Biggest Pro and Con of Each Top Los Angeles Lakers Head Coaching Candidate
The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be in no hurry when it comes to identifying their next head coach.
After all, the list of possible candidates is only growing. You name a coach without a job, and he's probably on the Lake Show's radar. Hell, you can name coaches with jobs, and they may still be on what has quickly started to become a roster the length of a typical shopping list for a family with eight kids and three dogs.
ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin looked into the details of this search, and he came up with quite a few names of candidates who have already been linked to the job.
They can be broken down into five categories:
- The Big Names Without Coaching Jobs
- College Coaches
- Players Turned Coaches (With No Experience)
- Veteran Coaches Without the "Big Name" Factor
- Still Employed by NBA Teams
Each category has multiple candidates, and each candidate has multiple pros and cons. No coach is perfect, after all.
Finding the right man for the job is all about balancing those pros with the cons, so in an effort to help you identify your desired candidate, I'll be presenting the most notable plus and minus for each candidate.
The ultimate decision is up to you. Well, until the Lakers actually make the official one sometime this offseason.
The Big Names Without Coaching Jobs
Pro: It's not hard to see Mark Jackson and Kobe Bryant immediately hitting it off. After all, Jackson would likely be willing to hand over the keys to the offense to the Mamba during crunch-time situations, maybe even letting him take over the whiteboard and design his own isolation plays down the stretch.
On top of that, Jackson would help immensely with the Lakers' confidence and chemistry, especially because there figure to be so many new pieces in the Staples Center for the 2014-15 campaign. He's a master motivator who can rival Doc Rivers for the feelings of harmony that are enjoyed within the confines of his locker rooms and out on the court.
Con: From a basketball perspective, L.A. can do so much better.
Jackson's X's and O's have been criticized relentlessly since he was let go by the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. He just isn't particularly adept at designing strategies, particularly on the offensive end of the court.
Well, the Lakers are going to need as much help as they can get during the 2014-15 campaign because they'll have so many fresh faces looking to mesh as quickly as possible.
Pro: Karl demands instant credibility on the sidelines, which means he'd earn respect from both the veterans and the young guns who are looking for tutelage. He's run the show for plenty of successful teams, often figuring out ways to maximize talent during the regular season.
If you look back through Karl's coaching history, only three times in 25 years has he failed to make the postseason: the 1985-86 Cleveland Cavaliers, the 1987-88 Golden State Warriors and the 2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks.
Every other year, including a run of 10 consecutive seasons, his team was able to play past the regular season.
Con: It's impossible to overlook the lack of postseason success.
Of those 22 playoff runs, only four times did Karl steer a team into the penultimate round of the playoff festivities. And of those four trips to either the Western or Eastern Conference Finals, only the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics advanced to the title round, where they were dispatched in six games by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Last I checked, Kobe wants a championship.
Jeff Van Gundy
Pro: Used to the spotlight, Jeff Van Gundy doesn't let a big stage distract him from thinking outside of the box and getting creative with both his schemes and his use of players.
It's understandable if that rubs you the wrong way after Mike D'Antoni's offensive ideas, but JVG actually makes things happen on both ends of the court. His tenure as an analyst has allowed the world to realize just how good he is at defying convention and standing by his convictions, and that's a set of character traits that also works into his coaching profile.
Con: "It's hard to really understand where we're coming from and what we're accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure," Bryant recently told ESPN's Dave McMenamin.
That quote makes it tough to make much of a case for Van Gundy, just as it's difficult to find a convincing argument for Karl.
Pro: Can you imagine how appealing John Calipari would make the Los Angeles Lakers sound?
He's the best recruiter in college basketball, and it's scary to think about the impact he could have on free agents when working with the NBA's premier free-agent destination. And no offense to other big-market teams, but the Purple and Gold still rely on their ability to own offseasons and restock rather than rebuild, because they can.
Finding every loophole in the book and pushing a few boundaries, Coach Cal wouldn't have much difficulty helping expedite the process of going from near the bottom to near the top.
