Lakers President and Governor Jeanie Buss sat down with television voice of the Lakers, Bill Macdonald, for an interview on Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday evening. Below is a transcription of the conversation:
Q: On how she’s handling this season:
Jeanie Buss: I think it’s been extremely frustrating. I understand why the fans are frustrated. A lot of injuries that weren’t expected and certainly we were all looking forward to the return of Kobe Bryant from his injury, and he came back successfully, but it was short-lived. I don’t think I can remember a season like this in all the years I’ve worked with the Lakers, and the good thing is that there’s going to be a next season and we’ll have an opportunity to get things back on track.
Q: On why Phil Jackson is now working for the New York Knicks and not with the Lakers:
Buss: I think it was clear that Phil wanted to go back to work. He had been talking to different organizations, and for me personally, I like having Phil around, but there was no role for him with the Lakers. He’s too good of a basketball mind to just sit at home in a rocking chair playing Solitaire. He decided, and I feel comfortable with that, and he knows my commitment is here with the Lakers. The Lakers are my life. For him, the Knicks will be a job that will have a beginning and hopefully for him, success. Not over the Lakers, but in the Eastern Conference, and it’ll someday come to an end because he’s a hired person. But the Lakers are my life and it’s a family business. This is going to be my family forever.
Q: On if Phil Jackson was ever offered a job in any capacity, and if not, why:
Buss: He was not offered any official position. Fans will recall seeing him when we retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey, for example. He came and he was part of that ceremony. There were a lot of Laker functions that Phil was with me because he was there to support me, in no official capacity. There is no role in the front office for him for what he could contribute. Maybe I could have him sell sponsorships or do something like that, work security, but I don’t think that would be something that would give Phil the kind of challenge he is looking for that would fulfill him. Everybody that knows when you’re involved in a relationship, if your significant other isn’t happy or satisfied with what you’re doing, it’s not fun. Everybody has to find what their passion is and for Phil, basketball is his passion and he’s good at it. I wish him well. Again, the Knicks can do well, but I want the Lakers to be number one. If we meet in the playoffs, that means we’ll both be in the Finals. I welcome that opportunity because I know the best team will win.
Q: On if having a relationship with someone in another organization will be a conflict of interest:
Buss: There has been that discussion with the league and I had dinner with Commissioner Adam Silver last night. There is an understanding that, all trades are approved by the NBA, and I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers. I don’t really (know) where there’d be a conflict.
Q: On if she is as dedicated to the Lakers franchise as she’s ever been despite not showing up regularly to home games:
Buss: I’m as devoted as I’ve ever been. I understand because I haven’t been at a lot of games the last two years. I hope people understand that I was being selfish with my time. Two years (ago), I wanted to spend as much time with my father as I could. In the last year, I’ve spent that time with Phil because people have to remember when he was coaching, he was gone half the time on the road. I missed that time with him. Just in this last year, if I worked all day, came home and then went to the game, I’d only see him for an hour every day. It was nice to be able to stay home with him and watch the Laker games on television like so many other fans. So I understand that people may have wondered where I was, but I was just as much in love with the Lakers as I’ve always been. Again, the Lakers are my life. This is the family business and the family is going to own the team as long as the family is together. If I think now that my fiancée is going to have something to occupy his time, that’s going to free me up to go to games.
Q: On how their relationship will work with the two on different coasts:
Buss: With Phil, I wanted him to know that if there was no role for him with the Lakers, he should be free to pursue other interests. I didn’t know if it’d be an NBA team, I didn’t know if was going to a third-world country to volunteer with helping them set up basketball camps. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted him to pursue something that would fulfill him. Certainly, the decision was his to make and I support him whatever he wants to do. Now I find myself like so many other couples that make the bi-coastal lifestyle. It’s been done before, it’s been done successfully before, I’m not concerned about what it’ll mean with our relationship. Will I miss him? Yes, but now I have an opportunity to spend more time with my friends at games, socializing and connecting in other ways.
Q: On if she and the rest of the family are on the same page in regards to making decisions with the franchise:
Buss: It’s very important the way my father left things was for us to operate the team as a family. There are six of us siblings and we meet on major issues. Where I have influence, it’s important to me to have teamwork, to build consensus and to have everybody on the same page and even if there is disagreement, to get an understanding of why and try to work through those things. That’s my style of dealing with things. I would say that, by and large, we are all on the same page.
