Be Very, Very Patient, Laker Fans

Even the Great Magic Johnson Knowa Rebuilding Will Take Years

I had covered the Lakers for several years before Mitch Kupchak came along.

Kupchak told the media to call him Mitchell.

”That’s because Mitch Chortkoff was here first,” he said. “Mitch is taken, I’ll be Mitchell.”

Now Mitchell has been fired after 30 years with the organization. Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss’ brother, has been fired too. And John Black, the Lakers’ publicist for the last 27 years, has been fired.

It’s a very sad time for key members of this once-great franchise. The Lakers are coming off the three worst years in their history and have the third worst record in the NBA. After a 10-10 start they’ve reached the All-Star break with nine wins and 29 losses.

I have written previously that Jeanie Buss waited too long to act. Two years ago, turning the basketball operations over to Magic Johnson, Jerry West or Phil Jackson would have allowed the Lakers to turn things around swiftly by signing top notch free agents.

It’s too late for that. A new seven-year agreement was recently reached between the owners and Players Association giving elite free agents millions more if they stay with the same team.

Johnson would have to get top notch free agents to give up millions to join the Lakers.

Recognizing that, he will try to improve the roster through the draft. But it usually takes kids just out of college several years to adapt to the NBA.

Magic says to expect three to five years before the Lakers can be a championship contender again. That’s in addition to the four years just completed with Jim Buss in charge.

I’ve written about this new rule regarding free agents several times lately. I was surprised that this topic didn’t draw much attention from writers in other publications or TV journalists.

But the new rule got a lot of attention Monday when Sacramento center Demarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans in exchange for only three mediocre players and two draft choices. You’d assume a premier big man averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds per game would be worth a lot more.

Brian Windhorst, one of the nation’s best known basketball journalists, told his audience what I’ve been telling mine.

“Sacramento didn’t want to pay Cousins $210 million in his next contract,’ Windhorst said.

With the trading deadline only three days away Cousins was close to signing for six years, $210 million, a right he had earned by playing 10 years for Sacramento and working for $30 million this season.

If traded he wouldn’t get the extra year and a raise.

“I had a better offer two days ago,” said Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac, who was obviously unhappy having to trade Cousins.

The new rule isn’t just a proposal. It’s in the new agreement for seven years. It’s for real. It’s here.

The Lakers once signed Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent from another tram. Those days are over.

I’m unhappy writing this column. I’m sorry for Laker fans. I’ve had a lot of better days.

Jerry Buss had a vision of his family taking over and keeping the Lakers terrific. He was wrong.


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