There’s nothing the Lakers would like more than to hire the right man for the coaching job, and nothing the Buss family would like more than another crack at an NBA championship. The latest news broke in Los Angeles on Wednesday about an embattled man who failed during his rocky tenure.
The job security of the 62-year-old coach, who finished with a 67-87 record and a winning percentage of .435, had been questioned largely because he deserved blame for the Lakers’ woes this season. Let’s be honest for a moment: It’s been a challenge for Mike D’Antoni, the scapegoat, from the start. After all, he realized, like everybody else in Lakerland, that he was not fit to be the Lakers head coach. In other words, D’Antoni has resigned as coach after two tumultuous seasons in L.A., where he was on everyone’s bad list for the team’s fiascoes. The fans love it. Magic Johnson loves it.
Jim Buss, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, must now find a replacement and simply look for someone who is an ideal fit. If not for Buss’ massive ego, the Lakers wouldn’t have had constant coaching changes and wouldn’t be riding on the coaching carousel. This is what happens when you make the wrong decisions, not once but twice. Buss made a poor choice three years ago, when he hired Mike Brown instead of Brian Shaw, whose familiarity with the triangle offense made him a top candidate to take over. He made a poor choice, when he fired Brown five games into the season and quickly found a replacement by hiring D’Antoni over his sister’s fiancée, Phil Jackson, who is currently the Knicks’ president of basketball operations.
The son of the late Dr. Jerry Buss will be searching for L.A.’s fourth head coach in less than three years, and several names have already been linked to the Lakers’ coaching job since D’Antoni’s resignation. Basketball fans, particularly Lakers fans and even the local media, questioned Buss’ business acumen and begged him to step down. He is completely responsible for running basketball operations, and knows he can’t screw up the Lakers’ next coaching hire.
Who is the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that Buss can’t blow it this time. Judging by his mistakes in the past, the Lakers need to make sure they get this one right. It will be interesting to see whom Buss hires this time to fill the coaching vacancy. There has been nothing at all from injuries to D’Antoni’s bizarre coaching methods that the Lakers have done better to once again get back to the top in a tough Western Conference. There certainly has never been any positive news about D’Antoni, a guy who never changed the culture or stabilized a storied franchise. That leaves Buss to ponder just like everyone else. Where does he go from here?
Once again, Buss is unsure about the team’s direction, but worst of all, he’s unsure what direction to take himself. The team’s basketball operations is now fully in Buss’ hands, which isn’t the smartest idea when he has basically dismantled his father’s precious franchise, only because he cares about his ridiculous ego and money. For now, everyone should be happy about D’Antoni’s resignation, but the team’s stubborn, egomaniacal owner must put his ego aside and turn to a coach who is surely capable of holding a team together.
If the Lakers are going to raise championship banners to the rafters, Buss must take a long look at someone who is smart and who will guide the team through adversity, the one person who can mentor and inspire a plethora of players, and conceivably get them back to top tier. The Lakers might get mocked as the dumbest organization in all of sports if Buss rush the process and doesn’t carefully choose their next head coach, but they’re also a team that has struggled with injuries all season long and barely had chemistry. So maybe D’Antoni got a raw deal with the Lakers. For much of the season, the Lakers were devoid of talent, but you can’t sugarcoat that D’Antoni was clueless and couldn’t find ways to get the job done.
There has been speculation, the day after D’Antoni stepped down, that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could be the next Lakers’ head coach. There are talks that the Lakers requested permission from the Chicago Bulls to speak with him. It would be Buss’ smartest decision since he’s taken the reins, and he’s interested in bringing in Thibs to truly navigate the future of the Lakers. The only saving grace for the Lakers is to give a guy like Thibodeau the coaching job since he turned the Bulls around in his first year as head coach. In short, after winning 93 games over the past two seasons, he’s known as one of the premier coaches in the NBA. When you’re not committed to playing defense consistently, it’s vital that you sign a guy like Thibodeau who is greatly lauded for his defensive prowess. In reality, though, he and the Bulls still have three years remaining on a $17.5 million contract extension signed last year, which explains why the Lakers need permission from the organization.
You’d think with the Lakers having to rebuild and with Kobe Bryant entering the twilight era of his career — nearing the end of a fantastic ride, the Lakers wouldn’t only look for a long-term solution but maybe even look at some high-profile college coaches to lead the way.
There’s much uncertainty with the Lakers search for a new coach, but in the meantime, rumor has it that the Lakers could target Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari and UConn’s Kevin Ollie. Based strictly on Calipari’s horrible NBA track record, it would be hard to think he can translate his sharpness and brilliance to the pros when he won’t find it easy to recruit the nation’s best talent, given that the pros are a different animal. If any one of these coaching candidates from the college ranks is a perfect fit for the Lakers, I’m guessing Ollie is that guy. Of course, not many would agree with the Lakers snatching a coach out of college and turning him into an NBA coach, but Ollie is capable of one day maybe emerging into a top-level NBA coach. It’s believed that, with Ollie’s calm demeanor and leadership qualities, he can excel at the next level after leading Connecticut to this year’s national championship. Before he retired after 13 years as a guard, he proved he could truly be a perfect mentor and a solid communicator, just as he was for two of the league’s transcendent stars, LeBron James and Kevin Durant during his playing days. If he’s the next Lakers head coach, it is quite possible Ollie can lure Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant to L.A. in 2015 when he potentially becomes a free agent, given their strong relationship.
You want to talk about veteran names with coaching experience?
OK. Let’s talk about those who’ve been around the league and are available for hire.
If it were simply a matter of seeking a defensive-minded coach other than the name Thibodeau, Lionel Hollins is the guy Buss wants to meet. If it were simply a matter of getting to the playoffs every year and settling for less, George Karl is the guy. The only negatives to putting the ball in Karl’s hands is that he’s battled health issues in the past and clearly is known for falling short of an NBA championship. He’s probably not the man for the job if the Lakers hope to win a 17th title. Another name that’s on the list is Byron Scott, who won three titles during the Lakers’ Showtime era. If Buss is foolish enough to base his decision on what makes Bryant happy, well then Scott is a good choice, considering that he’s mentored Kobe when he was a rookie in the 1996-97 season. Or you could offer the coaching duties to Jeff Van Gundy, and if he’s intrigued, he may decide to wave bye to color commentating at ESPN and ABC. Or you could talk to his brother, Stan, and see if he might be interested. As for Stan Van, he took Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.
Whatever Buss decides, he can’t screw this one up. Whoever is the next coach, hopefully he’s nothing like D’Antoni, who was never a fit for the team. It appears he left because the Lakers wouldn’t agree to pick up the team option on the final year of his contract, and he didn’t want to be a lame duck this year. That’s all good because Bryant apparently didn’t like playing for him. The Lakers are creating much conversation, and Buss paid D’Antoni to leave and get away from his franchise. Finally.
But now, it’s all up to Buss not to blow this one.