|Born||James Hatten Buss
November 9, 1959
Los Angeles County, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Executive VP, Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Lakers|
James Hatten "Jim" Buss (born November 9, 1959) is a part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is the son of former Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Buss was president of the Los Angeles Lazers professional indoor soccer team from 1985–1989. He later trained thoroughbred race horses for nine years before joining the Lakers in 1998 as an assistant general manager. He was promoted to Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2005.
Buss attended college at University of Southern California (USC), majoring in math before he dropped out. He spent much of his youth at race tracks. Although he stood 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m), Buss attended jockey school when he was 20.[a]
In 1980, Buss invested in a small business with his best friend, but a year later, his friend died in a car accident. The death left Buss devastated and lost, and the business was left to fade.
In 1985, Buss became president of his father's indoor soccer team, the Los Angeles Lazers, after his brother Johnny had quit. While Buss did bring annual losses down from $1 million to $500,000, the team still folded in 1989. The rest of the league would follow in 1992.
Next, Buss became a horse trainer, receiving from his father the half-dozen thoroughbreds he owned. In 1997, Jerry divested himself of his horse racing stock that was increasingly unprofitable. Shortly after, he invited his son to join the Lakers, a basketball team he acquired in 1979 and built into one of the most lucrative and popular in all of sports.
Buss started with the Lakers in 1998 as an apprentice to general manager Jerry West and his assistant, Mitch Kupchak. Buss continued to learn the basketball business from his father as well as West and then Kupchak, who was promoted to general manager in 2000. After the Lakers lost in the 2004 NBA Finals, the front office, of which Buss was a part, decided not to renew Phil Jackson's contract and instead moved to sign Rudy Tomjanovich. That summer, Tomjanovich was signed to a five-year, $30 million contract. Tomjanovich resigned after a half season, citing mental and physical exhaustion. The Lakers paid him a $10 million settlement, leading to speculation that the Lakers had instead terminated his contract. In 2005, Buss was promoted to vice president of player personnel. His father's plan was to have Buss handle the basketball decisions for the team, while his sister Jeanie, the Vice President of Business Operations, handled the marketing and promotional aspects of the team.
In the 2005 draft, Buss lobbied for the team to draft Andrew Bynum, a 17-year-old center out of St. Joseph High School, New Jersey. Buss said, "I just absolutely fell in love with [Bynum] in five minutes [watching his workout]." He was also involved in rehiring Jackson as Lakers coach. Buss was the only family member present at Jackson's return news conference, which the Los Angeles Daily News deemed "significant". Buss defended Bynum even as he struggled with immaturity and injuries, going as far as to resist calls from franchise star Kobe Bryant that Bynum be traded.
After Jackson retired in 2011, Buss told coaching candidates that he wanted the team's offense to feature Bynum more. In the end, Brian Shaw was passed over as Jackson's replacement although the Lakers assistant coach was openly supported by players. Instead, the team brought in former Coach of the Year award-winner, Mike Brown, who last led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals and two consecutive 60-win seasons. Mike Brown came well prepared in his interview, bringing DVDs of game film to demonstrate his defensive philosophy, to which would lead to Buss joking "I hired him to get my hands on those DVDs.".
That same summer, in anticipation of a protracted labor lockout, the team also chose not to renew some of the team's longest-tenured employees to control costs and restructure several departments. The lockout ended in the winter of 2011.
Prior to the start of the 2011–12 season, Buss and Mitch Kupchak had a deal in place to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the league-owned New Orleans Hornets for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but NBA commissioner David Stern, acting as the Hornets president, vetoed the trade. That season, Brown expanded Bynum's role, leading the young center to his first all-star team selection. The next season, the Lakers acquired Steve Nash and finally traded the oft-injured Bynum for Dwight Howard. While the acquisition of Howard sent the team's payroll north of $100 million, it looked like the start of a new dynasty for the Lakers. Brown was then fired after a tepid 1–4 start, his dismissal coming as the third-fastest coaching change in NBA history. In a unanimous decision by Buss, his father, and Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers decided against hiring Phil Jackson a third time and signed Mike D'Antoni, author of the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns teams that starred the former MVP Nash. According to NBA.com, Jerry by that time was no longer involved in the Lakers' day-to-day affairs, and rarely exercised his veto powers. Buss, however, said his father continued to be "involved in every decision" in the final months of his life, and he also wanted D'Antoni. The 2012–13 season still ended up being a disappointment, with the Lakers only clinching the seventh playoff seed on the final day of the season and being swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Buss later lamented that "we didn't get to realize the dream of four Hall of Famers on the same team."
After Jerry Buss died in 2013, his 66% controlling ownership of the Lakers passed to his children via a trust, with each child receiving an equal 11% vote. Jerry's succession plan had Jeanie assume his previous title as team governor as well as its representative at NBA Board of Governors meetings.
In their first offseason without Jerry Buss as owner, the Lakers were stunned by the free agent Howard's decision to join the Houston Rockets. Months before, when the team didn't even look like it would make the playoffs, Jim Buss was asked what his pitch to Howard might be. "I think if it continues to fall apart because of injuries, I'm hoping we can convince him, 'Look, everybody was injured, you weren't 100 percent for the whole year, let's give it another shot next year," he said. "It points to 95 percent that we'll be able to keep him. I can't control what he does, but I can sure make a great argument."
In 2013, Buss re-signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year extension worth $48.5 million, even before Bryant had recovered from an Achilles tendon tear. Bryant went on to play just six games in the 2013–14 NBA season before injuring his left knee and sitting out the rest of the year. The Lakers finished 27-55 and ended up drafting Kentucky forward Julius Randle with the #7 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Despite making pitches to free agents LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzski and Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers failed once again to sign another star player to pair with Bryant.
