According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Los Angeles Lakers have been after a splashy head coach candidate since Mike D'Antoni mercifully vacated his sideline post after his two-year reign of terror.
In pursuit of that splash, the Lakers decided Mike Dunleavy Sr. deserved to have his name in the pool.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that Dunleavy met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchack on Wednesday, sending a jolt of excitement through Laker Land equivalent to that of a dentist appointment.
The Lakers want splash? ESPN.com's Arash Markazi suggests Dunleavy would bring as much as an Olympic diver:
It would be almost impossible for the Lakers to hire a coach more disliked than Mike D'Antoni but Mike Dunleavy would be close.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 21, 2014
"Dunleavy encapsulates the retread label," Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk wrote. "He’s 60, bringing a perception that he has little room to grow, and his previous level of coaching wasn’t that high."
The Lakers need a transitional coach.
Ideally, they find a candidate capable of maximizing Kobe Bryant's final seasons and preparing the franchise for a future without him. If they can't get both, it's better to find one equipped for the latter.
Dunleavy does neither.
He's not a fate-changer. Whatever a team was before his arrival is what it will be after he's gone—if not even a tad worse for the experience.
In 17 seasons, two of which came with the Lakers, he compiled a 613-716 career record (.461 winning percentage). He's a run-of-the-mill candidate at best, a peg or two below mediocrity.
He started his head coaching career by taking over Pat Riley's "Showtime" Lakers before the 1990-91 season. On the plus side, he guided that team to 58 wins and the Western Conference title.
On the other hand, L.A.'s won five fewer games than in the previous year. The conference title was the Lakers' fourth in five seasons and just the second of the four that wasn't followed by a world title.
He found really good results with a really good roster. That might be the high point of his coaching career, and Complex's Russ Bengston highlights that it came almost 25 years ago:
The last Lakers team Mike Dunleavy coached had Sam Perkins and James Worthy on it.— Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) May 21, 2014
The Lakers managed only 43 wins the following season—their first without Magic Johnson—and Dunleavy left over the offseason.
Without him, L.A. had 39 wins in 1992-93.
Dunleavy took a dual coach-front office position with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1992. In his first season at the helm, he turned a 31-win team into a 28-win group. During his fourth and final year coaching the Bucks, Milwaukee rattled off a 25 wins.
After he left, the Bucks put up 33 victories in the 1996-97 season.
The story didn't change when Dunleavy took his talents to the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996. There, he took over a 49-win team and made it a 46-win club in his first year.
Portland managed a .700 or higher winning percentage in each of his next two seasons. With a supremely talented core built around Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire and Arvydas Sabonis—plus Isaiah Rider in the first season, then Steve Smith and Scottie Pippen in the second—Dunleavy had the pieces to enjoy that level of success.
Off-court issues seemed to follow the team, though, which the media later dubbed the "Jail Blazers."
The on-court product suffered in 2000-01, and Dunleavy was fired after a 50-32 season. The Blazers won 49 games the year after he left, then 50 the following season.
His most recent coaching gig came with the Los Angeles Clippers. He held the position for six-plus seasons before being let go midway through the 2009-10 campaign. The Clippers made one playoff appearance and averaged 32 wins during his six full seasons.
His teams rarely disappointed, but they exceeded expectations even less frequently. Once a bar was set, that's where Dunleavy led the team.
In his mind, that's his biggest strength.
"The best thing I can say that as a coach, I’ve always won when I’m supposed to win," he said during an appearance on ESPN 710's Max & Marcellus show (h/t Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News). "I’ve never lost a playoff series when I’ve been favored."
That's the type of speech Dunleavy should be giving to the rare championship-ready contender with a coaching vacancy. That's not what the Lakers are.
"Winning only 27 games this past season, the Lakers don't have much on the roster to offer the next coach and next season could be as rough as this one if Kobe Bryant isn't able to return to full strength," CBSSports.com's Zach Harper noted.
L.A. needs a coach that sells hope.
Coming off the second-worst regular season in franchise history, there's no right way for the Lakers to spin a Dunleavy hire. These fans need more than a "Mike Dunleavy: He's OK" campaign—an upgrade over the other option: "Mike Dunleavy: At Least He's Not Mike D'Antoni"—to get them going.
That excitement won't come from a free-agent acquisition. Not before next summer, at least.
It won't come from the team's lottery pick either. Not with the Lakers sliding back to the No. 7 spot, a place they can only hope is good enough to snag a second-tier prospect like Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart or Julius Randle.
L.A. needs a home run coaching hire. On the baseball scale, Dunleavy checks in somewhere between seeing-eye single and a long foul ball.
Really, the same could be said for another candidate, as Grantland's RJ Bell (h/t Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman) indicates Byron Scott is in the mix:
"Dunleavy might be stale, but Scott isn’t expiring inspiring himself," Dan Feldman wrote. "Not having to settle for Dunleavy isn’t such a great outcome if Scott is the alternative."
The Lakers have to think outside the retread box. They should know that already considering the tire fires that burned under D'Antoni and Mike Brown.
Maybe that means taking a flier on former Laker and current Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Derek Fisher, or rolling the dice on a high-potential candidate from the assistant or college ranks.
Which coaching candidate should the Lakers pursue?
It's about finding a coach who can grow as this franchise embarks down the long road back to relevance. It's giving this search the surgical attention it needs—not carelessly applying a leaky bandage like Dunleavy.
The Lakers are desperate for someone who can reverse their fortune. That's never been a weapon in his arsenal.
Would an unproven coach be worth the risk? Absolutely, considering the alternative has proven himself to be below average.
"It depends on the expectations and what you’re supposed to deliver in your first year," Dunleavy said about the prospect of hiring a coach with no previous experience during an appearance on ESPN Radio's The Herd with Colin Cowherd (h/t Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com).
Internal expectations might be high, but external obstacles overload the road ahead.
The Lakers have an aging backcourt riddled by injury concerns (Bryant, Steve Nash). The only other player with a contract for next season (Robert Sacre) has a career player efficiency rating of 10.8 (league average is 15.0).
It could take a while to right this ship.
L.A. needs to find a coach who’s in it for the long haul. With both the clock and a lackluster track record working against him, Dunleavy doesn’t seem to be that guy.