Due Diligence: The Los Angeles Lakers Coaching Search

Posted by Clevis Murray on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 with No comments
On April 30th, 2014, Mike D'Antoni resigned as the Head Coach of one of the most storied franchises in American sports.....the Los Angeles Lakers and the fans of the franchise rejoiced. The reason why D'Antoni resigned was due to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak opting not to exercise the 2015-2016 season on his contract and D'Antoni was paid a undisclosed amount of money from the $4 million owed to him. In years past only one coach has proven capable of controlling the "Black Mamba" that is Kobe Bryant and now that master of Zen has taken on a greater task in the concrete jungle.  With that being said, whomever coaches the Lakers next must know how to control the venomous Mamba and also embrace the larger task of restoring the franchise to the days of past, the days where the just making the playoffs wasn't the goal....contending for world tiles was the only option.  

After the somewhat surprising departure of D'Antoni, Kobe Bryant subliminally displayed being happy that D'Antoni was gone by saying he "didn't care".  The display showed Bryant didn't have an iota of respect for D'Antoni. Since the resignation of D'Antoni, the Lakers were immediately linked to a multitude of coaches ranking from college, to former coaches and finally current NBA coaches. The men who were associated with the franchise were none other than, Kevin Ollie (UCONN), John Calipari (Kentucky), Roy Williams (UNC), Tom Thibadeau (Bulls) and former coaches Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins, Kurt Rambis and George Karl. None of the NBA coaches have denied interest in the Lakers but the college coaches have as they are content coaching student-athletes. 

To be brutally honest, I couldn't blame the college coaches ala Kevin Ollie, John Calipari and Roy Williams for staying where they are. The NBA is a business where you are hired to get fired; in college that isn't the case as you are hired there to be viable as long as your team is respectable. Also in college, the fans seem more loyal to their coaches than players and in the NBA it's vice versa.

Kevin Ollie was a 13-year NBA journeymen but didn't gain national attention until he led the UCONN Huskies to a improbable NCAA championship. The 41-year old was linked to "The City of Angels" because of his success in two short years at Connecticut and his league wide reputation as a player which made some believe that he would be a perfect for since LA would be in rebuild soon. But the chances of him becoming the new coach of the Lakers ended when he agreed to a multi-year extension with UCONN which would pay him $3 million annually.

University of Kentucky coach John Calipari was immediately linked to the Lakers job. Calipari has led Kentucky to the NCAA championship game two of the last four years and has produced many NBA players in John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and soon-to-be draftees James Young and Julius Randle. Most of their starters are returning and he has yet again put together another dominant freshmen class. So the question now is, Why would he leave? Calipari quickly put out the flames of the possibility of him becoming the Lakers coach.

"Before it starts," Calipari said as he shutdown the Laker rumors. "I'm totally committed to helping this group of young men reach their dreams," said Calipari. I wouldn't & couldn't leave this group." 

In 2004, one season after leaving the University of Kansas for the University of North Carolina, Roy Williams had declined to speak with the Lakers. The 10 year time period saw Williams have a change of heart. With the Lakers deciding to once again flirt with Williams, this time around he has "friend zoned" them by saying he believes he's solely meant to be a college coach and couldn't make the commitment to being in a relationship with the Lakers or NBA. In the college ranks, Williams has won two national championships at Chapel Hill in 2005 and 2009.

"I've always felt like that I'm a college coach and that's where I belong,” Williams said. “(Lakers general manager) Mitch Kupchak is one of my best friends in the whole wide world, there's no question there, but I'm a college guy and if somebody calls and offers me the greatest job in the world, it better be really good because I feel like I've got about the greatest job in the world."

Tom Thibadeau's relationship with the Chicago Bulls front office is as bad as his team's offense. Thibadeau and the Bulls are a good pair but he and GM Gar Forman reportedly don't see eye-to-eye which could prompt Thibadeau to leave. He has been linked to the Lakers but is under contract in the Windy City through 2017. Despite those rumors, no gas has been added to the fire and the only way Thibadeau is coaching the Lakers is if the Bulls agree to compensate them which is what the Los Angeles Clippers did with the Boston Celtics last season to acquire Doc Rivers. Thibs had also been linked to the Warriors (Steve Kerr is new coach), Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Knicks, which is the only team he has interest in coaching. 

George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy and Kurt Rambis are three coaches that have been linked to the Lakers and that's about it. There have been no reported conversations between the team and any of those former coaches. Two of the three candidates are being linked to other franchises as the Lakers take their time in naming a new coach. Karl has been associated with the Cleveland Cavaliers as he could make a return to the franchise as their coach and possibly their team  president. Karl, 63, has the most wins of any candidate with a 1,131-756 record — 59.9% winning percentage — in 25 NBA seasons. Van Gundy on the other hand, has been linked to the Memphis Grizzlies as possibly becoming their coach and president of basketball operations which would make David Joerger's exit imminent and Rambis is just being linked to the team with no eye popping credentials.  
Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy, Sr. have all been linked to the Lakers recently and are likely to become the new coach of the franchise than the previous candidates, unless new candidates emerge. Mike Dunleavy, Sr. — father of Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy, Jr. — has recently interviewed for the Lakers job as he has 17 years of experience in the league — coaching record is 613-716 (.461) — in which he coached the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers. Dunleavy was recently with the Clippers in 2010 but resigned. He has a history with the Lakers as he coached them from 1990-1992 and made a NBA Finals appearance in 1991.    

