Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Coaching Options (not named Phil Jackson)
So, the Mike Brown Error is officially over. After a grand total of 71 regular season games (think about that, not even one complete regular NBA season), Brown has been fired as the Los Angeles Lakers coach.
Now, the real intrigue begins. First and foremost (and second most), who is going to be the permanent replacement for Brown? In the interim, it will be long-traveled head coach/assistant Bernie Bickerstaff. But there is absolutely no chance he'll be the coach by Thanksgiving.
So, who could be the new Laker head man?
I have some theories of my own. Before I delve into them, let me say I'd be shocked if Phil Jackson comes out of retirement to coach this team again. While there are so many cosmetic upgrades from 2011, in many ways it is the same team overall (too slow, not good enough defensively). There's no question that Mitch Kupchak will kick the tires more than once to try and lure Jackson out of retirement.
However, don't hold your breath for the third go-round with the Zen Master. That means, the next Lakers coach has come to the table with two things: First, he has to be a respected leader. Brown's biggest fault was that he just didn't seem to have the cache necessary to fill such a high-profile coaching position. Second, the guy has to be a pro coach.
Any notion of someone like Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari or Billy Donovan being plucked out of the college game is laughable, particularly with the timing.
Therefore, the next Lakers coach will be a current assistant or a former head coach presently not coaching elsewhere.
That is what makes it so intriguing. But enough of the exposition, let's get to the plot...here's number five.
No. 5: Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy actually makes a lot of sense...haha, just kidding Dwight!
No. 5 (really): Nate McMillan
If there's an intriguing guy that not many are talking about right now, it's Nate McMillan. The former Blazer and one-time Seattle SuperSonics head coach has made no secret of his desire to get back into the NBA game.
The knock on McMillan would be, that like Brown, he did not coach under a megawatt spotlight up in the Pacific Northwest. Still, he's a very good NBA coach who did manage to take Portland teams ravaged by injury to the playoffs three straight seasons. His best season was with Seattle in the 2004-05 season when he had Ray Allen and not much else but still pushed the eventual NBA champion Spurs to six games.
McMillan is low on the list because, well...he's simply not in much demand. Truth is, he was pushing for the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats jobs in the summer, but probably won't warrant much consideration in Los Angeles.
That does not mean he's any less of a quality coach, however.
No. 4: Chuck Person
The sneaky choice for me is current Laker assistant Chuck Person.
My rationale is not so much the pedigree that Person brings, but more about what recent history may have taught the franchise.
What does that mean? Well, many in Laker Land wanted Phil Jackson assistant and three-time Laker champion Brian Shaw to get the job after the 2011 season ended. Instead, Jim Buss went with Brown. That was perceived (fairly or not) as the first blow against Brown, one taken before he ever coached a game on the Lakers sideline.
So, the easy option is to elevate the most promising assistant to head man and keep the status quo intact. That would be Person, who is more equipped at this point than Eddie Jordan or Bickerstaff to be the head man.
At this point, it is hard to get a sexy pick for the Lakers. The timing is just not good to get a top-level NBA coach. That means Person is a viable option right now.
The strike against him? It is the same thing that prevented Shaw from getting the job: lack of experience. Is he strong willed enough to compartmentalize his relationships with players and lead?
Those are the types of things that typically cost assistants (see: Patrick Ewing) NBA head jobs.
No. 3: Brian Shaw
If Person is too green for the Purple and Gold, it stands to reason that Los Angeles might just bring in the guy who was almost the choice to replace Phil Jackson in the first place.
That would be Brian Shaw.
He has two things going for him that no other candidate can claim: a strong relationship with Kobe Bryant and deep knowledge of how the Lakers operate.
Those elements make him a stronger candidate than people think. But like Person, the question is about the distinction made between Shaw the assistant and former teammate and Shaw the head man. Will Kobe respect him as much as he did Phil Jackson? The reality is, Bryant is going to have a lot more sway in this than people will report, and it is a something that could both work for or against Shaw.
Having said that, the Lakers would have to work out a deal with the Indiana Pacers—for whom Shaw is under contract through 2013—to acquire his services.
