The Los Angeles Lakers have set precedent when it comes to paying top-dollar. Kobe Bryant received a lucrative $48 million contract making him the NBA’s highest paid player after suffering a torn achilles.
Current Lakers owner Jim Buss continues to draw criticism for paying Bryant so richly during the twilight of his career. The reason why Buss took such a gamble on Bryant may have more to do with genetics than loyalty.
It was his late father and former Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, who made headlines in 1979 by lavishing rookie Earvin Magic Johnson with a 25-year, $25-million contract. It seemed ridiculous in the moment, most notably the the length of the agreement . But the NBA’s increased revenue and television ratings that followed confirmed Buss’s foresight.
The latter Buss has has proven he’s a gambler like his father. Selecting little known Andrew Bynum in the 2005 NBA Draft, and passing on Jahlil Okafor for D’Angelo Russell in the 2015 installment proved he’s more than willing to risk his chips.
Despite missing the playoffs the past two seasons, and being eliminated in the first-round twice before that, the Lakers continue to rake in the dough. Forbes estimates the Lakers are worth over $2.6 billion, most in the NBA. This is in large part due to their rich local TV deal with Time Warner ($4 billion over the next 20-years.)
Needless to say the team is striving monetarily. What’s forgotten in the midst of the newfound losing ways of the purple-and-gold is that the franchise ultimately exists to make money. Although hanging banners while entertaining the fans with a quality basketball product is a top priority, what really matters is the bottom line.
By that measure, Jim Buss has become more successful than his father.
His ability to generate capital has not freed him from being viewed by a large assortment as the chief culprit behind the demise of Lakers exceptionalism.
Their belief is that Dr. Buss would have convinced both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to remain Lakers, and been able to lure Carmelo Anthony or LaMarcus Aldridge as he did with Shaquille O’Neal.
So as the Lakes go on to miss the playoffs for a third straight year during Bryant’s farewell tour, Magic Johnson believes it’s time for Buss to seek assistance.
“I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” the Dodgers owner said. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago, 21 wins last year.”
ESPN Analyst Stephen A. Smith asserted that Johnson himself assume full control of the Lakers’ affairs. This season James Worthy joined the staff as a consultant. Others believe the Lakers have made a mistake by not having more of their hall-of-farmers in the mix. But then again, some of those same people are calling for the ousting of Byron Scott.
It was the Magic-Buss connection that sparked the beginning of the Showtime era. It remains to be seen what next Jim Buss will conjure up for Lakers fans.