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Lakers' Jerry Buss shows Dodgers' Frank McCourt what it means to be completely committed to winning

August 18, 2010 |  6:25 pm
We interrupt this brief applause given to Frank McCourt for spending some dough on the June draft to bring you this tidbit from Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Buss had the highest payroll in the NBA last season and was expected to conserve spending this off-season. Instead, he added more free agents and bumped his payroll from $91.3 million to $95.6 million.

Here’s what Buss said about that in Mike Bresnahan’s story Wednesday in The Times:

"You sit there and you say, 'No, we really can't afford this.' Then somehow the next day we end up spending some more money and getting another player and signing a new [contract] extension, etc., etc. At least it has softened my attitude towards women in the mall because I can't turn down things either.’’

But if the Lakers don't win a third consecutive championship, Buss might have some buyer's remorse.

"You hate to say it that way, but that's what it comes down to. You get to a spot where you have to win it all to be happy. Some time ago, I'm talking to some people and they wanted a bonus if the Lakers make the playoffs. I said, 'If they don't make the playoffs, you don't work here anymore.’ ’’

And that’s why Buss was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and McCourt won’t ever get near Cooperstown without a ticket.

If you play or work for the Lakers, you understand the commitment from the top. You understand what the goal is. You understand everyone is there for one purpose, and it’s to win little gold trophies.

Now, I’m not saying McCourt doesn’t want to win. He absolutely does, and I mean that beyond the financial benefits. I just don’t think it’s the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up every morning. It’s not the passion that drives him.

Buss can be kind of quirky, what with being a couple of steps away from a walker and still enjoying the eye candy. And there’s no doubt there is some serious work being done on the swirling hairstyle, but I’m just guessing he’s not spending $150,000 a year for a private hairdresser to drop by the house.

McCourt has a lot of things on his mind besides the Dodgers. Like buying that ninth château and building a massive retail complex at Dodger Stadium and acquiring an NFL franchise and finding Chinese investors and determining legal ways to avoid paying income taxes and V-energy and paying his assistant one-fourth of an entire charity’s budget. And, oh yeah, divorce.

The Dodgers are his entree into other things. To open doors to other business ventures, to bring celebrity, and mostly it feels like, to make money. A lot of money.

Buss lives and breathes the Lakers. OK, he likes the eye candy and a good game of poker. But his main business is running the Lakers. It’s building the best team he can. It is winning championships.

McCourt now tries to run the Dodgers from Beverly Hills. At least as much as he runs them and doesn’t delegate.

And this is not the way an organization ultimately focuses on winning. Say what you want about George Steinbrenner, but no one ever doubted his commitment and focus.

If he threw money around like a madman, you never doubted his passion. Everyone who worked for the Yankees knew what the mandate was every season. Payroll wasn’t something to cut to make more money, it was something to expand to help win championships.

Joe Torre managed for Steinbrenner for 12 seasons, advancing to the World Series six times and winning four. Asked not about McCourt, but specifically about playing for the focused, impassioned Steinbrenner, Torre said:

"There’s no question he permeated the air. Even if it was unfair. He kept you on edge by knowing that you’re never satisfied.

"The Yankees were pretty much the same way [as the Buss approach], you had to get to the World Series."

It feels more like McCourt has to get to the next deal. Dodgers fans don’t really want to believe this. They want to believe his spending $5.25 million on an 18-year-old right-hander is a sign he’s committed to winning.

Only that’s not the way it feels. Too much evidence piled upon itself. The Dodgers may by far and away be McCourt’s main toy, but he has a bag full of toys.

And an absolute commitment to winning -- like Buss' -- isn’t in there.

-- Steve Dilbeck