NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Buss defends Bryant extension, fires back at Johnson — Los Angeles Lakers executive Jim Buss has not lacked in the critics department. From analysts to ex-Lakers players to fans, many have questioned the moves Buss has made in steering the Lakers back into relevance, let alone NBA title contention. One such move that is questioned was Buss giving Kobe Bryant a two-year, $45.8 million extension in 2013. Since then, injuries have limited Bryant to 41 games (out of a possible 164). But Buss stands by his move and explains why in an interview with USA Today‘s Sam Amick:
The Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations made it clear that he has no regrets about the controversial contract.
“You give Kobe Bryant $50 million for two years,” Buss told USA TODAY Sports in a wide-ranging interview. “Are you kidding me? What did he bring us? In this day and age, what did he bring us, for 20 years? And if that isn’t what you’re supposed to do, then I have no idea what life is all about.
“You pay the guy. You believe in the guy. If he ends up (staying healthy), that’s fantastic. Well everybody (in the media) cut me up for that, but I’d say over 200 fans have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you so much for letting my kid see Kobe Bryant for two more years.’ And I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m glad I can see him for two more years.’ ”
Even now, as the Lakers approach the start of their latest regular season, Bryant is missing preseason games because of a left leg contusion suffered against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
Give Buss credit for this much: He’s transparent about how he sees the Bryant deal. Yes, there was a lifetime achievement factor, with the Buss family deciding not only to pay Bryant in the future but to honor him for his past. And to anyone who dares bring up the piece from a year ago that so strongly suggested Buss was eager for Bryant to head for the exits so the Lakers’ rebuild could begin in earnest, he is quick to condemn the concept.
“It’s (BS), that’s exactly what that was,” he fired back when asked about the ESPN the Magazine article. “The organization absolutely loves him. You know why? Because he has made a living, as we (have) with the Lakers for the last 20 years, because of this man. Magic Johnson carried us (to) this part (of their history) … and Kobe Bryant has carried us for 20 years. So every person that works in that organization, why would they hate him? Why would they want him out of there? There’s only a basketball or a Kobe hater that would want that. There’s no other reason.”
“You can’t justify (being anti-Bryant),” Buss continued. “If you’re a secretary or a mail room executive or whatever, you can’t justify saying you don’t want Kobe there. He gets a thousand pieces of mail a day, so that keeps your job.”
Additionally, Buss took on one of his biggest critics, former Lakers star Magic Johnson, and had this to say:
“Magic Johnson going nuts on me?” Buss said with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Really, dude? My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?’ ”
Johnson — who sold his share of the Lakers in 2010 and two years later led the ownership group that paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Dodgers — earned approximately $43 million during his playing days and has been wildly successful in the business sector ever since (a 2011 Forbes report estimated his net worth at $525 million). In the grander sense, though, it’s well-chronicled that late owner Jerry Buss‘ impact on Johnson went well beyond basketball.
“Dr. Buss gave me the platform to be Magic,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times in Feb. 2013 after Buss’ death. “He gave me the knowledge to be Magic.”
When asked about Buss’ comment, Johnson issued a statement to USA TODAY Sports in response.
“It’s all about winning, Jim,” Johnson said.