BILL PLASCHKE

To replace Jerry Buss, Lakers should dream of Jeanie

Team has always had one voice. Now it should be Jeanie's.

He was speaking only for his weary and rumpled self, speaking in the singular, sorrowful tones of someone who just lost a boss and friend of more than three decades.

But, in one poignant moment while publicly mourning the death of Lakers owner Jerry Buss on Tuesday, Mitch Kupchak could have been speaking for every Lakers fan.

"Just knowing that he was there was a good feeling to me," said Kupchak, the Lakers general manager. "And he's gone now."

Just knowing Buss was there was a good feeling for everyone, and the fact that he's gone now has instantly become the most frightening development of the modern Lakers era.

Buss was the Lakers' voice. Who will become that voice? Buss was the Lakers' conscience. Who will carry that burden? It was Buss' unique vision that brought the Lakers 10 championships. Who is watching the store now?

Mitch Kupchak, who is your boss?

"I report to Jimmy Buss," he said.

Moments later, a reporter sitting in the back of the cramped conference room at the Lakers' training center shouted for a clarification sought by many.

"Did you say Jimmy or Jeanie?" the reporter asked.

"Jimmy," Kupchak said.

Get used to it. The mourning period will last at least through Buss' private memorial service Thursday, but attention has already been focused to the potential front-office mess in his wake.

Where the Lakers were once one kingdom led by a single benevolent leader, there are now two territories run by potentially feuding siblings.

They are Jeanie's Lakers, and they are Jimmy's Lakers, which means, right now, they are nobody's Lakers.

"Don't think for a second there's not an adjustment period," Kupchak admitted. "You lose a father or you lose a leader like Dr. Buss ... there will be changes, and there will be an adjustment period, but I don't anticipate a problem."

There will be no problem if Jerry Buss left a clear succession plan that would delineate lines of power and allow the family to operate the team without constant controversy.

He was such a brilliant businessman, here's guessing he probably already thought of that, and here's hoping such a plan is eventually made public.

But, until then, there exists only a framework that doesn't seem workable.

Jeanie Buss, Jerry's oldest daughter, controls the team at league meetings as its designated governor while, internally, she is in charge of the Lakers' business operations.

Jimmy Buss, Jerry's second-oldest son, controls the team's basketball operations.

They are siblings with vastly different styles, philosophies, temperaments and ideas. Their Lakers paths rarely cross, but when it happens, there is great potential for nasty collision. In recent months, they have reportedly been at odds over Jimmy's treatment of Phil Jackson — Jeanie's live-in fiance — during the hiring of Mike D'Antoni.

CHICAGO

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