I went to Staples Center April 17 to say goodbye.
It was the Lakers’ final home game of a dreadful season, and when a high profile team fails to make the playoffs you know significant changes will occur.
I’m sure some employees I’m used to seeing won’t be asked back. A lot of money has been lost and blame will be placed somewhere.
In the press room, where we’ve met all season and discussed every aspect of the organization, we tried to determine how much revenue will be lost by failing to make the playoffs.
The figure we came up with was $16 million. That’s the approximate amount the Lakers would have charged for four playoff rounds, and now they won’t have any right to that money.
Most pro sports teams inform season ticket holders the money they sent in will be applied to next year’s tickets. The team makes interest off the money in the off-season.
But some season ticket holders want an immediate refund. I don’t know whether they can insist on one and keep their locations. It’s a subject that requires further research.
Certainly some of the players won’t be welcomed back. One who comes to mind is reserve guard Tierre Brown. He was a favorite of Rudy Tomjanovich, but with a new coach coming in that’s one roster spot likely to become open.
The Lakers have the option of buying out Vlade Divac’s one remaining year for $2 million. That’s an option they’re considering. If he’s on the team next year, they’ll have to pay him more.
Divac is 36. He says he won’t play for anyone but the Lakers, so it’s likely he’ll retire.
The salary that’s hard to believe is $29 million owed to Brian Grant over the next two years. Remember, the league requires salaries to come close to matching when a trade is made, and taking Grant was how the Lakers were able to send Shaquille O’Neal to Miami. But Grant’s knees won’t stand a lot of play and he averaged just 16 minutes per game.
I guess the Lakers were so anxious to trade O’Neal that they did whatever was necessary to get it done. I believe the Lakers made one of the worst trades in the history of the NBA. If they felt a need to choose between their squabbling superstars, O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, they made the wrong choice.
Another employee in danger of losing his job is announcer Paul Sunderand, a resident of Malibu. The Lakers were obligated to inform him of his status by April 1. Sunderland received a letter informing him that while a decision hasn’t been reached to make a change, he was free to pursue other opportunities.
Speculation has Joel Meyers moving over from radio to do Laker TV, but that’s premature.
It’s hard to replace a legend, and maybe this would have happened to any announcer who followed the late, great Chick Hearn. But Sunderland has worked hard, and if he’s taking the fall for a dismal season that’s really too bad.
Well, at least it’s over. The Lakers won 34 games and lost 48. they tied Golden state for last place in the Pacific Division, and the Warriors look better following the late season addition of Baron Davis.
I’d like to hear more remorse from the Lakers. but I’m not hearing it. Bryant hardly seems like a team leader when he says it doesn’t matter to him who becomes the coach. And when he never admits he could have insisted that O’Neal not be traded. He still doesn’t seem to realize the Lakers wouldn’t be in this mess if O’Neal had remained on the team.
As for General Manager Mitch Kupchak, he seems to be taking the attitude that not very much is wrong. He points out that Bryant, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Chris Mihm are relatively young. He has indicated the Lakers want to keep their nucleus together.
But when you finish below the Clippers it woud be wise to realize something major is wrong.
To conclude this piece, the name of Jerry Buss must be brought up. He’s been a wonderful owner for 25 years. I’ve known and admired him ever since he broke into sports with the Los Angeles Strings of Team Tennis, which he ran out of his Santa Monica office.
But how could he get rid of O’Neal? How could he make a move that would plunge the team from a championship contender to one that doesn’t make the playoffs.
I seriously doubt Kupchak has the authority to trade O’Neal. A decision of that magnitude can only come from the owner.
Phil Jackson? There’s a feeling around town that he could be a savior. But I’m not so sure.
First, there’s the reality Jackson has only coached teams with a good chance to win a championship and he’s won nine times. Why would he coach a team that would consider it an improvement just to barely make the playoffs? To be near his girlfriend, Jeannie Buss? Maybe. But it’s easy for me to see Jackson becoming frustrated with a poor Laker team and not doing a good job.
An important observation was made by Frank Hamblen, Jackson’s longtime assistant who became interim head coach of the Lakers this season.
“Phil is a great closer,’’ he said. “I’m not sure if he’s a great fixer-upper.’’
There’s also a question whether the Lakers would be wise to meet Jackson’s asking price, which is likely to exceed $10 million, to get a coach who might not fit. Coaching a dreadful team would be a new experience for him.
Not to mention Jackson’s past problems with Bryant and his request for the Lakers to trade Kobe, something he admitted in a book.
The Knicks want Jackson too, so the price will keep going up.
Many years ago, when season tickets weren’t anywhere near the price they are now, I purchased a pair in the Forum. Even then I wanted to hear something positive for the next season before I sent in the money. So did my friends who also bought tickets.
The situation is magnified now, with the prices much higher. But currently there is no coach, the team doesn’t have much salary cap room and the player who was traded, Shaq, had a great year in Miami.
Laker games at Staples Center are priced to see a championship product, but the team is anything but championship caliber now.
On his final telecast Sunderland told viewers the Lakers can be expected to get back on top “very soon.’’But he didn’t say how.