe. Kobe and his historical 60 point game would never have happened had it not been for that final contract. TOUGH BUT SMART MOVE
The Rebuild Begins
The first thing the Lakers had to focus on in the 2014 offseason was the 2014 NBA Draft. Many scouts predicted this draft to be the most talented since 1996. The Lakers received the #7 pick in the draft. so the possibilities weren’t endless, but there were some strong candidates. In the end, they chose a 6’10 forward out of Kentucky, named Julius Randle. Julius was a ball handler built like a bulldozer. One of the main reasons he fell to the Lakers was questions about his knee that kept him out of half the NCAA season as well as his foot issues. He impressed the Lakers so much that they took the risk on him. Giving up their 2nd round pick in the Howard trade, their draft looked to be done. The Lakers surprised everyone by paying the Washington Wizards $1.8 million for the rights to Jordan Clarkson. This 6’5 guard from Missouri turned out to be the steal of the draft. He turned into an All-Rookie player, and looks to be a solid contributor in the near future. It was a gamble, but Mitch and Jim hit a homerun. Though Randle was injured his rookie year, you can argue that the Lakers were the winners of the draft.
SIDE NOTE FROM MYSELF: It’s necessary to say, but Mitch and Jim killed this Draft. Wiggins was traded to the Cavs. Embiid hasn’t played a single minute in the NBA. Gordon has become a high flyer, but not great otherwise. Exum was also decent in his first year. Smart is a good defender but a terrible shooter. Needless to say, INCREDIBLY SMART MOVE.
Swing And A Miss
With Kobe signed and Pau Gasol coming off the books going into the 2014 off-season the main focus was to sign another max player, and attempt to resign Pau Gasol. Some arguments can be made that we should’ve traded Pau Gasol during the season, however the returns were very low. Jim and Mitch decided to stick with Pau in the Hopes that with Kobe resigned they could resign Pau and have a solid unit again. In all Fairness the free agent pool that year was really LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and others. The Lakers contacted LeBron’s agent but LeBron was more interested in either returning to Cleveland or staying in south beach. The main focus was on Carmelo Anthony. Kobe and Carmelo were really good friends and the Lakers front office went after him hard. Gasol even stated that he would resign with the Lakers should Melo decide to sign with the Lakers. For Melo it came down to LA for 4 years for approximately 25 million or New York, and Phil Jackson for 5 years 120 million. In the end Melo to the extra year and resigned with the Knicks and Phil Jackson. While swinging and missing on Melo and LeBron, lower tier Free Agents started flying off the board. Free agents like Isiah Thomas signed elsewhere though outside of the big 2 the free agent pool was very thin. The aftermath of these swing and misses could’ve been disastrous. Jim and Mitch could’ve spent gobs of money and years on lesser free agents, but instead they decided to hold fast, sign a few 1 year deals so they can line themselves up for the slightly better 2015 free agent year.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: One situation you can say they mishandled was that of Kent Bazemore. Bazemore had come over to the Lakers via trade with the Golden state warriors for Steve Blake. At the time he was starting to become a decent player. Nick Young had come off an extremely productive season, and was a fan favorite. Lakers decided to let Bazemore leave and signed Young to an extension for four years. In Hindsight this was a poor decision. Bazemore went on to become a very solid player in Atlanta, and Nick Young’s skill fell off the face of the earth. Situations like this are almost impossible to determine so this is a tough one BAD MOVE
To make this article shorter I won’t go over the main portion of the Byron era. If you would like to read up on that here is the piece I wrote about how excited I was at first. Only to have my excitement turn to sadness then to frustration:
Byron, Protection, and Cap
In order to keep Kobe happy for the last 2 years of his contract or his career it was important to hire someone who he trusted and that could appease him. Jim and Mitch knew that the final 2 years were going to be abysmal. It seems that despite the anger he caused for his 2 year tenure, Byron was hired to lose and keep Kobe happy. He did an incredible job at both in the long run. In a way you can say that Jim and Mitch were driving the tank. They had to hope that Kobe would remain happy and hope the Lakers either became competitive, or poor enough to keep their protected picks that were supposed to go to phoenix. If you look at other teams and their trades such as the Knicks and the Nets. Their inability to protect their picks has completely backfired on them. Both teams are terrible and have nothing to build upon since they have no draft picks for the 2016 NBA draft.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: The ability to protect the pick in the monster trade for Nash was an incredibly smart move. You have to give credit to Jim and Mitch as it seemed they prepared themselves for either success, or utter failure. The Knicks (Melo trade) and Nets (Paul pierce, Kevin Garnett trade) were so sure that they would be successful they had no fall back plan in case of utter disaster. Jim and Mitch did. SMART MOVE. Regarding the Byron as said he was simply here to lose and keep Kobe happy which in the end was a success.
