LeBron James’ arrival helped the Los Angeles Lakers turn the corner and recover from the worst decade in the franchise’s history.
The Lakers uncharacteristically slipped into irrelevance in the mid-2010s, at least in regards to basketball results. After Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol led L.A. to the 2010 NBA championship, the Purple and Gold racked up more high lottery picks than playoff appearances until James joined them in 2018.
The slump coincided with the organizational turmoil caused by a power struggle within the Buss family after the death of the Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss — which ended in his daughter, Jeanie, taking over as team president.
But even though L.A. won the 2020 title with James on the roster and Jeanie Buss at the helm, “Showtime” writer Jeff Pearlman doesn’t think her reign is a total success. “I mean, you can’t say it’s great. You just can’t say it’s great,” he tells Lakers Nation in an exclusive interview.
“I think one of the things that’s happened, and this might just be more than nature of the NBA, is when her dad was running the team, it was really a family business. It really was and people would stay there for decades and decades. And sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad.
“I mean, it’s not always good. But it’s definitely not the same anymore. There’s a lot in and out, a lot of people were let go. Two longtime employees Gary Vitti, the trainer, John Black, the PR guy, kicked to the curb. Like you can’t say it’s been a success.
“I mean, again, I really like Jeanie, she’s my favorite owner in sports. She’s a good person, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t look at the Lakers’ run since she took over and say this has been a wild success. You just can’t.”
Pearlman has chronicled decades of Purple and Gold success, writing “Three-Ring Circus” that told the story of the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal era in addition to “Showtime” — which HBO has turned into a TV drama series about L.A.’s triumphs in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson’s days.
And while he affirms Johnson’s brilliance as a player, the writer thinks he has proven to be an average basketball executive. And yet still, Pearlman notices, Jeanie Buss has been leaning on the Lakers legend for advice.
“I will say, despite what I just said about family. … I just think he’s been way too valued over the years,” he says.
Among other issues Pearlman has recognized, he points out the “Showtime” Lakers teams “were built organically” in contrast to the 2021-22 roster, made of a constellation of “rented parts.”
Despite the 2020 championship — a success which, Pearlman says, many people still consider to have an asterisk on it due to the games taking place in the Orlando bubble — the writer thinks James’ stint with the Lakers has been a letdown after they missed out on the playoffs in two of his four years in L.A.
“This year was hugely a letdown,” he adds. “I think the legacy will be more remembered for the failings of the front office. And you know, Rob Pelinka, probably in particular, and a little bit of Jeanie.”
Pearlman shares thoughts on James as Lakers’ power player and Russell Westbrook’s trade
Pearlman suggests James’ influence on the Lakers front office could have played a role in the franchise’s struggles outside of the 2019-20 championship season. “I’m all for players having power, I really am,” he says.
“The thing is, though, when you make relation with LeBron, you have a relation with Klutch. When you have a relation with Klutch, you have a lot of people infringing on what really is your business. And I think the weight that LeBron carries in that building is unnatural. And it used to be, you know, the power player was Jerry Buss, the number two power player was Pat Riley. And then the players, you know, and the players have their order: Magic and Kareem… And now it’s really Jeanie and kind of LeBron.
“And that’s kind of weird. That’s a weird dynamic when your player has shown he’s not that great at personnel decisions.”
Pearlman uses Russell Westbrook’s trade as an example of James’ questionable judgment.
“Westbrook is obviously the worst decision and that was him urging, and Carmelo was also another, like, when you make decisions like that, like truly when you make decisions like that, it makes you wonder, like, how biased are you toward your relationships with people as opposed to looking at it strictly as a basketball decision?” he says.
“Because those just didn’t make that much sense from a basketball standpoint. So, I mean, the Westbrook deal is gonna go down as one of the great disasters in modern basketball history. Just personnel-wise, it’s one of the worst trades of all time.”
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