Should LA Lakers Pursue Derek Fisher as a Coaching Candidate?

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Should LA Lakers Pursue Derek Fisher as a Coaching Candidate?
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Derek Fisher might just be the leader the Los Angeles Lakers need.

The notion may sound ridiculous to some, given that Fisher is set to take on the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Make no mistake, though, once Fisher retires at the end of the postseason as initially scheduled, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin, he is probably the answer for the Lakers.

Some could dislike the idea since Fisher would essentially graduate from player to coach within a matter of months, or perhaps even weeks. But the precedent has already been established.

Indeed, Jason Kidd retired from basketball at the end of last season and quickly became the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. This might not be the norm, given that coaches typically have to pay their dues, but it illustrates that the route has seen a few tweaks over the years.

 

Evolution in Coach Selection

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The process involved with hiring coaches has apparently changed.

Once upon a time, a prospective headman spent time on someone’s staff as an assistant in the professional ranks or coached in college. After a few years, the prospect was deemed good enough for an NBA gig.

That path has since taken a turn.

For instance, the Golden State Warriors hired Mark Jackson straight out of the broadcast booth three seasons ago, despite his lack of coaching experience. Jackson worked as an analyst and was mostly famous for uttering catchy phrases on the air such as "hand down, man down" and "Mama, there goes that man!"

Fast-forward to the 2013-14 campaign, Golden State fired him after the Warriors were eliminated from the playoffs and replaced him with someone with a similar background, barely a month removed from postseason elimination: Steve Kerr.

Much like Jackson, Kerr accepted the job without any prior coaching experience. What’s more, he was also an analyst at the time of his interview with the Warriors. On the other hand, Kerr had experience as a former general manager for the Phoenix Suns.

This highlights that franchises have become much more open to thinking outside the box in their coaching searches. Kidd is certainly proof of that.

It also appears the New York Knicks are quite comfortable emulating Brooklyn management. According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, the Knicks are interested in bringing in Fisher as their next head coach. Phil Jackson, Fisher's former coach with the Lakers, presides over the Knicks' basketball operations, and that connection is likely the reason for the interest in Fisher.

It might be in the Lakers’ best interest to act quickly to do the same.

After all, Fisher did play 13 seasons with the Purple and Gold and helped the team win five titles. One could argue that, save for Kobe Bryant, no active player captures what it means to be a Laker more than Fisher. L.A. would probably embrace him, given his history with the franchise and city.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is already on record saying the next two seasons will likely be rebuilding years. Thus, Fisher would get a chance to grow into his role without facing huge expectations.

This current set of circumstances provides the perfect opportunity to bring in an unproven commodity to steer the team. Granted, the Lakers are one of the most glamorous franchise in sports, which could be synonymous in the minds of many with a big-name coach.  

 

What Big Name?

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Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson is not walking through that door. He is the president of basketball operations in New York.

Who’s left?

Gregg Popovich? He’s kind of busy trying to increase his ring count with the San Antonio Spurs. Also, he made it clear last year to Spurs Nation that he would leave the league once Tim Duncan retires.

What about Doc Rivers? Considering he already coaches the Los Angeles Clippers and appears to have some trepidation about returning next season due to his moral dilemma vis-a-vis banned owner Donald Sterling, a door might just be open.

Then again, the NBA appears to be intent on removing the ownership group in place as soon as possible.

The battle to oust Sterling could potentially last throughout the entire offseason, but that might be a welcomed development for Rivers, given how much power he has at his disposal while the league sorts out the Clippers’ ownership quandary. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has the details:

As a result, Rivers is now one of the most powerful men in the NBA with perhaps the broadest set of responsibilities.

He controls everything from who starts, who sits, how much the assistant coaches earn, who gets drafted, who is gets dealt and who gets hired and fired at every level of basketball operations. This sort of brass ring is a prize top coaches have been chasing for decades and very few have actually been able to secure.

Let’s not forget, the Clippers have a roster that would probably make three quarters of the league jealous (Lakers included). So Lakers fans can likely forget him.

Tom Thibodeau could be an interesting candidate, except for that small fact that he coaches the Chicago Bulls. He could be an option if he and the Bulls are intent on parting ways, but that might be a long shot.

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Oh, and by the way, Stan Van Gundy is now the coach and president of basketball operations of the Detroit Pistons.

