As presently constructed, the Lakers have no chance of winning a title. And if they can't win a title, then their best hope for the future is to stock up on young players and position themselves to get a top pick in a deep 2014 NBA Draft.
It's a mess the Lakers haven't really seen since the early-1990s when Magic Johnson suddenly retired and the rest of the team quickly got old. But it's a mess that didn't need to exist, and for that, they can thank Jim Buss.
While father Jerry Buss always stayed out of basketball operations, his one mistake was slowly putting his son in charge of it at the end of his life. Jim's decision to hire Mike D'Antoni was totally moronic, but it wasn't his first bad coaching hire. That occurred when the Lakers hire Mike Brown.
After being swept by Dallas in the 2011 Playoffs, the Lakers believed they needed a "new voice" and opted for Brown over assistant coach Brian Shaw. Had the Lakers hired Shaw, then he presumably would have had kept the same system in place and that would have given them the best chance to win in 2012 - a lockout shortened season with no training camp.
But Buss seemed determined to make a clean break from the Phil Jackson era, despite the fact that the Phil Jackson era worked out pretty well. There was a belief that 2011 was a failure and they needed a change, but the Lakers struggled down the stretch that season because Kobe Bryant and the rest of the team were banged up and exhausted from three straight NBA Finals appearances.
It took just over one season for Buss and company to realize that Mike Brown was a major mistake. Brown is a great teacher who can coach up young players, but his style doesn't work for veteran teams. However, rather than replacing Brown with Phil Jackson, Buss hired D'Antoni whose style made even less sense for the Lakers than Brown's.
D'Antoni's up tempo system doesn't work for older veteran teams And most importantly, he has no history of success with centers. At a time when the Lakers essentially had to cater to Dwight Howard's desires in order to keep him, they hired a coach was fairly obviously ill-suited to his skillset.
It might seem easy to play the hindsight game, but this was a disaster that we all saw coming at the time. Some will note that the Lakers did play well down the stretch under D'Antoni, but they did it against a weak schedule and D'Antoni never seemed comfortable employing a system that wasn't his own.
Buss still had a third chance to make things right, but he blew it by keeping D'Antoni. This happened as Howard had been telling every source under the sun that he didn't want to play for the coach. Buss could have either hired Jackson to coach the team, or hired Shaw or Kurt Rambis and instituted Jackson as President of Basketball Operations. Buss could have then taken on the role of "owner" - the same position that his father was satisfied with for over 30 years - and been cheered by fans along the way.
Instead, one can only presume that Buss' ego is such that he's determined to prove he can make the Lakers a winner without help from Jackson or any of his friends. Sure, this game of coaching musical chairs is expensive. But the Lakers are about to find out how much it costs to lose. Even if they keep the team in tact next season, there's no guarantee they'll make the playoffs. If Dwight Howard isn't going to choose the Lakers, then I don't see too many sponsors lining up to choose them either. Expect more local corporations to send their ad dollars to the Clippers this season.
The coaching situation isn't the only thing that has been botched under Jim Buss. Since he's taken over, the Lakers have proven inept at scouting and player development. While the San Antonio Spurs have been able to sustain success with great late draft picks and savvy foreign player signings, the Lakers have a team that is sorely lacking in depth, youth, and athleticism. They've treated their scouts like garbage, firing many of them during the lockout just to save a few bucks.
When Buss needed a point guard, he acted like age meant nothing, and bet that Steve Nash could be a $9 million-a-year player into his early 40s. The Lakers have bragged about their forward thinking strategy of owning their own D-League team, but none of their D-League players have ever provided significant contributions in the NBA.
The one thing that Buss could take credit for is Andrew Bynum. While he's been an immature and injury prone player, Buss recognized his talent, and was able to turn him into Dwight Howard. But Buss failed to put the right pieces around Howard to convince him to stay.
I'm fairly certain that a Phil Jackson-led Lakers would have enticed Dwight Howard to remain in LA. And there were probably about a half-dozen other available coaches that could have convinced Howard they'd play the slow-paced inside-out system that he wants.
But Buss ignored all of the obvious signals and stubbornly stuck with the "D'Antoni Disaster." The result shall be known as the "Dwightmare". Howard's decision to spurn the Lakers will set the franchise back for years. But Jim Buss is the man who bears the ultimate responsibility the team's impending misfortunes.