The month before, Buss announced a self-imposed deadline where if the team was not back to contending by the 2016-2017 season, he would resign his post. "I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn't work in three to four years, if we're not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed," he said. "I don't know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I'd walk away and you guys figure out who's going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn't do the job."
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (October 2014)|
Ever since joining the Lakers organization, Jim Buss has undergone intense scrutiny from many league insiders, media and fans alike.
For an interview in Sports Illustrated's November 1998 issue, Buss shared some of his thoughts on scouting, proclaiming: "Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult. If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts." Though he later clarified he was only referring to the top prospects in the lottery, which the Lakers rarely got to draft, the quote remains in wide circulation and is often used by critics as evidence he doesn't appreciate the value of scouting.
The Mike Brown Hire
In 2011, when the Lakers hired Mike Brown, they also did so without consulting their star player, Kobe Bryant. Buss later said it was a mistake to not involve Bryant. Shaw, who the Lakers passed over in favor of Brown, said he was not bitter but still disappointed that after 12 years of service, they did not contact him until three weeks after their decision. The well-respected Shaw atypically criticized Buss in a radio appearance over his treatment during the hiring cycle. He also said he was informed by Jerry that "his son is in control now, and he (Jerry) [had] to let him make whatever decisions that he makes."
That same offseason also saw the beginning of the 2011 NBA lockout, during which the Lakers let go of nearly two dozen employees from the basketball operations staff, many of whom were scouts. Assistant General Manager Ronnie Lester, whose contract was not renewed after 24 years with the team, said "great organizations don't treat their personnel like they've done." CBS Sports columnist Ben Golliver commented that Lester's public criticism "shows how strongly he feels the Lakers were in the wrong here".
For his part, Buss argued the team merely wanted to prepare for the worst case scenario, adding: "We had to do what we had to do. It’s not fun; there’s no question about that." Since then, the front office has built back their scouting department to be even bigger than it was before, even enlisting Rudy Tomjanovich's analytics firm to provide advance scouting services to the team.
In Free Agency
Howard's decision to leave the Lakers and $30 million more with the security of a five-year contract was an unprecedented blow to the organization. Many openly wondered whether the Lakers could still attract marquee free agents like Howard while Buss and his sister appeared so divided. Jeanie later suggested she "would be more comfortable... if [she] understood what the [basketball] decision process was, and I’m not always involved in it."
Comments by Magic
In 2013–14, Jeanie became Lakers president, and her role included overseeing the team's basketball operations while working with Buss, who continued as Lakers executive VP of basketball operations. Former Laker Magic Johnson, who was also close to Buss' father, believed that Buss needed to put aside his ego and seek assistance to help the Lakers recruit against rival teams for free agent players.
Johnson's complaints have themselves come under fire. General manager Mitch Kupchak defended Buss, arguing that "Jim gets way too much criticism and not enough credit with the success this team has had."
Kobe Bryant agreed, adding that "from [his] perspective in [his] dealings with Jim... he’s been phenomenal."
Relationship with Phil Jackson
In May 2007, while Jackson and the Lakers were in the playoffs, Buss appeared on local radio station KLAC's show "Loose Cannons" to express his disappointment in Jackson for publicly criticizing his players. Jeanie, Jackson's long-time girlfriend, fired back later that week on the station, saying it was "very interesting" that Jim would go after Jackson the same way he accused Jackson of going after his own players. A week later, on "Roggins and Simers Squared", lead assistant Kurt Rambis also hit back at Buss, suggesting that "[he] was puffing up his chest a little bit and trying to take charge and make his voice heard and make his voice known."
Their relationship again took focus in the spring of 2011 when it came time to replace the outgoing Jackson. During his interview for the job, Brian Shaw said he had to defend Jackson when Buss spoke negatively of the former coach. In a May 2011 interview, Jackson said "there's really not a relationship" with him and Buss. However, Buss in 2013 denied the perception of his relationship with Jackson. "I have zero problem with Phil, and Phil has zero problem with me." Buss said he would be fine if Jackson, who is engaged to Buss' sister Jeanie, was on the Lakers' payroll, but only as a consultant. According to Jeanie, Jackson served as an unofficial consultant: "Phil is a part of the organization because of me ... Jim and Mitch know Phil is a phone call away." Kupchak confirmed that he had interacted with Jackson on unspecified team issues. However, Jackson did not envision a role on the team unless there was "some seismic shift" in the organization. Jeanie also said the Lakers were "in good hands" with Buss and Kupchak in their current roles.
Nevertheless, in 2014, public pressure began to mount on the Buss family to hire Jackson, as he was discussing a front office position with the New York Knicks. However, the Lakers did not have a suitable front office role to offer him, and Jackson joined the Knicks as their president of basketball operations.
Buss is introverted and avoids the spotlight, and has never joined any on-court public ceremony for the Lakers. He rarely speaks in public, with Kupchak usually handling the speaking responsibilities regarding player personnel. Buss is sometimes portrayed in the Los Angeles media as a slacker with his father's tastes but without his business savvy. In 2013, Buss said the playboy image stemmed from his clubbing with his dad 30 years earlier, but stated that he became a "stay-at-home guy. That's where I like to work."
Buss married in 1983, and the couple adopted a son, Jager. Buss and his wife separated months later, but continued living together for six months while a social worker was monitoring the adoption. They divorced in late 1985 with Buss gaining sole custody of their son.
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