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Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks Westbrook, why Lakers will never tank

All Sober Presents Rock To Recovery 5 Benefit Concert Honoring Actor Keith David And Comedian Jay Mohr

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 09: Lakers President Jeanie Buss attends the Rock To Recovery 5t benefit concert at The Fonda Theatre on July 09, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

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Jeanie Buss wants to be more transparent.

Much of what happens in the NBA still happens because of relationships and quiet conversations — it’s not the smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, but it’s not out in the open, either. Buss wants the Lakers to be more open (or at least appear so), which is part of what led to the “Legacy” documentary on Hulu, plus a series of recent interviews she did, such as with Sam Amick at The Athletic, where transparency was part of the discussion. “I feel like we have been an open book,” Buss said.

Another of those conversations was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with Sam Mitchell and Amin Elhassan, and the discussion was tanking.

“It’s hard to win in the NBA, as you guys know… Nobody has the exact formula. But I know you can’t win a championship if you’re not the playoffs. You can provide enough resources to make sure that you have a competitive team year in and year out. Some people may debate the idea of tanking for several years. My dad never did that in 32 years...

“It’s just not the way he would have seen the Lakers brand to be at the bottom of the standing year after year. He always felt that the fans invested their time and their money in your team and you have to perform for them and if you don’t, then they’re going to move on and find something else to spend their time and money on. They deserve to have a quality product. Nobody can promise a championship a year, but again unless you are in playoffs, you’re not going to get a chance to win. So I like to have the team be in a position to compete for championships year in and year out.”

It’s also a different NBA than it was when her father ran the Lakers. The Lakers essentially did tank for years last decade, they just masked with the final seasons of Kobe Bryant’s legendary career (which continued to sell out Staples), but the picks they got from that allowed them to bring in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and others — the players they were able to trade to get Anthony Davis and win the 2020 title.

Lakers fans would understand a quick step backward if they saw smart drafting and player development that led to a genuine turnaround — you can sell hope in Los Angeles, it doesn’t have to be just winning. The problem with that strategy now is the Lakers don’t control any of their picks until 2027 — and they might trade that pick and 2029 away to be good (but not great) now. The “we can’t rebuild in this market” and trading away first-round picks has been the Knicks’ modus operandi for a couple of decades (or had been), and it’s not a path the Lakers want to follow. Los Angeles and the Lakers will always be a draw and can always lure superstars, but their has to be a foundation for them to come to. That foundation is built on smart drafting and player development.

Jeanie Buss is an excellent face for the Lakers organization, but one other thing Buss said in her interview with The Athletic turned heads:

“From my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year.”

It turned the head of Amick, the writer, who then did the right and professional thing — he followed up with Buss later in a text to make sure she meant what she said.

“The word I should have used was ‘consistent,’” she wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”

Westbrook was healthy and played. And he was consistent. He was better than some Lakers fans like to think, averaging 18.4 points a game, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. But he wasn’t efficient like the Lakers needed (they should have seen that coming), he wouldn’t fit in with the Lakers’ style of play (they should have seen that coming), he didn’t defend (they really should have seen that coming), and he couldn’t lift the Lakers up when Lebron James or Anthony Davis were out. It was predictable — Westbrook was exactly who he had been the past few seasons, but the Lakers thought he could be something different. Westbrook may have said he could be, but it’s got the Lakers in a bind now.

Something Buss and the Lakers can be an open book about, but it doesn’t make finding a path back to contention any easier.