Ranking Best Potential Los Angeles Lakers Coaches by Fit
While Phil Jackson is busy rebuilding the New York Knicks on the East Coast, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, his former bosses, are busy with the same task in L.A.
The Purple and Gold brass has already interviewed a handful of candidates for the position and figure to talk to several more before the process—which Kupchak described as "deliberate," via USA Today's Sam Amick—is through and someone's been hired.
The Lakers have already made it clear that they want someone who can get the "most productivity" out of their superstar, per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, and would prefer that person bring some semblance of coaching experience to the job.
But leading the Lakers through the choppy waters ahead of them will require more than a buddy-buddy relationship with Kobe Bryant or a CV stocked with wins and accolades. Sacrilegious as it may sound to Angelenos, the Lakers are due for an extensive rebuild that could take years.
As such, they'll need a coach with the patience and persistence to teach young players how to win—and the loyalty to stick around if/when the losses pile up.
With those criteria in mind, let's examine some of the names who've been strongly linked to the Purple and Gold to see if we can suss out an order of fitness among them.
6. Alvin Gentry
Alvin Gentry could've had a clear line to the Lakers' top job. Mike D'Antoni tried to bring him aboard for another go-round on his staff this past season; Gentry spent five seasons as an assistant under D'Antoni with the Phoenix Suns before eventually taking over as the head coach in Arizona.
But Gentry spurned D'Antoni's offer, opting instead to join Doc Rivers with the crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers. After spending a season as Rivers' offensive guru, Gentry now finds himself a hot commodity on the coaching market once again.
According to the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner, the Lakers interviewed Gentry this week, with an eye toward sprucing up their attack:
The Lakers became more interested in talking with Gentry after speaking with several coaches and executives who raved about Gentry's offensive philosophy, according to one executive.
Gentry, the offensive coach for the Clippers, was credited with helping the Clippers become the top-scoring team in the NBA during the regular season.
The Lakers, on the other hand, ranked 21st in offensive efficiency despite playing at the league's second-fastest pace, per NBA.com.
Gentry's track record, though, does anything but sparkle. His teams have qualified for the playoffs just twice in 12 tries, including just once in four with Steve Nash at his disposal.
Who's to say that he would fare any better with the Lakers' cupboard as bare as it is? Or that what L.A. needs most is an offensive whiz?
That approach didn't work out so well the last time the Lakers tried it.
5. Kurt Rambis
Kurt Rambis is about as loyal to the Purple and Gold cause as anyone you'll find—on the coaching market or elsewhere.
He's had a hand in eight of the last nine Lakers championships—four as a player with the "Showtime" Lakers, one as a member of the front office (2000) and three more (2001, 2002, 2009) during his time as an assistant under Phil Jackson. He stepped in as the interim coach after Del Harris was fired during the lockout-shortened season in 1999.
Heck, his second stint as a head coach came with the Minnesota Timberwolves—in the Lakers' original home of Minneapolis!
Which is to say nothing of the work he's done within the organization since then as an analyst on the team's TV network and, most recently, as an assistant on Mike D'Antoni's staff.
According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, Rambis has already interviewed for the job and might not be as far from the front of the pack as one might think:
Lakers players enjoyed working with Rambis last season and he was often seen talking with them on the court an hour before games and long after practices. Rambis is a disciple of Jackson's triangle system and would run more of a traditional halfcourt offense compared to D'Antoni's small-ball scheme.
That could work in Rambis' favor, since Kobe Bryant thrives in the low post, and Kupchak has made it clear that L.A.'s next coach will have to appeal to the Black Mamba's sensibilities.
Still, Rambis' involvement here seems more a matter of routine than one of actual fitness for the gig. It'd be a shame if the Lakers didn't bring him in for an interview, even if it were a mere formality.
And even if it meant serving as an assistant under yet another head coach.
4. Mike Dunleavy
Rambis isn't the only candidate for whom the Lakers job is old hat.
Mike Dunleavy's first stint as a head coach also came courtesy of the Purple and Gold, when he took over for Pat Riley in 1990. Dunleavy led L.A. to the 1991 NBA Finals, where the Lakers ran into the buzz saw of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
Magic Johnson announced his HIV-related retirement that fall, and by the end of the 1991-92 season, Dunleavy was ready to move on. He's yet to take a team to the Finals since leaving the Lakers, coming closest with the Portland Trail Blazers teams that cracked the Western Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000.
As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski noted, Dunleavy's extensive coaching resume could work in his favor:
Dunleavy's 17 seasons as an NBA head coach – including stops with the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers – give him the big-market background and skill set to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of the Lakers' position and the credibility to coach All-Star Kobe Bryant. Dunleavy, 60, built a reputation as one of the league's more innovative tacticians in his career.
