Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and General Manager Mitch Kupchak took questions from assembled media members in advance of Tuesday’s practice regarding the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss, as well as other topics. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: On Dr. Buss’ reputation around the league:
D’Antoni: Obviously he might be the best owner ever in any sport – definitely one of the tops. One of the main reasons Los Angeles had all the success was he was like a magnet to players to get deals done and to have the best franchise out there. It went on for 30 years, so it definitely wasn’t a fluke.
Q: On his thoughts for the second half of the season:
D’Antoni: We need to make the playoffs. We have to make a run. Every game is going to be extremely important. If it weren’t before, then a little more now. Historically, everybody ups their game a little bit and you try to make a last run. We’re going to see if we can get it done. It’s a heck of a challenge, but I think guys are up for it. I’m looking forward to it.
Q: On what will be different in the second half of the season for the team:
D’Antoni: Hopefully the urgency. We’ve turned the corner 15 times so far, but we keep falling back in the same traps. Maybe the urgency will help keep us on the right path. There are no guarantees, but that’s definitely our plan.
Q: On meeting Dr. Buss and the last time he spoke with him:
D’Antoni: I haven’t really spoken to him. Never even met him. We don’t run in the same circles. You only hear great things and what he’s meant to the sport is beyond … I do know that he brought an up tempo game and Showtime, and he’s done so much for the city of Los Angeles, for this franchise and for the sport. You can’t calculate what he means to an organization.
Q: On if there’s anything he needs to change in terms of his approach:
D’Antoni: We’re going to try everything. We’ll probably try to expand some guys’ games. Maybe throw a couple wrinkles in that you always will do.
Q: On if the organization can continue on the path already established without Dr. Buss:
D’Antoni: Yeah, I think so. Just the aura of playing as a Laker and living in Los Angeles is a destination place and where players want to be. I think the organization has always been first class and I think it’ll stay that way. I think it’s something special to be here, even though we’re underwater with our record. It’s still a great place to be.
Q: On if this is one of the most difficult stretches of his coaching career:
D’Antoni: Yeah, by far. Because before you can kind of go: ‘Well, OK we didn’t have enough talent to get there.’ We have the pieces. It’s just not fitting together and it’s frustrating.
Q: On if he’s having fun this season:
D’Antoni: I don’t think it’s fun. Coaching might not even be fun anyway. It’s intriguing. It consumes you. Obviously I love to do this. This is challenging. I hope the players feel the same way. It can’t be fun for them, but at the same time, you can make it a lot of fun in the sense that we have a challenge and it’s something that we can do. It’s in our hands.
Q: On if it’s more chemistry and understanding roles as opposed to X’s and O’s as to what the team needs:
D’Antoni: A little bit of everything. Chemistry will go back to personalities and I think those are the things that are blown out. We have to be able to fit the pieces together and make sure the ball is being at different places that people can feel comfortable at what they do. We got to get Steve (Nash) more pick-and-rolls, we got to get Dwight (Howard) to post up more, we got to get the ball moving a little bit so that people can feel better about their game. A lot has been made on the personality side and whether it’s blown out of proportion, there’s some truth to it. Big deal. On the court is where we’re having our problems with the chemistry.
Q: On if he used the All-Star break to get away:
D’Antoni: Yes, I did. It was great. I watched my son’s last high school game, which was fun. He played well. I didn’t see any basketball other than that.
Q: On if there’s any need to get another player considering the struggles of the team this season:
D’Antoni: That’s something I’m sure (Mitch Kupchak) is going to explore and you can say something that will reflect on somebody. He’s going to explore all the possibilities. Again, I remain convinced that we have enough to do something right now and it’ll be pretty good.
Q: On if there’s a number in his head that the team needs to reach to make the playoffs:
D’Antoni: I would think everybody can do the math. We have to get in the 20’s – 20 or up. You won’t make the playoffs I don’t think with less than 45 wins. You might need more or a little less, but it has to be in that area somewhere.
