Best Options to Replace Mike D'Antoni as Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach
Mike D'Antoni's two-year stint as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers came to an abrupt end on Wednesday evening, as the team announced via their official website that he had resigned from the position.
General manager Mitch Kupchak was effusive in his praise of the outgoing coach, but make no mistake: This had to happen. D'Antoni had clearly worn out his welcome in L.A., as Lakers legend Magic Johnson demonstrated with his post-resignation "Happy days are here again!" tweet.
Perhaps Magic should calm himself just a tad. This is still a roster composed primarily of an aging, injury-plagued star in Kobe Bryant, a high 2014 draft pick and cap space. The Lakers' front office will need to strike gold on the coaching market if the team is compete in the near future.
So let's take a look at the coaches who might suit the Lakers.
Some options are more realistic than others. There are a handful of additional coaching prospects the Lakers can pursue, but seem unlikely to land or ultimately want.
Jeff Van Gundy
The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan says Jeff Van Gundy will be among those interviewed for Los Angeles' coaching vacancy.
Outspoken, colorful and known for coaching defense and balancing the egos of superstars, the Lakers could do much worse.
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is an obligatory mention for any NBA job these days. So, here he is.
Although he's done terrific work at Iowa State, don't expect the Lakers to hire their very own Brad Stevens.
SiriusXM's Ben Higgins says Steve Kerr will be interested in the Lakers job. The idea that New York Knicks president Phil Jackson will allow his former team to inch in on his top recruit, however, feels absurd.
Kurt Rambis, a current Lakers assistant, doesn't have the same splash power others do. Per Bresnahan, though, he's still expected to receive an interview.
If you're looking for the longest of long shots, he's right here.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne say the Lakers don't plan on reaching out to Mike Krzyzewski at this time, but if there was ever an NBA team he would leave Duke for, it could be the Lakers.
George Karl was a coach as recently as the 2012-13 season, when he won the NBA Coach of the Year award. He compiled a 1,131-756 record (and a 59.9 winning percentage) in 25 NBA seasons. His greatest achievement came in 1996, when he led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals before falling in six games to former Lakers coach Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls.
While he may not have a tangible connection to the franchise, Karl does know Kupchak, as both men played for the legendary Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina.
Karl has spent the last year as a commentator, but he did tell The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer recently that he longed to return to the game: "The year off has been enjoyable, but there is no question I have missed the gym, the games and being a part of a team and organization.''
Per Bresnahan, Karl will be among the candidates Los Angeles eventually interviews.
If Karl is planning to return to the coaching ranks, he is likely to receive multiple offers? Would he find the Lakers enticing? In February, Karl's agent, Warren Legarie, "gave the impression" that his client wasn't interested in returning to the bench for a rebuilding team, per the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. At the moment, L.A. certainly seems to fall into that category.
The 2014-15 season's Jason Kidd could be none other than current Oklahoma City Thunder reserve and former Laker Derek Fisher.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski initially revealed that the job "holds tremendous appeal to him." Sources also told Stein and Shelburne that Fisher will be "considered if he's indeed interested in making the immediate jump to coaching."
Familiar faces are always a good thing. Fisher has been lauded as a mentor and Kobe Bryant wasn't at all happy he was traded from the team in 2012.
Combine his five championships as a member of the Lakers with Bryant's inevitable stamp of approval, and Fisher may be the latest player to make the transition into coaching.
Let's just hope he's better at gripping his beverages than Kidd.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari just won't leave the Lakers alone—even though he's trying to.
Calipari was linked to this job before it was available. While his interest in the position was refuted, that could have been the product of bad timing, as his Wildcats were preparing to play for the national championship.
Now that Kentucky's season has been over for a while, is he ready to rejoin the NBA ranks?
The Lakers are going to find out.
In an attempt to make a serious coaching splash, Stein and Shelburne say the team is expected to gauge his interest.
Calipari previously coached the then-New Jersey Nets for a little over two seasons, compiling a record of 72-112 before getting axed. For what it's worth, it doesn't appear that he's ready for another go-around.
"Before it starts, I'm totally committed to helping this group of young men reach their dreams," Calipari said via his Twitter account. "I wouldn't and couldn't leave this group!"
The return of Kentucky's Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, would seem to imply he isn't going anywhere.
But it never hurts to ask.
Add another former Laker to this list.
Byron Scott has been working as a Lakers studio analyst since he was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013, and Stein and Shelburne write that he's expected to draw interest. Bresnahan also names him as someone who is expected to be interviewed.
Mutual interest won't be a problem. Scott told TWC SportsNet's Jaime Maggio he's all for coaching the Lakers.
While Scott's stint in Cleveland didn't end well, CBS Sports' Ken Berger reminds us he would have the ringing endorsement of Bryant. Scott also coached the then-New Jersey Nets to two consecutive Eastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2003.
