The Los Angeles Lakers shocked the sports world on Friday when they fired second-year coach Mike Brown after only five games in the 2012-13 NBA season. The Lakers have been the epitome of a stable franchise known for their deliberate and astute decision making.
Newly acquired point guard Steve Nash, expected to make a major impact, has been injured for most of the games and is not expected back. New center, Dwight Howard is recovering from back surgery and is only able
to perform at roughly 70 percent of his normal capacity. The staff has installed a new "Princeton offense" that the players are still in the process of adjusting too.
With all of these challenges, fans had been warned from the beginning that it would take some time to gel. The team lost all eight of their preseason games -- but appeared to use them as a chance to view different combinations of players rather than focusing on victory. It lost four of the first five games, but the NBA season consists of a prolonged regular season spreading 82 games through many months and lengthy rounds of playoffs. So why weren't the Lakers patient with the development process?
The Lakers have always been a unique franchise owned by unique owners. Jack Kent Cooke assembled three megastars in the Forum -- Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, and the team competed for the championship every year. They were colorful and talented -- "The Greatest Show on Earth" with mercurial Cooke as the ringmaster and they knew their market -- Los Angeles, Tinseltown. Los Angeles loves
stars and spectacle. Movie stars are stars and we look for athletes to provide the same level of excellence and showmanship. Having grown up here, I know we are a city of frontrunners (except for the Dodgers), looking for the next hot happening.
Jerry Buss knew this when he purchased the team in 1979 and he assembled his favorite team -- the one that ran "Showtime." Led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, the Lakers played electrifying fast break basketball and dazzled the fans. They had attractive, marketable stars, and their rivalry with the Celtics was magical. Coach Pat Riley was telegenic and flashy. This led to the 10 NBA championships for the Buss regime.
Along the way, the Lakers started to compete with the Dodgers for the heart of Southern California sports fans. The most expensive seats sold first, ticket prices were hiked dramatically and sponsorships soared. They were hot! When "Showtime" aged, a new cast of superstars replaced it. Jerry West arranged trades for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant and signed Shaquille O'Neal. They had a massive MVP center with a charming personality and gift for gab and the best young player in the game. Phil Jackson, the best coach in NBA history added to the championships. When Shaq left, they drafted Andrew Bynum, a talented young center, and traded for Pau Gasol, an all-pro forward.
Jerry Buss has groomed his son Jim to replace him in day-to-day operations assisted by astute General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Jerry has always understood the market he operates and insisted on exacting standards and goals. He expects the Lakers to have the opportunity to compete for the NBA Championship each and every year. They expect to have a roster starring the most accomplished, exciting players in the
game. And they expect the team to play entertaining basketball.
They charge the second highest ticket price in the NBA. The Lakers charge roughly $100 a ticket, which are premium prices. Their new local television package with Time-Warner pays them $200 million a year, arguably the highest in the NBA. And they knew the on-court formula necessary to trigger the fan frenzy necessary to feed all of their revenue streams.
After losing the second round of the playoffs in back-to-back season, the Buss family knew it was time to act decisively. They traded for veteran point guard Steve Nash who they knew could feed the ball to Bryant and power forward Pau Gasol and revitalize the offense. And they arranged a trade for the best center in the game Dwight Howard and shipped off moody and undependable Andrew Bynum.
They viewed the early returns on Mike Brown's "Princeton offense" and the fact that they were 26th in NBA defense and went back to core principles. They decided that even if players adjusted to the new offense and started to win that it blunted the strengths of key stars and even worse, it was boring. Their payroll is the league's largest at $100 million, which gives them a luxury tax of $30 million. Against those economic realities they didn't blink at the prospect of buying out the last three years of Mike Brown's $11 million contract.
Jerry Buss is 78 and wants to spend his last years watching the type of basketball that he and his fans love. Get ready for some Showtime!
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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