At first, Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss insisted that he didn’t feel threatened by the Miami Heat and the new “Three Kings.” But Buss, who was speaking with the media at the Bicycle Casino before a no-limit Texas Hold ‘em tournament for the Lakers Youth Foundation, eventually changed his tune when questions about his new foe in the Eastern Conference wouldn't go away.
Buss admitted that while he was keeping an eye on all rival teams in both his conference and in the East, the new gathering of talent in Miami did catch his eye.
"Suddenly there's this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me, that really excites me because, quite honestly, I think we can beat them and I'm looking forward to playing them," Buss said. "I don't think it's automatic that Miami will be our biggest opponent come the end, but on the other hand, I must admit they have the world's attention and that means we're going to be on center stage when we get a chance to play them."
That being said, Buss insisted that all of his free agent decisions this past summer were made independent of the Heat.
"Our intentions were to sign those players prior to Miami coalescing all of the talent that was left over," Buss said. "I don't think we reacted to them. Once the season is over, we look backwards on the season and say, 'Were there any weaknesses? Could we do something to improve this team?' And we did that quite independently of Miami. ... I think we just prepared ourselves for the general war, not specifically for anyone."
Buss spoke to reporters for the first time since being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last Friday. There, Buss reiterated that he felt this coming season’s Lakers could be the best he’s ever had since purchasing the team in 1979.
"I think that's really called camp spring fever," Buss explained. "Every time I've ever gone to camp, everybody starts talking and saying, 'This team could be the best team we've ever had,' and I guess I fall into that same trap because when I look at this team, every single individual on that team seems to me capable of playing a very important role next year and as of now, I feel there's a good chance this could be the best team we've ever had."
The famed Lakers owner has been a part of 10 championships during his ownership, and he’s hoping to get No. 11 in the 2010-11 season. The championships, however, have been costly for Buss. The Lakers go into the upcoming season with $95.7 million commited in roster salary. That amount is considerably more than the $58 million cap and the $70.3 million luxury tax line.
"We are spending way too much money," Buss said with an exasperated laugh. "It's tough. You sit there and you say, 'We really can't afford this, we can't afford this and we can't afford this,' and then somehow the next day we end up spending some more money and getting another player and signing a new extension, etc. etc. At least it has softened my attitude towards women in the mall, because I can't turn down things either."
This summer, the Lakers made it a point to re-sign key free agents, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown, as well as head coach Phil Jackson. On top of that, he also brought in Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff.
It all ends up paying off, though, if the Lakers advance deep into the NBA playoffs. The team generates a $1.5 million profit for every home game played.
“It's very helpful to get a lot of games in and go to the Finals," Buss said. "If we don't go to the Finals this has been a very expensive undertaking. ... You get to a spot where you have to win it all to be happy. Sometimes you talk to people and they say, 'Wow, we made the playoffs,' and I think to myself, 'If we don't make the playoffs...' As a matter of fact, talking some time ago to some people, they wanted a bonus if the Lakers made the playoffs. I said, 'If they don't make the playoffs, you don't work here anymore.' "
Buss may go down in history as one of the most unappreciated and undervalued coaches in sports history. He has turned the Lakers into not only a marquee NBA team, but a sports brand recognized all over the world. He has shown an ability to rebuild on the fly, battle adversity and constantly put a winner on the floor. Despite criticism he seems to face on the rare down years the Lakers inevitably face from time to time, Buss’ place in the hearts of Lakers fans everywhere is secure.
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