When the 2015 season ended the Lakers finishe 21-61 and finished 4th to last in the NBA. This meant that they had a %35.1 chance or better to keep their top-5 protected pick. Against some pretty significant odds they were able to draw the number 2 pick in the draft. With the young 6’10 Phenom Karl Anthony Towns the consensus overall #1 pick it was down to the gifted guard from Ohio St. D’Angelo Russel, or the offensively gifted center from Duke Jahlil Okafor. It was almost certain the Lakers were going with the center out of Duke till the last-minute when the Lakers chose D’Angelo Russel with the number 2 overall pick. Scouts said Russel was one of the greatest passers in NBA history. Most importantly for a team needing a replacement for Kobe, they stated that he had the 2nd highest super star potential, but he also had the highest bust potential. The 2nd pick they got from Houston for taking on Jeremy Lin’s contract. At #27 they selected high-flying 6’9 Forward Larry Nance Jr. out of Wyoming. Nance turned into a high-flying freak of an athlete that plays hard with a lot of energy. Many consider him to be a steal at the position he fell.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: It’s still too soon to say whether or not the decision to draft Russel over Okafor was the right one. Russel showed flashes of greatness many times throughout the 2015-16 season, but he also showed moments of immaturity, though he is only 20. A video recording situation between Russel and Nick Young was point number one in the immaturity. He showed great pose in the aftermath of that and seemed to have grown from it. Okafor on the other hand had just as good a season however he had major off the court issues at the start of the season. He was involved in a few fights and clearly was drunk in one video. Only being 20 at the time it was not a good thing. Larry Nance Jr. on the other hand was an excellent pick up for them. Considering how low they grabbed him and the talent he showed this was a SMART MOVE.
LA to LA?
When Randle went down for a season in 2014 there really was nothing that the Lakers had to show for the future minus Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson was the single bright spot for the Lakers in 2014 and there was no reason for an aging free agent such as Lamarcus Aldridge to want to come. The Lakers went hard after Aldridge in the 2015 off-season having 2 separate meetings with him, however in the end it was the Spurs who were able to sign him. Despite fan outrage, it was completely outrageous to believe he was going to sign with a team that had little to no assets. An unproven draft pick, a power forward that lost his Rookie season to injury, a 2nd round draft pick who looked great on a bad team, and an aging star just coming off his 3rd injury in 3 years. There was nothing appealing for an aging superstar to come to a rebuilding team.
BAD MOVE or SMART MOVE: Overall the inability to sign a major free agent was more about the lack of anything presentable in terms of outlook for the future. With free agency being so late in player’s careers now it’s almost impossible to convince a free agent to expect a quick turnaround. Rebuilding has to be done in the Draft or a trade. Free agency is now a means to an end rather than a rebuilding piece. Free agents leave their current situation to go to a situation that’s going to give them a chance to win. You can say that going after fool’s gold was a mistake, however as Lakers you are almost obligated to go after the big names and hope that you convince one to stay. This just comes with being a GM/VP for this team. Instead Mitch and Gm took on bad Contracts, signed a good piece for the future in Lou Williams, and set themselves up with 2 max slots for this season. DECENT MOVE
The Final Tally
With the 2015-2016 season fresh in our minds, and this article going way longer than I anticipated I’ll wrap it up here. The Final tally is 4 smart moves, 3 decent moves, and 1 bad move with the Nick Young resigning. Media folks like Stephen A. Smith and Steve Mason from ESPNLA 710 will have you believe that the Lakers have done nothing but fail the past 3 seasons. With a pair of trades for superstars that just didn’t work out. A failure to sign big name free agents. An extension of the player that got us through the last 2 years of his illustrious that hindered things for themselves. A pair of failed coaching hires, though one wasn’t entirely on them. Most importantly missing the playoffs 3 years in a row for the 1st time in history, and 3 of the worst season in franchise history. It’s understandable that they would feel that way. That said the one thing they constantly omit is that the recent CBA was designed to hinder big market teams such as the Lakers. People go back to the Jerry West acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. In today’s CBA O’Neal would’ve been a Restricted Free Agent, and make no mistake Orlando would’ve matched any offer at the time.
It’s time for Laker’s fans to realize what Mitch and Jim have done with the hand they were dealt is pretty astonishing. The Lakers now have an opportunity to sign 2 max players. They have a foundation of 4-5 young players that were all either drafted, or picked up via waiver wire with Black. Hiring Luke Walton to develop the young players as well as develop himself. The assets are there and the future is bright. It’s time to cut Jim and Mitch some slack. The self-imposed “Contender” deadline that Jim placed on himself is going to be very hard to reach, but the Laker’s are on their way. In my opinion I trust Jim and Mitch and there really is no reason for me not to.