7 Dream Candidates for Los Angeles Lakers to Replace Mike D'Antoni
An ill-fitting roster and a nasty attack by the injury bug has limited how much the coach can do, but the court of public opinion doesn't hand out free passes. The mob has already spoken on the fate of Magic Mike.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said on First Take that a source told him "D'Antoni is gone at the end of the season," via Lakers Nation's Corey Hansford. Sources told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Kobe Bryant has "no interest" in spending another season in D'Antoni's system.
The coach has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, but even that might not save him. ESPN L.A.'s Dave McMenamin has heard the Lakers are "leaning toward" cutting ties with the coach rather than bringing him back for next season.
At some point, D'Antoni's official walking papers are coming. After fumbling their last two coaching searches, the Lakers can't afford another misstep.
Luckily, there are some intriguing NBA coaching veterans who are looking for work, as well as some expert minds from the college game who could be ready for a new challenge.
Getting away from this D'Antoni nightmare won't be easy. But these seven dream candidates could help this franchise finds its way back to relevance.
There may not be a hotter name in the college basketball ranks than Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg—UConn frontman and national champion Kevin Ollie included.
Hoiberg, ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote, is "widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game." The former Cyclone standout played 10 seasons in the league and later spent time as a front-office executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He snapped a six-year NCAA tournament drought during his second season in Ames. The Cyclones have made three consecutive tourney runs for the first time since 1995-97, winning at least one game in every appearance.
Hoiberg runs a pro-style offense, using screens and versatile players to create mismatches with opponents. He'd have more than enough isolation plays to keep Kobe Bryant happy but would run them in the context of a system that emphasizes spacing and ball movement.
It's hard to say how much interest Hoiberg might have in the Lakers—or in any NBA gig for that matter—but easy to assume he's already on L.A.'s radar.
Lionel Hollins has no business being in the unemployment line.
Under his watch, the Memphis Grizzlies grew from a perennial doormat into a team no one wanted to face—regular season or playoff time.
During his second full season on the job, the franchise won its first playoff series, upsetting the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in 2011. Two years later, the Grizzlies rattled off a franchise-best 56 wins and followed that up with their first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance.
But the coach had some different views than the new, number-crunching ownership regime in Memphis, and the two sides parted ways last summer. Hollins has been waiting for opportunity's knock ever since.
"I believe I've established myself as a head coach and I'd like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn't a fluke," Hollins said in December, via ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne. "I feel like I've proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I've done."
He's enough of a proven commodity to keep the veterans happy, while his player-development skills could work wonders for a Lakers team holding what could be a franchise-defining lottery pick. He knows how to get players to buy in defensively (the Grizzlies finished ninth or better in defensive efficiency during his last three seasons), and he isn't married to a slower-paced system.
Hollins has shown the ability to mold his coaching style around the players on his roster. That's exactly what Lakers fans have been begging D'Antoni to do to no avail.
Luring Jackson disciple and current TNT analyst Steve Kerr to La-La Land could be the type of sneaky good acquisition some wonder if this franchise can still make.
Kerr has no coaching experience, but he would be following the same path from player to analyst to coach that Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers took. Kerr's resume also includes a three-year run as the Phoenix Suns' general manager.
He's seen the game from (almost) every angle, and according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, he would only leave the broadcast booth for a coaching job. Assuming Knicks coach Mike Woodson is dispatched at season's end, Stein reports, that job would be "essentially Kerr's to accept or reject."
Kerr spent five seasons of his 15-year career under Jackson when both were with the Chicago Bulls. There, he learned the triangle offense, the same system with which Jackson and Bryant won five titles in Los Angeles (and he picked up three championship rings for his troubles).
The 48-year-old Kerr is young enough to be the Lakers coach of the future and successful enough to get the respect of the championship-hungry Mamba.
We said these are dream candidates, right?
It's hard to imagine Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski coaching any team other than his Blue Devils. He's been in Durham since 1980 and won four national titles during his tenure—the court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium even bears his name.