Q: On his thoughts on Dr. Buss:
Kupchak: He brought me here in 1981 as a player and here it is 32 years later. It’s a weird feeling. Although I wasn’t kept in the loop about his progress the last couple of months, the sense was because I work with the family that I could tell the last month or so wasn’t good. Yesterday was an empty day. I couldn’t seem to find a place where I was comfortable – a room, a car, a place, a house. A major loss and person for obvious reasons. A man that brought me to Los Angeles as a player for some reason and kept me on for an additional 27 years, which is unheard of in this business. The family members were my age when I came here. To a great degree, I grew up with Jeanie (Buss), Johnny (Buss), Jim (Buss) and Janie (Buss). Joey (Buss) and Jesse (Buss) have become more involved in the last five or six years and I feel I know them. But the older four children, to a large degree, I grew up with them.
Q: On how responsibility he feels to carry on the Laker brand:
Kupchak: Ownership will continue to carry on the brand of the organization. I’m down in the field. Nobody understands what this franchise means to Los Angeles more than Jeanie and Jim and the family. Nobody does. To the extent that they’ll let me, after spending 32 years with Jerry, I think I have a feeling what he wants, too.
Q: On if he sensed the team going all in at the beginning of the year knowing Dr. Buss’ situation:
Kupchak: It was never presented to me that way. Maybe in Jim’s mind, that was something he wanted to do. Maybe it was subconscious, but it wasn’t presented that way. Each thing that took place during the offseason was separate segments. Both segments we felt at the time, and independent of each other, were something we had to do.
Q: On the loss of Dr. Buss knowing how long he’s known him:
Kupchak: Like I said, it’s unheard of in this business to be with an organization for as long as I’ve been with an organization. I’ve grown up with the family. It’s very sad to see his ownership come to an end. The saving grace is that everybody in his family continues to work for the organization and it will continue, and it will carry on in the Buss name. So I suppose like with a lot of franchises and sports franchises where somebody of Dr. Buss’ stature would pass away, there’s issues with ownership changes. That’s not the case here. We have a great opportunity to carry on his legacy as family members, John (Black), myself and everybody else that works for the organization as employees.
Q: On if basketball decisions will be made by Jim and himself going forward:
Kupchak: Correct. Up until I don’t know the exact date … I last saw Dr. Buss in the hospital in October and I know he was very involved with the decision to change coaches. At some point in maybe December or January, he became much less involved. So really, Jim and I have been working hand in hand for two or three months now. I have not seen Dr. Buss since my visit in October, so I don’t know what the extent was in his involvement other than he watched all the games. At the one point when Time Warner wasn’t available to everybody, they were able to figure out how to get the game on an iPad at the hospital through a code with Time Warner or something like that. There was a period where he watched several games on an iPad, but he watched every game and he loved his Lakers.
Q: On if he feels Dr. Buss engendered respect and goodwill throughout the league:
Kupchak: I think you see that right now with the outpouring of love, affection and respect. A lot of owners and organizations have put out statements. There are so many more ways to communicate today … just yesterday looking at the tweets and statements. Like I said, the family knew this was imminent. It was something they were prepared for. Nonetheless, going through a day like yesterday has to be pretty tough on everybody. Yet to see the outpouring of support, love and respect for this man, it had to make the family feel really good.
Q: On what he will take the most with him in working with Dr. Buss:
Kupchak: He was a loyal man. I guess the one thing … he always came at a problem from a different space. You could think that you had all the angles covered in an acquisition, trade, free agent, or a problem and you’ll sit down with him and out of the blue, he’d come at you from a different angle – a very unique angle. Most of the time, the conversation that followed was productive. He would never say he was right all the time, but he had a unique way of looking at almost every problem. I was never able to exactly precisely predict what I was in for when I’d meet with him.
Q: On how he will continue that going forward:
Kupchak: We’ll work on it. Jim and I and Jeanie will continue to work on it. He can’t be replaced if that’s what you’re asking me. Is there a way to replace him and do exactly what he did and how he did it? No. We’ll just have to attack it our own way.