No. 2: Jerry Sloan
Jerry Sloan. Basketball's epitome of old school. A guy who still looks like he might throw an elbow to an opposing player who wanders too close to his bench.
For my money, he would be the ultimate change in attitude this veteran Laker team needs.
The immediate question is whether Kobe Bryant and Sloan could coexist. Personally, I don't see that being a problem. Kobe is a straight shooter and no one is more direct than Sloan. For all the bluster about how Deron Williams had him run out of Utah, nothing I had ever seen or heard previous to that development suggested that Sloan wasn't a guy for whom players wouldn't play.
In many ways, if you're going to make this kind of change, you have to get someone who is the antithesis of the man you're relieving. I can't think of a person more different in temperament from Mike Brown than Jerry Sloan.
And, oh yeah, he brings a pedigree of his own. The Jazz were a perennial playoff team—that's with Stockton and Malone as well as Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. You are not going to get a more hard-nosed, tactical coach out there on the market than Sloan.
The way the Lakers have been playing, that may be precisely what this team needs to right the ship.
Of course, Sloan's age (71 in March) and disposition might be a turnoff to other members of the team as well as the Laker front office. Sloan could be especially problematic for Dwight Howard. If Stan Van Gundy was too much for Howard, how will he receive the demanding Sloan?
With all the options available, Sloan would be the best coaching choice. But you know, there is one guy that no one is talking about who would be the ideal selection in this scenario...
#1: Kobe Bean Bryant
Quick trivia: Who was the last player-coach in the NBA? The answer is Dave Cowens, a future Hall of Famer who played and coached with a streak of perfectionism and an insatiable will to win.
Sound familiar? There's a shooting guard that is the face of the Lakers franchise whom many already see as a de facto coach on the floor. Kobe Bryant would be the absolute perfect choice to be the head coach. Follow me here.
First and foremost, the rationale about trying to win now is to appease Bryant, who has stated that he maybe retire after two more seasons with the Lakers. If this is a short-term fix, why not make a short-term move?
Kobe has enough pull to make those kinds of decisions without having to worry about the reactions of his teammates. This is his team. He may or may not be the best player, but he still is the leader of this team.
As such, why worry about bringing into the fold a new head coach? Give the keys to Bryant and allow him to implement what works best for this team going forward. This would be the ultimate move, but hey, you would know once and for all the type of player Bryant is. If it's about winning, the input of Howard, Pau Gasol and of course, Steve Nash would be vital.
Beyond that, I would love to see a superstar have to face the music for decisions made at the end of a game. Many of us as fans scapegoat the coaching, because the idea is that players didn't have the sway to make the decisions for themselves. If Brown was really so bad as a head man and Bryant has such a tremendous basketball IQ, it would make a lot of sense to let him have the reins for the remainder of this season.
Sadly, this won't happen. But I really think it should.
Yes, Mike Brown has been scapegoated out of a job in Los Angeles.
This start isn't just about a coach not doing the right things. But in the big picture, if you don't have your best players fully on board and backing you up, success is not going to happen as a coach.
So now there is a gigantic opening in the NBA. People would love to see Phil Jackson return to the L.A. sideline, but there appears to be too much enmity between Jackson and the Buss family. Speculation has been that the Lakers would consider Mike D'Antoni, but he brings nothing to improve the team's woeful defense.
That means bringing in a defensive coach, someone who understands a veteran team is important. Jerry Sloan fits that bill and would be a great change from the kind of head man Los Angeles has had in recent years. It likely isn't going to happen. Ultimately, this becomes a guessing game.
As you've just seen, I would love to see Kobe Bryant assume a player-coach role. Who better to follow than a top-10 all-time NBA player? It makes too much sense in this day and age for it to happen.
So in lieu of that, what's curious will be what the team looks like in the short term. Does Bickerstaff scrap the Princeton offense and give the players more freedom? Will the rotation change off the bench? So many things have to be addressed even before a new choice is made.
And I guess that's the one thing we can always count on: No matter what the season, the drama never ends in Hollywood.