There aren’t that many big names left out there, and the ones remaining might not be willing to sign up for the Kobe Bryant experience. There’s a small chance that he is broken down and bitter over the team’s fortunes over the last two seasons, and that doesn’t sound very enticing considering L.A.’s roster.

The draft might offer a more favorable amount of talent, but contention isn’t on the horizon.

Two college coaches, John Calipari and Kevin Ollie, are on the Lakers’ radar, per ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, but one struggles to think Bryant would accept or even welcome their tutelage.

Remember, Kobe is the guy who famously told Smush Parker he needed "more accolades" to speak to him. Thus, when Bryant channels his inner Janet Jackson and asks "what have you done for me lately" only to hear crickets, it might be difficult to obtain his buy-in.

These factors should nudge the Lakers in this next direction...

 

Derek Fisher: Accomplished Leader

Fisher may be lacking in coaching experience, but he certainly possesses the leadership qualities needed to reach a team.

He’s demonstrated that countless times during his playing career, and his teammates will attest to as much. Here’s what Bryant shared with ESPN LA’s McMenamin during the 2010 NBA Finals: "... He's the guy that pulls everybody together and is always giving positive reinforcement. I'm the opposite. We play off each other extremely well. That's what he does. That's what he's been doing extremely well. He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time."

Bryant might just be one of the most stubborn people in the sport, and yet even he responds to Fisher in ways that he simply does not with others.

If that sounds hyperbolic, think back to the 2007 offseason when Bryant was telling anyone willing to listen that the Lakers had done him wrong, and he wanted to be traded.

Guess who helped defuse that situation? I’ll give you a hint: His initials are D.F.

McMenamin outlined those details during the 2010 NBA Finals: "When Bryant wanted out at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Fisher was the anchor that kept his mind present in L.A., providing private consult and leaving inspirational messages in Bryant's locker."

Fisher wasn’t an amazing player, but his work ethic coupled with his leadership skills made him a respected and valued teammate during his career with the Lakers. Grantland’s Mark Titus echoed those sentiments in the spring of 2012 when he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder get to the NBA Finals:

Yet somehow, Bryant is probably the biggest Fisher fan on the planet and has nothing but great things to say about the guy. I’m not sure what Fisher says or does that makes him such a great leader, but I do know that it takes a special type of person to command the respect and attention of an entire team, despite putting up pedestrian numbers.

By no means is this a method to exhibit that Bryant has a huge bromance with Fisher (although, it’s tough to conclude otherwise). If anything, this demonstrates how highly Kobe thinks of his former teammate.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Typically, Bryant reserves such adulation for legends and respected coaches like Tex Winter. For Bryant to share similar sentiments about Fisher suggests that the lefty guard commands respect by his words and actions.

Fisher has played for legendary coaches such as Jackson and Jerry Sloan, and furthermore, he bounced around for a bit with the Lakers, Utah Jazz and Thunder. He's been in different locker rooms and probably understands how to pull guys together because of those experiences.

Remember, Fisher also served as president of the Players Union, a clear indication that he can be entrusted with power when called upon to lead. Interestingly enough, USA TODAY's Sam Amick reported in late March that it's possible Fisher could get a front-office job as well given his management skills. It would appear as though he will be in high demand.

Keep in mind, bringing in Fisher is as much about the present as it is about the future for the Lakers.

Earlier in the season, Sheridan Hoops’ Mark Heisler made it known that the Lakers had Kevin Durant in their sights as a long-term target. Durant’s contract expires at the same time as Bryant’s.

Given that Fisher is a teammate of Durant, it’s not outlandish to think that Fisher could potentially play a part in recruiting Durant when he becomes a free agent.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski offers additional insight about the prospects of bringing in Fisher as Los Angeles’ new coach:

History with Bryant in the short term—and history with Durant in the long term—are legitimate benefits in pursuit of this job. The Lakers won't be reconstructed overnight, but through the draft and trades and ultimately free agency.

There are good candidate cases to be made elsewhere in the Lakers' search process, but the most intriguing could be the most unconventional: out of the Thunder backcourt and onto the Lakers bench.

The answer appears fairly clear. Despite a sizable absence of seasoning, Fisher is quite possibly the answer for the Lakers. For their sake, let’s hope they realize it, too.

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