Mom-and-pop shop: Los Angeles Lakers

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The list of historical icons stemming from the Los Angeles Lakers is a resume as long as any. From Jerry West to Jerry Buss, Magic and Kareem, we also have Kobe and Shaq and the “King” himself. But this time, things are different: The Lakers no longer carry around their swag of the past. Their pedigree is just that — history.

Teams used to wake up and fear the Lakers. For much of the 1980s, they looked like the Harlem Globetrotters playing against the Washington Generals. Those showtime Lakers would just run teams right out of the building. Then came Shaq and Kobe.

Shaq in his prime is arguably the most unstoppable force in NBA history — and no one has been as big and nimble as “the Diesel.” He’s listed at 7’1” and 324 pounds, yet his footwork in the paint is what made him truly unstoppable. Not even some of the best defenders in NBA history could stop Shaq — including David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Dikembe Mutombo and the list goes on.

As big as these other L.A. stars have been, I think Kobe was the biggest: No city loved its superstar like Los Angeles loved him. Kobe Bryant is one of (if not) the greatest Lakers player of all time. He is also the most feared player in NBA history — and everyone knows the “Mamba mentality.” When Kobe got in that zone, he was unstoppable on offense and relentless on defense. Even without Shaq, Kobe brought home two titles to the City of Angels.

Many don’t recognize the importance of leadership. There has to be someone at the helm — someone to be held accountable. With all these iterations of players for the Lakers, there was a constant leadership dynamic. Examples are Jerry Buss, Pat Riley, Jerry West and Phil Jackson. These are four NBA legends, and in fact, also Hall of Famers. Jerry Buss is the greatest owner of all time. Pat Riley and Jerry West are probably No. 1 and No. 2 for best NBA executives ever, and Phil Jackson has 11 rings.

Since the passing of Jerry Buss in 2013, the Lakers have experienced disaster after disaster. Initially, Jerry’s son Jim Buss was put in charge of the team’s basketball operations, and Jeanie Buss was in charge of all things business and marketing. However, Jim Buss was not his father, and the Lakers turned into a clown show with him at the helm. The team had signed Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract and Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal. It was a total mess.

Fast forward a couple of years and we see a change in guard. Jeanie was able to push her brother, Jim Buss, out of the picture, and soon she became the woman on top. Even under her rule, the Lakers have still been unable to turn the tide. With Lonzo and LaVar Ball, there was drama. With Magic Johnson, there was more drama. There was also drama for Russell Westbrook and then for Anthony Davis too.

What’s missing?

The answer: Jerry Buss.

They’re missing their person up top. Yes, Jeanie is the “governor” of the Lakers. But is she the leader? Or is it LeBron? Is it Rob Pelinka? Honestly, I don’t think it’s any of them. Jeanie is looking to give out favors to friends too much to be a leader. She runs the Lakers almost like a mom-and-pop shop, while the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors run their organizations like a Fortune 500 company.

When it comes to LeBron, are the L.A. faithful sure they can trust him with the keys to their franchise? He was involved in the Lakers trading all their young talent for Davis, who’s practically made of glass from the Stone Age. LeBron also strong-armed the Lakers into signing Westbrook, and it was a complete and utter disaster.

A lack of leadership — that’s where the problem stems for the Los Angeles Lakers and the reason they need a solution to regain swag of the past. When you look around the league and at all the top teams, every single one has a so-called “leader.”

The Lakers need a voice — a different voice. And they need a leader not named LeBron James because it clearly isn’t working under the King’s rule.

Ethan Scott is a Bear Bytes Blog writer. Contact him at [email protected].