Q: On how it is working with Jeanie and Jim compared to Dr. Buss:
Kupchak: The one thing I just mentioned. As years went on, he was never a man that was in the office at nine in the morning. You might see him leaving the office at nine in the morning, but you really didn’t see him walk in the office at nine in the morning. His hours were unusual and with the family members, it’s more predictable. Jim and I stay in much closer contact than his dad and I did, and Jeanie the same. She’s in the office every day – normal executive work hours. He was a little bit different in his approach to business, but always accessible. Quick to move to his cell phone; when they came out, quick with technology and very easy to reach at any point in time. A lot of our work is done in the offseason and done in the summer time. He would typically leave the country and go to Italy for six weeks. We always had a way of communicating. We’d pick a certain time. It was never a five-star hotel, but it was a nice hotel. The phone would ring downstairs in the lobby and the guy that answered the phone spoke Italian. He’d have to go up to the room, knock on the door and have Dr. Buss come down. It was a boutique kind of a situation. It was never easy, but it always worked.
Q: On if there were any memories that that came to mind in particular when hearing the news of Dr. Buss passing away:
Kupchak: There are really too many – a lot of which I could share and a lot of which I couldn’t share, to be honest with you. Magic (Johnson) tells a great story when they decided to bring me on board as a player. Him and Dr. Buss went on a picnic somewhere I believe in Palm Springs. They set up a nice blanket and basket. I don’t tell the story that well, but at that point in time, Dr. Buss said: ‘Listen, if you can bring one player to Los Angeles, Earvin, who would it be and tell me the people you’d like to play with.’ As Earvin tells his story, he said it was me and that was it. It was done. Although at that point I had some other possibilities, Dr. Buss made his mind up. To me, that’s a very flattering story that reflects my beginning here in Los Angeles and very unusual to work for one organization as long as I have.
Q: On what it has meant for the city and for the team to be family owned the way it has been:
Kupchak: The business was run by family members as a family. A lot of the employees here today have been here for many years. Bob Steiner was in this morning in my office and we were reflecting days 20-25 years ago at The Forum. A lot of people that worked for us then. Of course, as years go on, a person will leave one year; two or three years later, another person will leave. After 10 years, five or 10 people have left. But at the time, you’re not saying: ‘Everybody is leaving in one year.’ When you sit back and look back 20 years ago, you say: ‘Wow.’ You really got to know that person. At that time, there was the hockey team, there were concerts, there was tennis, there was indoor soccer, the Christmas parties, the Forum club, the press lounge, the players and their wives. Dr. Buss was always around in attending of the Forum club and the attending of the press lounge and taking his circular spiral staircase. He could walk out of his office and go up the staircase into his box at the STAPLES Center. You go back so many years and you have all these great memories of all these people you worked with. A lot of these people that work for us now have been here many, many years as well. Most of which have not been here for 30 years, but most have been here for 10 to 20 years.
Q: On if it’s institutional memory that allows a franchise so successful over and over:
Kupchak: He allowed the people that ran the day-to-day business to hire the people and to keep the people as long as he felt they should be kept. He had a vision and he got involved in the big decisions. He hired the people and he let them hire other people.
Q: On if it’s important going forward to have one voice at the top of the chain as Dr. Buss had for so many years:
Kupchak: Well, we’ll see. Obviously everybody knows where we’re heading. We’ve always had one voice and we’ll see. In the last five or six years – certainly the last year or year-and-a-half – Jim and I have been the basketball voice. Jeanie has been the business voice. The other siblings are very involved now, and everybody seems to work well together. But don’t think for a second there’s not an adjustment period. You lose a father or a leader like Dr. Buss and just knowing – although I hadn’t spoken to him in four or five months – that he was there was a good feeling to me. And he’s gone now. There will be some changes and an adjustment period, but I don’t anticipate a problem.
