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Jeanie Buss had been fed up for years.
You could never tell by watching her in that familiar Staples Center courtside seat, the 55-year-old Los Angeles Lakers governor always smiling and entertaining her high-profile friends who would watch her beloved team lose almost every time.
But behind the scenes, in those moments when she'd recount all the mistakes that her brother, Jim Buss, and longtime general manager, Mitch Kupchak, had made and wondered why her patience in them hadn't paid off, she was more and more ready to do this deed.
The hammer finally fell Tuesday, when Jeanie and recently added Lakers legend Magic Johnson fired Kupchak and stripped Jim Buss of all his basketball power, as Johnson assumed the role of president of basketball operations. The Lakers are expected to add a general manager in the near future, with Rob Pelinka, the agent of retired Lakers star Kobe Bryant, widely considered the unofficial shoo-in, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Pelinka, a college teammate of Michigan's Fab Five and whose current client list includes the Houston Rockets' James Harden and the Eric Gordon, would have to divest himself of his Landmark Sports Agency before joining the Lakers.
Bryant is known to be a strong advocate of Pelinka's hiring, with Johnson also known to be interested in having Bryant return to the organization in some kind of official capacity (a player relations role, as one person with knowledge of the situation said). The retention of Ryan West is significant, too, as the Lakers director of player personnel and son of Lakers legend Jerry West was seen as an underutilized member of their front-office team and will likely have much more influence in the future. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the team had yet to formalize any hirings.
But to understand why Jeanie Buss swung that hammer so hard, even firing the team's longtime media relations man, John Black, you have to remember that this was years of mistrust in the making.
With so much emotional distance between Jeanie and her brother and with that self-imposed timeline that Jim offered in an April 2014 family meeting in which he said he'd step aside if they weren't contending for a title by this season, the frustration grew with every failing.
The Kupchak extension during that same month was a major point of contention. He had a year remaining on his contract, but Jim had convinced Jeanie that star players might look elsewhere if they sensed instability in the Lakers' front office. The three consecutive absences from the postseason were enough to make her stomach turn, as they had missed only twice in the span between 1977 and 2013. But the free agency blunders, and the way in which they unfolded, were the biggest factor.
Why wouldn't Carmelo Anthony come their way in the summer of 2014 rather than re-sign with the New York Knicks, and why was she able to have such a personal connection with him when they bonded about business during the visit, only to hear that the basketball bosses hadn't resonated in quite the same way? It had been just 16 months since beloved Lakers owner Jerry Buss had died and gave Jeanie the ultimate authority, and the sibling regime was off to a rough start.
Why did LaMarcus Aldridge and his representatives seem so confused a year later, when the biggest free agent that summer had a second meeting with the Lakers only because the first one had been botched? Why wouldn't Kevin Durant even grant the Lakers a meeting last summer, after all that time in which Jim led people to believe that they had such a good chance of landing the former Oklahoma City Thunder star? Why didn't they sign budding stars who actually wanted to be with the Lakers, players such as the Boston Celtics' Isaiah Thomas and the Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry who would go on to become All-Stars? And why, for the love of all things Lakers, did they sit on all that salary cap space in recent years only to give four-year contracts worth a combined $136 million last summer to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng who -- combined -- are averaging 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds?
Jeanie's determination to make the Lakers a superstar destination again is at the heart of this issue. That's why Johnson is running point again, promising to recruit top-tier talent the way Kupchak and Jim Buss couldn't. That's why this past weekend was Jeanie's worst nightmare, an All-Star Game in New Orleans taking place without any Lakers players for the first time since 1996 (the pressure rises further, considering the 2018 All-Star festivities are in Los Angeles).
And that's why, when Kupchak discussed a DeMarcus Cousins deal with the Sacramento Kings over the weekend that they could have done if they'd been willing to give up young forward Brandon Ingram, it was merely the latest time the Lakers fell short in the pursuit of a star. Jim was known to be the driving force behind the pursuit of Cousins, but Kupchak refused to include Ingram, and now it has become a great what-if.
Jeanie was fed up, all right, and so the ground shook in Laker Land. And now, with Magic out front and Pelinka expected to be at his side, it's their turn to fill all the cracks.