This is all in addition to having won three titles as a member of the Lakers.
If this team is looking for a familiar face who knows what it takes to win as a player, has the respect of the Black Mamba, coaches defense and works well with point guards—ask Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving—Scott can be its guy.
Two years of collegiate experience is all it takes in Kevin Ollie's case.
According to Stein and Shelburne, the Lakers will reach out to UConn's head coach, and he's one of the targets they are expected to pursue aggressively.
Ollie's time at the helm hasn't lasted long, but it has been meaningful. In just his second year, he coached the Huskies to a national championship, rendering himself one of the hottest coaching commodities in the process.
Would Ollie, who carved out a 13-year career as player, be willing to abandon the Huskies immediately after winning a title?
As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley explains, he just might be.
"The NBA allure for Ollie could shine a little brighter, though," he writes. "His team lost two NBA-bound starters (senior Shabazz Napier and junior Deandre Daniels) and landed just one recruit from Rivals' top 150 (guard Daniel Hamilton, 14th overall)."
Assuming control of a team like the Lakers could be slightly overwhelming for rookie head coaches, but as Ollie has already shown, it's doesn't take him long to meet lofty expectations.
Coaching a big-market NBA team isn't going to scare him. If he's offered the job and refuses, it will be because he's not ready to leave the Huskies. Not yet.
League sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin that the "Lakers plan to reach out to the Chicago Bulls for permission to interview Tom Thibodeau."
Give the Lakers this: They have some brass onions.
To Los Angeles' credit, it's not as crazy as it sounds. Any coach who guided a Derrick Rose- and Luol Deng-less Chicago Bulls team to 48 victories and the playoffs should be off limits. But Thibs may be the exception.
Wonarowski called Thibs' relationship with general manager Gar Forman possibly the worst in the NBA last July. Things may be quiet on that front now, but they have the potential to travel south pretty quickly.
If the Bulls aren't prepared to retool the roster this offseason, or give Thibs the say he may or may not be looking for, perhaps their relationship will reach a point beyond repair.
Until then, though, don't expect Chicago to allow Los Angeles to poach its outstanding head coach just because.
If the Lakers want to hire a former player, while simultaneously weakening the coaching staff of the hated Los Angeles Clippers, they might want to take a look at Tyronn Lue.
The former guard played his first three seasons in Los Angeles, winning two titles under Phil Jackson. After his playing career, he took a job with the Boston Celtics.
Doc Rivers must have been impressed with Lue, because he brought the assistant with him to the Clippers when he took the head coaching job in the summer of 2013.
Per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, Lue is popular with the players and is considered "an up-and-comer" in coaching circles.
Stan Van Gundy
Now here is a guy who will be connected with every high-profile coaching vacancy from now until the end of time.
Van Gundy has been out of the coaching game longer than Karl and Hollins (since 2012), and he lacks Karl's connection to Kupchak.
Like Karl, Van Gundy is probably waiting for just the right opportunity. There are several current playoff teams (Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston) that could be in the market for a new coach if they crash out of the playoffs. Any one of them would be a better fit for Van Gundy.
According to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, George Karl isn't the only successful coach to sit out the 2013-14 season Lakers watchers should look out for: "Though Karl and Kupchak have the North Carolina connection, some in the coaching business believe Hollins actually would be a better fit."
Hollins coached the Memphis Grizzlies to three consecutive playoff berths between 2011 and 2013, including a Western Conference appearance in his final season. The Grizzlies developed their defense-heavy "grit-n-grind" style under Hollins.
However, Kupchak might be hesitant to hire Hollins, who had a very acrimonious split from the Grizzlies organization in the summer of 2013.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Hollins confronted Grizzlies exec John Hollinger—who was hired after a stint as a league analyst, where he specialized in advanced statistics—during last year's playoffs. As per the Yahoo report:
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching—and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said—Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was inappropriate for a management official to intrude on what's considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
Hollins is a decidedly old-school coach: tempestuous and resistant to modern analytics. But the man can coach defense.
When looking for a new coach, executives often consider three factors above all:
- Experience: Does this coach have a track record of success?
- Originality: Does this coach bring something new to the table?
- Connections to the organization: Do we know this guy?
Well, why not go for all three and hire Ettore Messina?
The Italian coach is already a legend overseas, with four Euroleague titles. He was named the Italian League's Best Coach three times (1998, 2001 and 2005). He has been named Euroleague Coach of the Year twice, in 2006 and 2008. He was inducted into the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
But Messina also has Lakers bona fides, having served as a coaching consultant to coach Mike Brown in 2011-12 before going back to Europe to coach CSKA Moscow.
Most importantly, Messina already has the respect of franchise cornerstone Kobe Bryant, who was impressed with Messina's work in the 2011-12 season, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
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