Q: On what the kids have picked up directly from Dr. Buss:
Kupchak: They’re all different, they’re all different. Well, Jim dresses like Jerry. His lifestyle is similar. He comes in much more than his dad did. He spends a lot more time with me than his dad did, but he’s very strong in his opinions. Yet after an hour or two or three – if I feel strongly – he’ll defer and that’s what his dad did. It goes back to what we talked about earlier: you hire people to do a job. Dr. Buss always gave his opinion, but most of the time, he’d say: ‘That’s how I feel Mitch or that’s how I feel Jerry, but as you know, I’ll defer to you.’ Jeanie is very business-like in her approach, very executive-like in her approach as we talked about earlier. Joey spends a lot of time as president of the D-Fenders. He actually runs the operations and makes a lot of decisions daily. Jesse works for me as a scout and he’s learning the business. He has a keen eye. Janie is in charge of the youth foundation, and rarely comes in. She would lean more towards Dr. Buss’ lifestyle. Jesse doesn’t come in as much. Joey is always in. Jeanie is always in. It looks to me like everybody got a little something from the father.
Q: On the working relationship between Jeanie and Jim:
Kupchak: That’s a question for them, to be honest with you. I’ve been with Jim lots of times when he says: ‘I’ve got to text my sister or call my sister.’ They’re texting, they’re communicating on the phone and they’re visiting in person. Not to say that everything is perfect all the time, but I’ve been with him on decisions and sharing information where they’ve communicated and worked very well together.
Q: On if he thinks the team has enough to turn the corner or is there a need to upgrade the roster:
Kupchak: It’s unlikely there will be an upgrade in the talent on this team. I don’t see how that’s realistic. We have Pau Gasol who’s out for another month probably, we have Jordan Hill who may be out for the season and all the other injuries that nobody else really cares much about cause everybody in the NBA has to deal with it. There’s not a way to upgrade the talent on this team, so I don’t think that’s realistic. We’ll continue to be on the phones, make calls, take calls and listen, but I don’t anticipate anything dramatic taking place in the next two days.
Q: On who his boss is now:
Kupchak: I report to Jim Buss.
Q: On Johnny Buss:
Kupchak: Johnny ran the Sparks for a long period of time and had great success. I think they won a couple championships. He was very hands on and was around a lot. I know he worked in indoor soccer. Since his work with the Sparks, he hasn’t been as involved the last couple years. Like Jim, he’s a jeans and T-shirt guy. Very similar to the dad in how they dressed – sneakers, white socks, jeans. Very casual in their approach. I’d put him and Jim in the same category.
Q: On the difficulty for Jim being seen as the guy in charge of the basketball side of things after Dr. Buss:
Kupchak: He knows what he’s in for. Following in Dr. Buss’ footsteps is like following in John Wooden’s footsteps or Dean Smith’s footsteps. But it’s also an opportunity. He just didn’t show up this year. He’s been working with Jerry and myself for six or seven years. I don’t think really anything is going to be different between what we’ve been doing and what we plan to do in he future. We’ll huddle up and we’ll make basketball decisions.
Q: On trying to balance the trade deadline and memorial service on the same day:
Kupchak: I think the memorial service starts at 3 p.m. and the trade deadline ends at 12 p.m. If we do something, I don’t anticipate it running over three hours. There’s always a possibility, and if something took place, I’d probably have to miss the service. But I don’t think there will be a problem.
Q: On if he remembers a point in his working relationship with Dr. Buss where he truly earned his respect:
Kupchak: It’s hard to say. He always kept you on edge. Like I said earlier, you sit down to meet with him and you better be prepared, and be prepared for a comment you weren’t prepared for. I guess he keeps somebody around for 32 years, maybe you did earn their respect.
Q: On if the team will not trade Dwight Howard:
Kupchak: That would be correct.
Q: On if there’s any possible moves in the works before the trading deadline:
Kupchak: Nothing major, nothing major. It’s early.