NBA teams have tried unsuccessfully to pry him away from Duke over the years. Neither the Portland Trail Blazers (1994), Lakers (2004), then-New Jersey Nets (2010) nor Minnesota Timberwolves (2011) had any luck.
According to the coach himself, that's not going to change.
"I'm too old to do anything else," Krzyzewski said, via Arash Markazi of ESPN.com.
He's probably right, but that won't stop teams from trying. Considering he's "easily the best candidate for NBA teams searching for a brilliant mind with a track record of working with NBA talent," as USA Today's Scott Gleeson put it, those teams are trying for a reason.
Assuming there is a dream scenario where Coach K would make an NBA move, might it involve joining forces with two of his Team USA players (Bryant and potential free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony) in L.A.? The rest of the cupboard would be bare, but can you imagine the recruiting power this trio would have?
It probably is just a dream, but the idea is certainly dream-worthy.
If the Lakers want some history in their hire, Byron Scott has plenty of it: with this city, this franchise and a certain hobbled superstar.
An Inglewood native, his path to the pros began at Morningside High School. The then-San Diego Clippers snatched him up with the No. 4 pick of the 1983 draft but traded him to the Lakers prior to the start of his rookie season.
Scott spent the next 10 seasons in L.A., collecting championship rings in 1985, 1987 and 1988. He then spent three years away from the Lakers but returned to the team to work with their rookie shooting guard in 1996-97: Kobe Bryant.
"Byron was my mentor my first year," Bryant said in 2002, via Scott Soshnick of The Seattle Times. "The advice that he gave me my rookie year I still hold dear today."
"He'll say to this day that I really taught him how to play," Scott said in 2011, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. "He had God-given talent; I didn't teach him how to play."
If the Lakers want to go the make-Mamba-happy route—a possibility considering the nearly $50 million extension they gave him earlier in the year—there may not be a better candidate than Scott.
Scott's coaching resume isn't bad, either. He won a pair of Eastern Conference titles with the Nets (2002, 2003) and played a pivotal role in the development of All-Star guards Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving.
With history, relationships and results on his side, Scott should be getting a long look.
It's hard to come up with many coaching resumes more impressive than that of former Utah Jazz mastermind Jerry Sloan.
Between his 2011 enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and career .603 winning percentage over 26 NBA seasons, Sloan has built a legacy that few of his contemporaries could rival.
He resigned from his Utah coaching seat midway through the 2010-11 season, but there were rumblings last summer, via Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, that he was "seriously considering" a return to the coach's box. There was speculation that his name was included in L.A.'s coaching search last season, but Sloan told USA Today's Sam Amick he never "talked to anybody" from the Lakers.
Bryant told reporters he has "not one lick" of patience in a potentially lengthy rebuilding project, per Lakers.com. It's hard to say if a quick-fix option is even available to the franchise, but bringing in someone of Sloan's stature might be the first part of that process.
As successful as he was, Sloan never captured that elusive championship ring. The fact that his best Jazz teams shared the league with Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan certainly didn't help.
Could a Sloan-Bryant tandem produce the ring each man would love to add to his collection? I'm not sure, but I can guarantee it would be fun to see them try.
Jeff Van Gundy
Jeff Van Gundy is one of the premier coaching minds not currently occupying an NBA sideline.
A tactical genius, he's been biding his time as an NBA commentator for ESPN since being dismissed by the Houston Rockets in 2007.
If a coaching search is taking place, his name is often tossed out as a potential candidate. And for good reason.
He compiled a 430-318 record over his 11-year coaching career, guiding his team to postseason play in nine of those seasons. While his teams (first the New York Knicks, then the Rockets) never won an NBA title, his eighth-seeded Knicks did make an NBA Finals appearance in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
Van Gundy's versatility was a staple of his coaching career. His teams typically had a defensive slant (especially his supremely tough Knicks squads of the late 1990s), but they could also overwhelm with offense. He crafted offensive systems around transcendent bigs (Patrick Ewing, Yao Ming) but also thrived with top-shelf perimeter scorers (Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Tracy McGrady).
That versatility is key—no one knows quite how the Lakers roster will look going forward.
No matter the pieces given to him, though, Van Gundy has a track record that says he could find a way to make them work.