Early Favorites to Coach the LA Lakers in 2014
Uncertainty faces the embattled Los Angeles Lakers after a hugely disappointing season that was followed by the departure of Dwight Howard. As a result, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the team’s front office must find the right pieces in the summer of 2014 to help this team compete for a championship—head coach included.
The storied franchise is looking toward the future as it rides out the final year of numerous contracts.
The 2014 offseason will be a big one in Lakerland when you consider that the only players under contract for the 2014-15 season will be Steve Nash at approximately $9.7 million, Nick Young (if he picks up his player option) and Robert Sacre (making less than $1 million).
With plenty of cap space comes a plethora of options. If the wrong coach is leading the revamped roster, though, the Lakers may experience disappointment yet again.
The Lakers will have plenty of coaching options to target. But the question is, who will be the best fit to steer Kobe Bryant toward an elusive sixth championship?
5. Mike D'Antoni
After an up-and-down first year with the Los Angeles Lakers, coupled with plenty of angst from Lakers fans, the odds seem slim that Mike D’Antoni will take on the team’s inevitable “Superteam” project in 2014.
The Lakers’ 40-32 record under the Italian basketball legend was enough to get the team into the playoffs, but fans never saw a truly inspired all-around effort.
The disconnect D’Antoni seemed to have with some players was simply exacerbated by the fact that he described Howard’s decision to leave Los Angeles as “mind-boggling” according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. It’s no secret that Howard wasn’t a fan of the D’Antoni hire, so it's mind-boggling as to why the Lakers' coach is confused.
Despite an awkward first season with the team, there's a chance that the offensive guru could be back to lead the Lakers for the 2014-15 season.
Aside from the fact that D’Antoni is under contract for the next two years, he also holds the respect of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant (two guys all but guaranteed to return). Additionally, the veteran coach has spent time with the USA Olympic basketball team’s coaching staff, so he’s no stranger to rosters loaded with talent.
Mitch Kupchak has held firm on his decision to hire D’Antoni over Phil Jackson. Due to that, terminating the coach’s contract before it expires would be seen as an admission of failure.
4. George Karl
George Karl won Coach of the Year last season for leading the Denver Nuggets to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. A first-round postseason exit later, Karl was out of a job.
Despite being highly respected around the league and having nearly 30 years of NBA coaching experience, the Nuggets decided to part ways with Karl, who had been coaching in Denver since the 2004-05 season.
There’s no questioning Karl’s standing as a phenomenal NBA head coach. However, his .599 regular season winning percentage compared to a .432 postseason winning percentage with no championship rings is worth noting.
Karl’s regular season success has far outweighed what his teams have been able to do in the playoffs. Perhaps joining the Los Angeles Lakers would be the fit needed to get him over the hump.
3. David Blatt
David Blatt may not be a name that casual NBA fans have heard of, but he’s a coach that could be a very real possibility for numerous NBA teams in the future.
Blatt is the head coach of Israeli pro team Maccabi Tel Aviv. His main claim to basketball coaching fame, though, is his success with the Russian national team. Under Blatt’s guidance, Russia won gold at the 2007 European championships and bronze at the London Olympics last year.
His tremendous success in Europe as an American-born coach makes him an intriguing option.
He knows how to get the most out of the talent available on the court, which is evidenced by his success with Russia’s national team. If nothing else, he’d be a splashy hire who knows how to win on the big stage.
Making an immediate transition to the NBA with expectations of winning a championship, however, would be a lot to ask of him.
2. Stan Van Gundy
Since Stan Van Gundy’s tumultuous end to coaching the Orlando Magic, which reportedly stemmed from Dwight Howard asking management to fire the veteran coach (per Ian O’Connor of ESPN), his NBA coaching future has been murky.
Numerous teams in need of a new head coach have targeted him, but according to sports broadcaster David Baumann via Twitter, Van Gundy made the family decision not to coach next season.
Additionally, Van Gundy said in an interview with Fox Sports Florida that it’s possible he may never coach again.
His coaching future is very much in doubt, but if the Los Angeles Lakers can coax him out of “retirement” to lead the franchise into the future, he’s a target they must consider.
As an NBA head coach, Van Gundy has a career regular-season winning percentage of .641. That's a better mark than Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens and others. His postseason winning percentage, meanwhile, is a stunning .552.
Needless to say, he knows how to win.
With Howard out of the picture in Los Angeles, Mitch Kupchak and Co. may be able to convince Van Gundy to return to coaching.
1. David Fizdale
David Fizdale will be a head coach in the NBA at some point. The only question is when that will happen.
Fizdale has been an assistant under Erik Spoelstra since coach Spo took over as head coach of the Miami Heat in 2008. Having won two championships together, Spoelstra never misses an opportunity to gush about the impact his assistant continues to make.
According to Ethan Skolnick of The Palm Beach Post, Spoelstra said the following:
I’m hopeful that he is viewed in the proper light. David Fizdale is an outstanding basketball coach, with an immense background. He’s not just a bright young prospect. He’s proven himself. If he feels like the opportunity is right, he’s got our full backing.
That’s high praise from a head coach who has proven to be one of the best young basketball minds in the league today.
Considering Fizdale’s experience coaching the Miami Heat—one of the first in the league to form an offseason “Superteam”—he could be a great fit with the Los Angeles Lakers if they choose to reload with big-name free agents in the summer of 2014.
His experience working with and molding the “Big Three” in Miami would prove invaluable for a Lakers franchise looking to add marquee stars around Kobe Bryant.
At 39 years old, he’d be one of the youngest options out there. Nevertheless, youth proved not to be an issue when Pat Riley tabbed Spoelstra to coach the Heat.