Interview List for Los Angeles Lakers' Next Head Coach
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak won’t discuss the coach’s future, Kobe Bryant reportedly has “no interest” in playing for him, and the franchise just finished with its worst record since moving to L.A. in 1960-61. If these signs are any indication, Mike D’Antoni won’t be back to coach the Lakers in 2014-15.
Although his seat is hotter than ever, MDA can’t take all of the blame. The fanbase raked him over the coals all season long, but the Lakers suffered a plethora of crippling injuries that put D’Antoni in an unenviable position. He never had a chance to succeed from the outset after Dwight Howard left for the Houston Rockets last summer, and while he may be under contract through next year, the chances he'll return seem remote at best.
During the 2013-14 regular season, Lakerland finished 28th in defensive rating by surrendering 107.9 points per 100 possessions. Only the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz were worse on defense than the Lakers, according to ESPN.
The offense—though superior to the woeful defense—wasn’t much better. The Lakers finished 21st with an offensive rating of 101.9, per ESPN.
The lone bright spots were L.A.’s improved role players and bench.
Guys like Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore showed promise under D’Antoni, but their improvements—and an endorsement from Farmar—likely won’t save the coach’s job.
So if Kupchak and Co. eventually decide to cut ties with the incumbent coach—a very real possibility—who should be on the short list of candidates to replace him?
5. Elston Turner
Elston Turner is currently the lead assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies under first-year head man Dave Joerger. In previous years, he was the lead defensive assistant under Alvin Gentry with the Phoenix Suns and an assistant under Rick Adelman with the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
Turner certainly doesn’t qualify as a big-name, high-profile coach whom casual fans have heard about. Nevertheless, he’s a defensive-minded guy with more than a decade of NBA coaching experience. After finishing 28th in the league defensively by giving up nearly 108 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers would benefit greatly from adding someone with a defensive background.
Turner is ready and willing to become a head coach at the professional level. Noting the success that other former assistants have had in 2013-14 (Joerger, Clifford, Jason Kidd and Mike Budenholzer), bringing in Turner may be a solid choice. Ultimately, however, he may not have the “it” factor L.A.’s front office is searching for.
In terms of underrated candidates, the Lakers could do far worse, but bigger names check in higher on the interview list.
4. Steve Kerr
Whether or not Steve Kerr is interested in an NBA head coaching position is up for debate. However, a Laker legend is already touting him.
“If indeed TNT analyst and former NBA guard Steve Kerr, who played for three of Jackson’s championship Bulls teams, wants to coach, he is the front-runner, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports.”
Having played for and won championships under the Zen Master, Kerr has a working knowledge of the legendary triangle system that Jackson utilized for so many successful years. He’d likely draw from those experiences when creating his own coaching style, which makes him an intriguing candidate.
Bringing Kerr to L.A. might be considered a long shot, but New York is one of the few organizations that might actually be in worse shape than the Lakers heading into the 2014 offseason, so you never know.
3. Byron Scott
As a player, Byron Scott won three NBA titles with the Lakers in 1985, 1987 and 1988. He was never named an All-Star during his 14-year professional career, but he knew what it took to win and filled his niche on the roster beautifully.
As a coach, Scott is arguably one of the Association’s most underrated. He led the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in back-to-back years—2001-02 and 2002-03—and won Coach of the Year in 2008 for leading Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and the New Orleans Hornets to a 56-26 record during the regular season.
His latest coaching stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2010-11 through 2012-13 was a disaster, but he had the unenviable task of inheriting a franchise that has just lost the best player in its history: LeBron James.
Now Scott is on the free-agent coaching market once again, and his ties to Lakerland make him an intriguing potential candidate.
If the Lakers do decide to sever ties with D’Antoni, then getting back to the organization’s roots would be a good starting point. Scott can provide that as a former champion who has had strings of success in various coaching jobs.
2. Lionel Hollins
If the Lakers intend on distancing themselves from the stench of D’Antoni’s nonexistent defensive identity, Lionel Hollins would be a fantastic candidate to hire.
Hollins had an extremely successful four-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2009-10 through 2012-13. His defensive mindset helped Memphis improve on that end of the floor in each consecutive season.
During the course of his first season on the sidelines in 2009-10, the Grizz finished with a defensive rating of 109.9, according to Basketball-Reference.com. In each subsequent year, their points allowed per 100 possessions improved to 105.1, 101.8 and 100.3. Those numbers show exactly how effective Hollins was at establishing a defensive mindset amongst his players.
The former head coach got an extremely raw deal in Memphis, as he was fired after leading the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals in 2013 due to “major philosophical differences” with the analytics-driven ownership group, per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.
Even George Karl, who won 57 games with the Denver Nuggets last season—and won’t appear on this list due to his offensive-minded philosophy mirroring D’Antoni—didn’t reach the WCF before getting replaced with Brian Shaw.
Hollins deserves another coaching opportunity based on what he showed in Memphis. Don’t be surprised if a possible vacancy in Los Angeles makes that a reality.
1. Jeff Van Gundy
Even though Jeff Van Gundy has carved a niche as one of the more candid and entertaining broadcasters within NBA circles, his resume fits what the Lakers should be looking for in a new head coach.
Of Van Gundy’s potential future in L.A., B/R’s Dan Favale wrote, “If the Lakers are looking for a savvy veteran who is no stranger to the spotlight, he would be one of their best options.”
JVG coached under the bright lights of NYC from 1995-96 through 2001-02 (when he resigned). During that span, the Knicks made the playoffs in five straight seasons. They reached the NBA Finals in 1998-99, but fell to Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs, 4-1.
After a vastly successful stay in New York, Van Gundy coached the Houston Rockets from 2003-04 through 2006-07. His squads made the playoffs in three out of the four years.
Leaving a cushy broadcasting job for the stresses of the NBA is a key obstacle standing between Van Gundy and the Lakers. After the living hell D’Antoni just went through during an injury-riddled campaign, it would be hard to blame JVG for not wanting to latch on with a franchise that has an uncertain future.
His brother Stan is another option the Lakers could pursue, but advising All-Star center Dwight Howard to leave L.A. for greener pastures with the Rockets may have ruffled some feathers in Lakerland’s front office (h/t Los Angeles Times’ Eric Pincus).
The thought of seeing Van Gundy back coaching on the sidelines is an exciting one, but it will take some convincing from Kupchak. The Lakers still need to fill out a competitive 12-man roster, after all.