Con: Calipari doesn't always make his teams better, and they're prone to falling apart when the going gets rough. That was especially true during his awful run in the NBA the first time around.
Sure, he's won a championship and made a few deep postseason runs throughout his collegiate tenures, but that's largely because he's been able to recruit so much talent. The importance of player development can often be undersold at the NBA level, but Cal would make it readily apparent that he has some developing of his own to do in that area.
Having him coach a stacked team would be one thing, but there's no guarantee of stars joining Kobe in Tinseltown.
Pro: Kevin Ollie is one of the hottest names on the market for a reason, and the Lakers might not have another chance to go after him any time in the near future. Especially given the success Brad Stevens found during his first season at the professional level, college-to-pro coaches are all the rage once more, and Ollie seems likely to be the next to make the transition.
That's assuming Connecticut doesn't lock him up, of course.
As McMenamin wrote:
If they are going to be a rebuilding team, why not take a chance on a younger coach who can grow with those young players? It worked in Phoenix this season with first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek. Why not hire Kevin Ollie, fresh off taking Connecticut to a surprise NCAA title, to lead that transition and cut his teeth in the league without the pressure to win every night?
Con: Ollie doesn't yet have a definitive style as a coach at the NBA level, seeing as he doesn't have any experience there. We can guess he'd be tough and gritty, placing an emphasis on guard play, as that's how he made a living in the Association, but that doesn't exactly fit the current bunch of Lakers.
Having a coach with no defined systems is fine, but not when you're tasked with shaping a makeshift roster filled with young players. One or the other is fine, but the combined effect could be disastrous.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is worth mentioning because he's been linked to the Lake Show and is such a high-profile name, but it's not going to happen.
Williams himself squashed those rumors while on Fox Sports Radio, via the Chicago Tribune:
I've always felt like that I'm a college coach and that's where I belong. (Lakers general manager) Mitch Kupchak is one of my best friends in the whole wide world, there's no question there, but I'm a college guy and if somebody calls and offers me the greatest job in the world, it better be really good because I feel like I've got about the greatest job in the world.
Players Turned Coaches (No Experience)
Pro: If the Lakers are looking to appease Kobe, it would be tough to do better than hiring Derek Fisher. After all, the two share an unbreakable bond and mutually consider one another among the best teammates imaginable.
According to Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, Fisher went so far as calling Kobe his "favorite teammate from a basketball perspective." I can only assume that would make him easier to coach.
Oh, and the Lakers would be quite good at shots with 0.4 seconds remaining.
Con: Hiring a player right after his career in a uniform is over is always a risky endeavor, and let's not forget that Fish has spent the 2014 postseason suiting up and coming off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Brooklyn Nets were the most recent team to pull from the ranks of the recently retired, hiring Jason Kidd days after he pulled the plug on his playing career, and the results have been mixed. He was atrocious at the start of the season, improved throughout the year but now appears quite overmatched during the playoffs.
Can the Lakers afford for a similar scenario to unfold?
At this point, Steve Kerr needs a cursory mention but nothing more.
He's too far along with both the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks to even be thinking about jumping aboard the Lakers ship.
Veteran Coaches Without the "Big Name" Factor
Just kidding. Don't worry, Lakers fans.
Pro: If the Lakers are interested in making the transition from an offensive focus to a defensive one, Lionel Hollins would be a great choice. After all, he transformed the Memphis Grizzlies into a defensive force during his time in Tennessee, and the team reveled in its identity.
That, not the defense itself, is the biggest pro.
Memphis fully bought into the "grit 'n' grind" mentality, and that identity became not just an image, but an accurate representation of the fundamental being of everyone on that roster. Rather than floating around without a direction, L.A. could be sure that something similar would happen after hiring Hollins.
Con: Whether or not the general public likes it, analytics are increasingly important in the modern-day NBA. Teams are buying in at different levels, but Hollins is not.
He was fired by the Grizzlies not for a lack of success, but because he clashed with John Hollinger, the noted ESPN statistician who left to work for Memphis, and the rest of the Memphis front office.