Byron Scott probably has the most notoriety of all the candidates since he actually played with the organization from 1983-1993 and 1996-1997 and helped them to three NBA championships when "ShowTime" was must-see-tv in LA. 18 years after being the veteran presence to a young Kobe Bryant, he could now reunite now with him. Scott recently coached the then New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets and also the Cleveland Cavaliers. He led the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. Scott hasn't coached a good team since the 2008-2009 season in which the Hornets went 49-33. Since then, Scott has been a aberration of what he once was which was a winner. From 2010-2013 he went 64-166 and has a 416-521 (.444) coaching record all together. As Scott recently interviewed for the Lakers job, he left feeling confident.

"I don't feel I'm a very arrogant guy, but I feel like I am the perfect guy for this job," Scott said to ESPNLA 710 Radio. "I got a great relationship with Kobe. I know the team, know the roster. I watched them all season long and I just think it would be a great fit.

There's one thing we all know about Kobe Bryant, he likes playing the game of basketball the way he wants to and doesn't plan in changing his game for anyone unless your name is Phil Jackson. Byron Scott recently said Kobe needed to change his game if he got the job: "Obviously, if I get the job, the first conversation I have is with Kobe... talk about the type of game that he's going to be playing because he's going to have to change his game a little bit, and I think he knows that." An argument could be made if Scott is the perfect fit for the job, but looking at his recent success and the type of players he's coached, it looks as if he will still be unemployed especially since the chances of Kobe changing the way he plays is like the chance I have to make it in the NBA – zero.

The last candidate but certainly not least is former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins is a former NBA player and champion and is a coach in which perennial All-Star guard Kobe Bryant might enjoy to play under due to his stringency in which the franchise will need as they will enter a youth movement. Hollins also brings a championship swagger due to reaching the NBA Finals as a player (Portland) and assistant coach (Phoenix). Hollins is as close to a perfect fit as one can get as he took a horrific Memphis Grizzlies team into a team to watch and got accustomed to winning. He led Memphis to the 2013 Western Conference Finals and made history in 2011 at they swept the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. If the Lakers enter win-now mode then Hollins is the perfect choice, if in rebuilding mode then your hire Hollins, it's a win-win situation hypothetically speaking. Coach Hollins has a 214-201 (.516) coaching record and is the guy Mr. Bryant wants to see drawing up playa for him during timeouts. 

The Lakers will do everything they can to hire the right coach and someone who won't extirpate the franchise even more. The question now is, How will Kobe Bryant impact their decision? Bryant wasn't a big fan of the hirings of Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni and would like the team to not play favorites and wants to have input on their next coach, which would likely be his last. 

"On the last two they didn't," Bryant said. "On the third one, I'm hoping they do... Honestly, it's not really about whether the players like the coach or not, it's really about getting results. Liking somebody and those results don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. Sometimes when a coach is driving you, you don't necessarily like it, but it's a part of the process, and then once you win, everybody is buddy-buddy after that."

The Los Angeles Lakers franchise plans on communicating with Kobe Bryant throughout the coaching search, but it has been made clear that he won't be a part of the process and whatever he says it won't thwart the organization from making a final decision.

"From time to time we ask his advice," Mitch Kupchak told ESPN's Andy Katz at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. "He really won't weigh in on something like this. I'm not even sure that we'll talk to him prior to interviews. But from time to time, he is in our facility, I'll go downstairs and I'll talk to him about a bunch of different things."

LA is trying to return to the glory days, the days which began with George Mikan and evolved to the days of Wilt-West, Magic-Kareem and Kobe-Shaq. Their way back to the top of the totem pole starts with their next coach as the 16-time NBA Champions are in a precarious situation. The ball is in their court, will they go for a coach that is a rough, tough and intimidating like a slam dunk or someone who is soft, finesse and simple like a layup. The Lakers have a bevy of candidates that have congregated to them and it's only a matter of time until they decide who will become the 25th Head coach in franchise history. The new hire can either tame the "Black Mamba" or get struck by its deadly venom which will prompt the search for number 26. Mitch Kupchak and his peers have many options to pick from and it doesn't seem like they will rush the process which is wise. Will the Lakers return to prominence next year or the NBA's Draft Lottery? The next coach will have a abundance of pressure and it will be entertaining to see who is selected. Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy and others are all worthy candidates but there can only be one.