Q: On if there is a plan going forward for the organization:
Buss: We’re in the third year of a new collective bargaining agreement that has changed from the last one and as you go along, there are new rules and there’s new ways you have to operate by in order to put a team together. I just think it’s evolving and I don’t know specifics on a plan, but they are confident and have assured me that next year we’ll be better measurably by more wins. And we’ll continue to build from there.
Q: On who is the voice of the Lakers right now:
Buss: I think, ultimately, the buck stops with me. I am president and governor of the team and I have empowered the basketball operations and the front office to put together a basketball team based on working within the confines of the collective bargaining agreement and putting together the best team they possibly can. But ultimately, I feel the fans, I feel like I’m an advocate for the fans, I love when they reach out to me and I understand their frustration and I feel the same way they do. I don’t like this season. I don’t like being eliminated from playoff contention already.
Q: On Kobe Bryant’s comments last week about the front office:
Buss: Some people had said that if Kobe can come back and play, it’s almost been a year since his injury, he had a chance to come back for six games, but it didn’t last unfortunately. He’s such a competitor and I can only imagine what he’s going through right now because he has no outlet for that. I lived with it. I lived with Phil Jackson and I know how competitive he is. If that competitiveness is not fed or does not have an outlet, it can drive you crazy. So I understand his frustration and I will talk to him and I will commiserate with him because I know how he feels.
Q: On any regrets about giving Bryant his contract extension:
Buss: Absolutely not. First of all, I’m confident he’ll come back. People had told me it’d take a year before he would be able to play. He tried to come back maybe what I felt was a little too soon, but only he could really decide whether he was ready or not, so I won’t fault him for trying to come back when he was wanting to help his team. But I do believe he’ll contribute at the same level Kobe has always contributed to the success of the Lakers. The second thing I want to point out about that is on the marketing side of things, we never got an opportunity to do the farewell tour for Magic Johnson. We had lost in the Finals in 1991 to the Chicago Bulls and it was the beginning of the Magic-Michael (Jordan) rivalry. Everyone was so eager to see the rematch, let’s see what the Lakers come back with and see if we can get back the title. Unfortunately he had to retire that November and we never got that opportunity. Sure, Earvin ended up coming back later but it was never the same. We didn’t get a chance to finish his career the way it should have been. Kobe, by signing that deal, will have played 20 years for one organization, and I guarantee you that won’t happen again just because he was drafted when he was 17. We don’t draft players at 17 anymore. To have the kind of longevity he’s had makes it extremely special and I think Laker fans understand that. I think too much is being paid attention to salary cap and all that kind of stuff, which is important and that’s the rules we have to operate in. But can’t we just talk about the players and the team and how a basketball team comes together and not focus on (lottery) slotting and cap space? I don’t wear a hat and a t-shirt with cap space on it. I’m more interested in the players and how the players fit together and how the players come together and creating something than just the sum of their parts.
Q: On Kobe being a Laker for life (Dr. Buss wanted that) and if that resonated with her when making the decision to re-sign him:
Buss: All Laker fans are Lakers for life. To have Kobe retire as a Laker, that to me is really important and I’m thrilled.
Q: On what Laker fans can hang their hat on and trust that there will better times ahead for this franchise:
Buss: I have complete confidence in Jim and Mitch Kupchak to put together the kind of team Laker fans are used to. I want Laker fans to watch the NCAA tournament and watch the players that have this great platform and see who they like, who they think should be worthy of wearing a Lakers jersey because that’s where you start to see the personality. That’s the part I like. I like to see the leadership on the court, who fits that Laker profile and that’s what’s fun. Even though we’re eliminated from having an opportunity to be in the playoffs this year, there are things to look forward to such as we will be a team that will participate in the lottery. As the tournament unfolds, hopefully we’ll see something just like my dad saw something special about Magic Johnson and why he ended up drafting him that year. These are kind of exciting moments to think about the future. We still have to finish this season and it’s been tough, but I, like so many fans, fell in love with Nick Young and his swagger on the court and his love for the game, the way he plays and there’s been highlights this season – great victories – starting with opening night with the Clippers.