Back when the Lakers were 10-10 with wins over the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors under their belt, I was under the impression that Jim Buss, the son of the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss and the current head of basketball operations, had saved his job.
Back in 2014, Jim Buss said if the Lakers fortunes hadn’t turned around in three or four years, he would step down as head of basketball operations. His sister, Jeanie Buss, the president of the Lakers, has said she will hold her brother to that statement.
Back in December, it seemed like a moot point. The Lakers were playing better than anybody expected under first-year coach Luke Walton and the young nucleus of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. was clicking and rookie Brandon Ingram was showing signs of greatness.
While I wasn’t ready to call the Lakers a playoff team at the time, I thought a 35-win season — which would double last season’s 17 wins — was quite possible and that Jim Buss would hold on to his job.
Six weeks or so later and I’ve changed my mind.
I still think the Lakers have a fine young nucleus of talent and I would even add second-round draft choice Ivica Zubac, a 7-1 center from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to that group.
But the Lakers biggest failing this year is that they aren’t getting much from the two big free agent signings of the off-season: center Timofey Mosgov and forward Luol Deng.
Deng has averaged scoring more than 15 points a game in his career. This year he is averaging 8.2 points per game. And the Lakers are paying him $18 million a season over the next four years.
Mosgov, who is making $15 million in the first year of a four-year contract, is scoring right around his career average of seven points a game. But he is no help to the young Lakers who are struggling to play defense against NBA players in what coach Walton calls “a grown man’s league.”
In fact Zubac, at 19, is a better rim protector than Mosgov is at 30.
The worst part of the Deng and Mosgov signings is the length of their contracts. Each has three more years, which means they will eat up lots of money and salary cap space that could go to other, better free agents. It also makes both hard to trade.
Which brings us back to Jim Buss’ status with the team. He and Mitch Kupchak have drafted well the last three years. Randle and Clarkson in the 2014 draft, Russell and Nance in the 2015 draft and Ingram and Zubac in the 2016 draft all show signs of becoming players who can play in the NBA for years, especially if Ingram continues to blossom into the kind of player you can build a franchise around.
But the Lakers haven’t brought in a key free agent in years. The failure of Buss and Kupchak to find good free agents to blend with the youngsters has the Lakers at 16-32, with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second worst record in the league.
Things were supposed to be better this year. Jeanie Buss soon will have to decide if she will ask her brother to step down and keep his word. That could be an interesting family meeting.
THE WILLIAMS SISTERS: The Williams sisters from Compton are having a wonderful time in Melbourne, Australia, thank you very much. Serena Williams defeated Britain’s Johanna Konta Jan. 25, 6-2, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Sister Venus will play CoCo Vandeweghe Jan. 26 with the winner advancing to the semifinals as well.
Serena Williams is trying for her 23rd tennis grand slam championship and her seventh Australian Open title. Venus, who has never won an Australian Open, is seeking her eighth grand slam title.
Although born in New York, Vandeweghe has Southern California ties. Her mother, Tauna Vandeweghe attended USC and was a swimmer on the 1976 Summer Olympic team. CoCo’s uncle is Kiki Vandeweghe, an All American basketball player at UCLA before having a lengthy career in the NBA. Her grandfather Ernie Vandeweghe also played in the NBA.
ABDUL-JABBAR HONORED: UCLA honored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at halftime of the UCLA-Arizona basketball game Jan. 21, saluting the three-time All American for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in November.
Known as Lew Alcindor when he led the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA championships in the late 1960s, Abdul-Jabbar never gets the acknowledgments he deserves as one of the best basketball players ever.
He won three high school state championships, three NCAA championships and six NBA titles during his career. He played in more games than anyone except Robert Parish in the NBA and scored more points than anyone in NBA history.
He had a trademark shot (his skyhook) that was unstoppable and has never been emulated and he is one of the few athletes in any sport who was responsible for a rule change.
Few people remember that after Alcindor’s sophomore year, the NCAA banned the dunk, largely because of Alcindor’s dominance. It wasn’t until nine years later that the NCAA allowed dunking again in college basketball.
Since his retirement from basketball Abdul-Jabbar has become an acclaimed author.
In presenting him with the Medal of Freedom in November, President Obama said of him: “The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism.”
ODD AND ENDS: Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf this week, playing in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines near San Diego. Woods knows the course well: he’s won the tournament seven times and his last major championship came in the 2008 U.S. Open there. Woods will play in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades Feb. 16-19 …
The Dodgers added their last major piece of the off-season (probably) when they acquired second baseman Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays for pitching prospect Jose De Leon. Forsythe will play second base and provide some pop from the right side in the lineup. De Leon was once an untouchable, but has been passed by other young pitchers in the Dodgers organization …
The Los Angeles Kings, Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center play host to the National Hockey League All-Star Game this weekend. NHL Fan Fair takes place at the Convention Center Jan. 26-28. Hours are 5-10 p.m. Jan. 26-27 and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 28. The Fan Fair includes interactive games, special appearances, trophy and memorabilia displays and dozens of other exciting activities.
On Jan. 27, the 100 greatest NHL players will be introduced in a ceremony at the Microsoft Theater Jan. 27. The NHL All Stars Skills Competition is at 4 p.m. Jan. 28 and the All-Star Game itself is at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 29 …