Mike Brown is the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, a move that's left the media surprised, Laker fans cautiously optimistic, and Kobe Bryant ominously silent. But another decision on Wednesday raised even more eyebrows. If it wasn't clear who's running the Lakers beforehand, firing Ronnie Lester, a scout who's worked with the for 25 years, removes all doubt.
Hiring Brown without consulting Kobe Bryant--and (apparently) without seriously considering Phil Jackson's longtime assistant, Brian Shaw--sent a message that beyond the facade of Kobe-catering, the Lakers have real authority running their organization. They weren't going to hire whoever Kobe and Phil had handpicked to guide the franchise. That's fine.
But firing Lester hints that all that hardline authority may be a facade, itself. Maybe the Brown hire wasn't a case of management digging in its heels and making a bold choice. Instead, we're watching a franchise that's shaking up its very foundation.
Make no mistake: People like Ronnie Lester are exactly the sort of behind-the-scenes guys that gradually form the backbone of NBA teams. General managers, coaches, even superstars... They come and go. But lifelong employees like Lester are the ones that bridge the gap between regimes. And it all smacks of a guy who doesn't quite know what he's doing.
That would be Jim Buss, Jerry's son, and the according to most reports, the guy responsible for hiring Brown and firing Lester. By hiring Brown, he sent a clear message to Kobe Bryant about who's in charge, a move that aligns Buss closer to Andrew Bynum in the simmering power struggle between Bryant and Bynum. But here's where the logic gets twisted: By firing Lester, he just got rid of the scout that brought Bynum to L.A. in the first place.
It's a minor move in the mainstream, but for Lakers employees, losing someone like Lester is akin to cutting ties with a family member. And it just makes no sense. It'd be one thing if this was a case of making a hard decision for the sake of financial sanity, but the Lakers have plenty of money going around. They have the richest TV deal in the league, and they're one of the only teams in the NBA that routinely turns a profit. It's not like they need to cut costs.
Anyway, Jim Buss may have a vision for the Lakers, but if he's taking over, then we should remember that the Lakers aren't the winningest franchise in the last 25 years by coincidence. People like Ronnie Lester were the bedrock. If Buss wants to excavate and build his own legacy, he can.
It's his team now. He's made that clear.
Jim Buss was lucky enough to be born into billions and inherit a dynasty, and he can proceed however he wants. Ronnie Lester may have felt like a family member to some of the people around the Lakers, but in the end, there's only one family member that matters going forward.
For now, it's probably unfair to call him a failure before he's proven otherwise, but it's a fact that he just fired a guy who'd proven himself over a quarter century, and I feel pretty comfortable hedging against the success of the Jim Buss era. Running a business or a basketball team, you don't get rich by discounting the intangible value of characters like that.
Of course, if you're born rich, you never learn that much. So, who did Buss keep around instead? Well, hey... According to TMZ, she discovered Jordan Farmar!