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Basketball / Sports

Jeanie Buss disappointed, remains confident in Lakers, brother

LOS ANGELES -- She is the face of Lakers fans. Their eyes and ears, too. She hears their rumblings and sees the empty seats and feels their pain.

Yet, Jeanie Buss hasn't given up on this team and says fans shouldn't either, even if she hasn't attended many games this season.

The Lakers are mired in one of their toughest seasons in franchise history, one that finds them closer to the NBA draft lottery than NBA Finals. It's a difficult spot for the players and fans, who are accustomed to watching the playoffs, not pingpong balls.

"I think any time you lose it's not fun," Buss said. "I don't care when it is -- losing in the NBA Finals is tough, (too) -- that's tough on anybody. Am I enjoying this? Absolutely not."

Buss, the Lakers' team president for business operations, talked at length recently about this year's team, her brother Jim, Coach Mike D'Antoni, the issue of tanking and how she sees this season playing out. Which, by the way, she said has a chance to turn out well.

The Lakers (16-29) have been making strides on their long trip even with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry still out because of injuries.

"I have been assured by the front office that they are doing everything they can to make our team better, to do whatever they can to get the team back to winning," Buss said in a telephone interview. "So I have confidence."

Her confidence extends to her brother Jim, and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, and ultimately to D'Antoni, who was hired over her fiance, Phil Jackson.

D'Antoni is 56-60 in one-plus seasons with the Lakers, but has not been able to produce the "Showtime" excitement coveted by the late Jerry Buss because of injuries.

"You saw our general manager come out and give a vote of confidence to the coach," Jeanie Buss said. "And if he feels confident, then I have to feel confident."

The family dynamic Jerry Buss put in place before his death last February leaves her somewhat on the outside looking in when it comes to running the team. She is in charge of team marketing and sponsorships, as well as serving on the NBA Board of Governors. But Jeanie stays away from the day-to-day basketball issues.

"I think I've made it clear the structure that Dr. Buss put into place and that is my brother Jimmy would be in charge of all basketball discussions and Mitch reports to Jim," she said.

"I have faith they will do what it takes to get the Lakers back on top."

Buss said her relationship with her brother has improved since the updated version of her "Laker Girl" autobiography came out last September. She said in the memoir that she felt betrayed and "got played" when D'Antoni was hired instead of Jackson. Back then, she called it an unsettling experience for both she and her fiance.

"I think my brother got an understanding about the way I felt about things," Buss said. "I appreciated that. I think the book made us closer than what we were before. So I think we're in a good place."

Although Buss doesn't get involved in her brother's side of the business, she still has her opinions, starting with possible trades. She hopes the Lakers' roster stays intact for the rest of the season -- that is, that Pau Gasol remains in a Lakers jersey beyond the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

"I'm a fan and I have favorite players," she said, "so I don't want to see anybody traded. That's always hard."

Buss also said she believes the organization made the right decision in signing Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million extension before he played a game this season. She said fans should be thrilled that Bryant, who was voted into his 16th All-Star Game this week, will finish out his career with the Lakers instead of pursuing free agency.

"Any team that has Kobe Bryant part of an organization makes it better," Buss said. "He sets the bar. He's a winner. He brings with him his discipline, his knowledge of the game and passion for the game."

Overall, Buss said this season, the first without her father, has been difficult. There have been bright spots, though. She said she believes the patchwork roster is a group of hard-working players that she is proud to call Lakers.

"I think that speaks volumes to what Mitch and Jim have been able to accomplish -- putting together a group of guys that our fans can really respond to," she said. "That part is exciting, to see them grow as players."

There aren't any wedding bells in the future for Buss and Jackson. Or basketball jobs.

Not yet.

Buss said the couple is waiting to pick a date until after Jackson's son is married this summer in Turkey. Until then, she said Jackson has been staying busy by watching college basketball and NBA games.

Jackson recently attended the UCLA-Arizona game at Pauley Pavilion, and the two sit and watch all the Lakers' games at home.

"He's feeling good," Buss said. "He loves basketball. He tells me 'Jeanie, I have to know who these college guys are. I have to know them.'

"To me, that means he's still up on the game."

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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