Can L.A. afford to take the risk of a repeat as they move further into the modern era of NBA basketball?
Pro: Even if many NBA fans have no idea who Ettore Messina is, the rest of the world does.
His only experience in the Association came while serving as a consultant for the Lakers in 2011-12, but he's racked up plenty of accolades during his time in other leagues. A member of the Italian Hall of Fame, Messina has four championships and five awards given to the best coach—in the Euroleague and the Italian League—on his mantle.
If Kobe still wants to achieve success at success, Messina is his man. Plus, there's the Italian connection.
Con: Are the Lakers going to become the first franchise to hire a European coach?
Either Messina or David Blatt is soon going to become the pioneer, but it'll likely be a tough transition. The style distinction between European leagues and the NBA, as well as the talent gap, is rather significant, and that could mean a big adjustment period when Messina finally does make the jump across the pond.
Is the timing right with Kobe gearing up to play his final two seasons and desperately searching for one more championship?
Pro: Few coaches on the open market have more experience with the Lakers than Kurt Rambis.
Not only did he spend a massive chunk of his playing career wearing a purple and gold jersey, but he also served as an assistant coach with the franchise from 1994-99, 2001-04 and this past season. He was a head coach with the team for one year, but that season saw him take over midway through the year for Del Harris and Bill Bertka.
Rambis knows the incumbents. He knows those in the front office. He's intimately familiar with this franchise, which gives him an immediate leg up over other candidates.
Con: Excluding that one season with the Lakers when he served as a head coach, Rambis has only been the man in charge for two campaigns with the Minnesota Timberwolves. And in those two years, he could only steer his team to a combined 32 wins.
As Zach Harper wrote for ESPN back in 2011, shortly after Rambis finished his final season with Minnesota, he's only good when he has a good team:
Rambis was not a very good coach over the past two years. His teams were inefficient offensively and abhorrent defensively. Last season, it seemed that he was one of the worst fourth-quarter coaches in the entire league because of how the Wolves seemed to kick away leads. (Yes, they actually had fourth-quarter leads.) But I’m not so sure he was as bad as his 32-132 record would suggest.
Rambis is not a good coach when he’s given a bad team. That’s been proved.
Problem is, much as the Lakers don't want to admit it, they might not have a good team.
Still Employed by NBA Teams
Pro: Hiring a Gregg Popovich protege normally works out quite nicely. His coaching tree is taking over the NBA slowly but surely, and most of the new members have been experiencing quite a bit of success, albeit compared to expectations of their own franchise.
Quin Snyder worked under Pop indirectly when he managed the San Antonio Spurs' D-League affiliate, but he also learned secondhand while serving under Mike Budenholzer this past season for the Atlanta Hawks. Additionally, he's gained experience while working for Ettore Messina, Doug Collins, Mike Brown (who, yes, can teach a lot about defense) and Mike Krzyzewski.
He has the resume (minus the time he spent at Missouri), as well as the belief of B/R's Kevin Ding.
Con: The last time Snyder ran a program as the man in charge, it was with Mizzou. And...that didn't go so well.
Are we far enough removed from that scandal for Snyder to fit in seamlessly?
Pro: He's a defensive genius.
Tom Thibodeau is one of the best in the business at drawing up plays designed to prevent points, and his pack-the-paint schemes have had widespread influence throughout the Association. While it's beneficial to work with the same players and an elite defensive big man like Joakim Noah, there should be no doubt that Thibs can make any team boast a good defense.
Especially coming off of the tenure of MDA, that should stand out to the Lakers.
Con: Contrary to popular belief, Thibodeau can coach offense. When Derrick Rose was running the show during his MVP season in 2010-11, the Bulls boasted the No. 11 offensive rating in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.com. One year later, they ranked fifth.
The biggest—and really, the only—con is the potential dynamic between Thibodeau and Kobe.
On one hand, it's easy to see two competitive, enthusiastic basketball minds getting along. But on the other hand, it's easy to see Thibodeau, notorious for his extreme lack of minutes management, letting the Mamba basically run himself into the ground.