Ranking Potential Replacements for Mike D'Antoni as LA Lakers Head Coach
At some point, the Los Angeles Lakers will realize they made a mistake in hiring head coach Mike D'Antoni. The only thing undecided is whether that epiphany will come sooner or later.
D'Antoni's style is ill-suited for the Lakers roster, and he spent most of last season proving it. Complicating matters further, Dwight Howard's impending free-agency decision might be directly tied to D'Antoni's future in Los Angeles.
And apparently that's not a good thing.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, Howard felt marginalized by D'Antoni's faith in veterans Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. It didn't help the situation when the Lakers let assistant coach Chuck Person go and lost another assistant and Howard confidant, Steve Clifford to the Charlotte Bobcats.
If Howard is not yet completely sold on leaving the sunny shores of California for Texas, his decision could center on the person roaming the sidelines for the Lakers next season. Would the Lakers risk losing the perceived future of their franchise for D'Antoni?
If the answer is no, then a contingency plan must be in place. The Lakers will have to move quickly to find another head coach who has the vision to transform the current roster into an immediate contender and enough credibility to convince Howard to stay.
In case the Lakers need a little help in starting the process, I took the liberty of compiling a list of the top-five coaches who could potentially return the franchise to glory and convince Howard that the center position is important in Los Angeles.
No. 5: Phil Jackson
Most Lakers fans were stunned that the franchise chose to go with D'Antoni after offering the position to former coach Phil Jackson. Unfortunately, the manner in which events unfolded could prevent Jackson from ever manning the sidelines at Staples Center again.
At least as long as Jim Buss is running the team.
The Lakers decision to hire D'Antoni over Jackson has Buss' fingerprints all over it, and the change in direction was so unbelievable that Jackson reportedly laughed out loud when told by Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, according to ESPN.
That laugh was echoed by most of Lakers Nation.
Jackson would have been the perfect choice to transform Howard into a dominant, accountable player, yet the Lakers chose to go with a coach based on his connection to a 40-year-old point guard.
Well, the chances of Jackson providing his Zen wisdom and direction from the Lakers bench may finally be a thing of the past, but his connection to Jeannie Buss means the tiniest sliver of hope remains.
Who knows? Maybe Jeannie will eventually assume control of the franchise, and while that may not be enough to entice Jackson to return, his input on finding a replacement would be invaluable.
No. 4: Doc Rivers
If the Celtics choose to part ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the summer, then Rivers could be the next to go. While it may be difficult to picture a former Celtic leading the Lakers, it's not impossible.
The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is real but is more important to fans, and even that theory could be challenged if Rivers becomes available.
I'm sure any Lakers fans who feel compromised by the thought of a Celtic leading them would change their tune after watching Rivers work his magic on the sidelines. And Rivers' belief in strong defense would be a welcome change from what Lakers Nation witnessed last year.
It doesn't hurt that Rivers is also a master at recognizing game trends and situations and then adjusting his approach and strategy accordingly.
When was the last time anyone saw D'Antoni make a mid-game adjustment?
No. 3: Byron Scott
The Cleveland Cavaliers recently decided to axe head coach Byron Scott in favor of former coach Mike Brown, but the ultimate irony could occur if the Lakers choose to hire Scott.
Scott already has a built-in fanbase from his days as a member of the Lakers' Showtime teams and has had previous success as a head coach in New Orleans.
No. 2: Nate McMillan
Former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan's name has been linked to several head coaching positions including the spot formerly held by Vinny Del Negro in Los Angeles, according to ESPN.
McMillan is an intriguing prospect because he is viewed as a player's coach, and he potentially has the ability to coax the greatest effort out of Dwight Howard.
McMillan was on his way to being a great coach in Portland until injuries decimated his roster. Could his NBA journey continue as coach of the Lakers?
I'm not sure if McMillan demonstrated enough ability to handle adversity during his time in Portland, and the spotlight would increase tenfold in Los Angeles. But after witnessing D'Antoni's flame-out in that area, how much worse could McMillan be?
No. 1: Brian Shaw
If Phil Jackson is no longer an option to return to the Lakers, then former assistant Brian Shaw might be the next best thing.
Shaw is currently the associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers and one of the hottest coaching prospects in the NBA.
Shaw is a Jackson protege to the core, and while he believes in the merits of the famed triangle offense, Shaw is young and smart enough to tweak his scheme to the strengths of his players.
Shaw is also known as a player's coach, and he had the endorsement of Lakers star Kobe Bryant after Phil Jackson retired.
However, it's difficult to imagine Shaw returning to coach the Lakers as long as Jim Buss has anything to say about it.
The Lakers' decision to pass over Shaw and hire Mike Brown seemed to have much more to do with Jackson's influence than Shaw's coaching ability, and while Shaw may have the respect of Mitch Kupchak, that may not be enough to convince Buss.