Heisler: Lakers front office needs to catch up – and grow up

first_imgSo much for the Lakers’ season, which no one envisioned watching the South Bay Lakers finish up for them.Lakers fans hope the team knows what it did wrong … more than Jeanie Buss acknowledging they didn’t “live up to the brand,” which is nice but hardly specific.Of course, if they know what’s wrong, their only organizational change won’t be scapegoating Coach Luke Walton, as they’re sure to do as soon as the season ends.Their problem isn’t in their stars with LeBron James still playing like LeBron James at 34, and capable of attracting help if he has to invite recruits on his TV show, superstar by superstar, starting as he did with Anthony Davis. Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions Johnson thought he and Pelinka had it covered.The high-strung West had been high-maintenance as Lakers GM, needing constant reassurance and often hinting at leaving. Johnson once joked he would believe it “when I see Jerry standing at the podium.”West finally did bolt in a stunning move in 2000, walking away from a three-year, $4.5 million deal, with Shaq and Kobe having just won the first of their three titles in a row.West didn’t even appear at the podium when the team made the announcement. Nor did Jerry Buss, commenting in a prepared statement.Nevertheless, West at 80 remains what he always was, someone who makes everyone in the room smarter.For the Lakers, the failure to bring him back remains what it always was, a long-running miscalculation about who they were.Of course, the Lakers just got a season-long course in who they are and what they need. Now to see if they get it.Mark Heisler has written an NBA column since 1991 and was honored with the Naismith Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award in 2006. His column is published weekly during the NBA season with the Southern California News Group. Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Pelinka knows the NBA from his years as an agent, but his prior career might have complicated this one in dealings with some former competitors.Whatever it was, things blew up last summer between the Lakers and Aaron Mintz, the agent for Paul George and Julius Randle (and former Laker D’Angelo Russell).The Lakers fumed when George went to OKC without even meeting with them after having blown them so many kisses.The next thing you know, the Lakers had released Randle, writing off their four-season investment in him and his ascending curve, averaging 19.5 points per game after the All-Star break in his final season with them.Even if the Lakers were right in thinking Randle didn’t fit with James, they should have been able to get a first-round pick for him. Instead, they got nothing.It was just one more bad call in a long list.Instead of surrounding James with shooters, Johnson announced that wasn’t the way to beat Golden State … a totally addled theory that flew in the face of the most basic principle … before reversing himself at midseason, giving away promising center Ivica Zubac in their search for someone who could make the open 3-pointers LeBron freed them up to take.Even more fundamental than that, they should have recognized they weren’t ready to challenge the Warriors in a transitional season with so much money saved for this summer and so many new arrivals on one-year deals.If Johnson had questions about Walton, as events would suggest, Magic should have had realistic goals, making it possible to back Luke, who had earned it, coaching last season’s young team to 35 wins after a 12-27 start.Instead, Johnson went off on Walton after seven games, making him a lame duck before Thanksgiving.Amazingly, in light of all the Lakers did wrong, what they did right was spectacular, landing James, bringing them to the threshold of putting together a LeBron-A.D. nucleus that could make this debacle worth it.Even so, the Lakers’ front office has a lot of growing up and catching up to do. Theirs was once the Mount Olympus of front offices, with “the Jerrys,” Buss and West, building the marquee franchise of the post-Bill Russell NBA.West was often on the golf course by noon, himself, but not before coming into the office and returning calls to everyone who had called, from GMs to agents to the lowliest writer from the smallest newspaper.Aside from brains, West’s gregariousness made him special. GMs tended to interact in networks – Dean Smith guys, Jack Ramsay guys, Don Nelson guys – but West was welcome in all, spending hours a day on the phone with his peers, making him as well informed as anyone in the league.When their “Showtime” team got old, the Jerrys rebuilt from ground zero in five years, the time it took to get Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant after Magic’s 1991 retirement.Of course, the question now is how West, the Lakers icon, became a Clipper.Wrapping up his time as a Warriors consultant in 2017, West hoped to be invited back to the Lakers, but he wasn’t asked.The Lakers’ indifference to rehiring him went back years. If the idea of paying someone millions merely to consult would start with West, it wouldn’t be with his old team.Buss continued to value his counsel after West stepped down as Memphis GM in 2007, but never thought of paying for what he got for free … not to mention the unsettling effect it would have on son Jim Buss, the anointed scion of basketball operations.Cut to 2017 when West’s consulting deal with the Warriors ran out, with the team having just won two titles and about to get No. 3.West was close with Magic and Jeanie Buss. Jerry’s son, Ryan, was a well-regarded team executive.It seemed a perfect fit … just not to the Lakers as West acknowledged, sadly, announcing he would, instead, join the Clippers.“Sometimes I thought in my life that maybe that (rejoining the Lakers) might be something that I can revisit, or they would want me to revisit, but that didn’t happen,” West told Dan Patrick. “It kind of sent me a message that they wanted to go elsewhere …”All together in Lakerdom … gulp!The Lakers could think of myriad reasons for not rehiring West.He was 79.Related Articlescenter_img Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersNor do I believe Walton was the problem.Foremost in the bumbling was their front office, which was behind the curve in wisdom, poise, awareness and, shockingly, effort.Magic Johnson isn’t actually a full-timer in the usual NBA sense. He’s rarely in the Lakers’ office, big-footing the process like Michael Jordan in Charlotte.Not that there aren’t other head guys with light schedules but they have No. 2 guys who take up the slack.Johnson’s GM Rob Pelinka is a bright guy, but like Magic isn’t a regular on the scouting trail, or wasn’t until they realized they were looking at a lottery pick instead of a playoff berth.last_img read more