The Lakers could use all the creativity they can get from their next coach. Whoever gets the job may have little more than cap fodder with which to work beyond a hobbled Bryant, a 40-year-old Steve Nash and the prospect borne of the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
At 60, though, Dunleavy hardly seems the sort to stick with the Lakers through the thick and thin of what figures to be a long and painful rebuild.
3. Derek Fisher
Dunleavy came to L.A. immediately after retiring from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1990. Derek Fisher may well follow a similar path to employment with the Lakers, assuming experience isn't now a strict prerequisite in the team's process.
Kupchak left the door ajar just enough for someone as new to coaching as Fisher is to fit his foot in. "I have to say we're leaning toward the type of the coach we would want (and) I would say there would be experience involved, certainly on some level, but not necessarily," Kupchak said during a recent conference call with reporters, via USA Today's Sam Amick.
Coaching acumen aside, Fisher certainly isn't lacking in the sorts of bona fides that might appeal to the Lakers brass.
His 9.5 seasons and five titles in Purple and Gold make him an instant favorite, not just with the team's massive fanbase, but also among players, executives and other key personnel within the organization. His time in L.A., as both an intermediary in the Kobe-Shaq feud and as president of the National Basketball Players Association opposite Billy Hunter, prepared him for all manner of conflict that might come his way.
If appeasing Bryant is such a substantial part of the Lakers' modus operandi in this search, what better way to do that than by hiring a guy who, aside from Pau Gasol, might be the closest thing to a confidant the Black Mamba might find among his peers?
Fisher makes plenty of sense over the long haul as well. He could learn the ropes and grow as a coach right alongside a Lakers squad for which a return to contention is likely years away.
And for what it's worth, Fisher has the endorsement of at least one prominent member of the NBA media.
Should the Lakers still be without a coach once the Oklahoma City Thunder's playoff run comes to a close, they could certainly do worse than arrange for a face-to-face with D-Fish.
2. Lionel Hollins
Come Thursday, the Lakers will have added Lionel Hollins to the list of potential coaches they've interviewed since D'Antoni left town, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.
Hollins certainly fits the profile to be L.A.'s next leading man. As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote:
Hollins' history of strong defensive preparation and results, as well as a serious-minded leadership style, assuredly will appeal to Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Like Lakers management, Bryant is hopeful of the team finding a proven head coach with a winning track record.
Indeed, Hollins has proven to be plenty competent as a head coach. He was last seen stalking the sidelines in the 2013 Western Conference Finals with a Memphis Grizzlies squad that he molded in his tough, defensive-oriented image in the aftermath of the trade that sent Pau Gasol to Tinseltown.
Perhaps Hollins' experience with Marc Gasol will sway Pau to stick with the Lakers. Perhaps Hollins' penchant for low-post offense will appeal to both Gasol and Bryant, who are at their best with their respective backs to the basket.
But while the Grizzlies' stodgy offense under Hollins won't likely appeal to the Lakers, their staunch defense certainly should. While L.A.'s defensive and rebounding efforts have cratered in recent years, Memphis' have continued to thrive thanks to the framework that Hollins worked so hard to put in place.
Doing so with the Lakers will take time, blood, sweat and tears on Hollins' part. Then again, that's nothing new for him and would come with the added benefit of L.A.'s enduring brand and financial might.
1. Byron Scott
Byron Scott taking over the Lakers seems all but inevitable at this point—and for good reason.
For one, Scott's coaching resume is as strong as that of anyone L.A. has interviewed thus far. He guided the then-New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 and was in charge of the then-New Orleans Hornets when Chris Paul carried them to the brink of the Western Conference Finals in 2008.
As impressive as those accomplishments are, it's Scott's deep, enduring ties with the Lakers organization that make his Purple and Gold homecoming so easy to envision. He played his high school ball at Morningside High in Inglewood, a stone's throw from the Great Western Forum. He went on to win three titles with "Showtime" in that building in the 1980s.
Scott's last season as a player for the Lakers also happened to be Kobe Bryant's first.
"Our relationship is great," Scott said of his relationship with his former teammate, via USA Today's Sam Amick. "We talked over the summer. We text each other. His ideas on the game of basketball and my ideas on the game of basketball are a lot alike, so we share a lot of the same views when it comes to the way the game should be played. So to me, it's going to be fun."
On a sentimental level, Scott's reunion with the Lakers has been years in the making. As the thinking around Lakerland goes, Scott, who shared a strong relationship with the late Dr. Jerry Buss, would've been a shoo-in to replace Phil Jackson in 2011 had he not signed on with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.
Now all that stands between Scott, who works as an analyst on the team's TV network, and his dream job at Staples Center is the parade of candidates the Lakers have yet to interview.
Whom should the Lakers choose? Tweet me your thoughts!