Los Angeles Lakers Must Think Bigger Than Kurt Rambis

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Los Angeles Lakers Must Think Bigger Than Kurt Rambis
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Think big, Los Angeles.

Bigger than Kurt Rambis.

Please?

Rarely are the Los Angeles Lakers linked to anything or anyone other than the very best. When they have cap space—like they do now—Carmelo Anthony's name gets dropped. LeBron James comes into play. Settling—yes, settling—would consist of signing two-time All-Star Luol Deng

When a spot on the sidelines opens up, there is a similar effect.

Usually.

Mike Brown's departure led the Lakers back to storied, 11-time champion Phil Jackson for, like, a second. Then they turned to another flashy, albeit controversial, name in Mike D'Antoni.

Love him, hate him or only acknowledge his existence because of the Pringles mustache, Magic Mike is big. He is polarizing. Hiring him was so Lakers. 

Naturally, the trend would continue once he left.

Only it hasn't. 

Plenty of candidates have emerged as potential D'Antoni successors—most of them underwhelming and exemplary of small-scale thinking. More recently there has been Rambis, who's officially in the mix according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan:

Good for Rambis. Snagging face time with the Lakers remains a big deal. Taking the job would undoubtedly raise his profile and give him a chance to bolster a rather bare resume.

Coaching the Lakers would be good for him.

Just not for the Lakers.

 

Frightening Credentials

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

We're talking about Rambis—coaching the Lakers. 

Let that marinate.

Ignore the fact that he doesn't boast the same appeal as Jackson, D'Antoni or Lionel Hollins. He's not the right fit for this team.

Rambis has two-plus years of head coaching experience. He spent a half-season guiding the Lakers during the lockout-truncated 1998-99 campaign, during which time he led them to a 24-13 record, and that was that.

Roughly one decade later he joined the Minnesota Timberwolves. In two seasons at the helm he went a combined 32-132, and that was that too.

D'Antoni got 27 wins out of the pitiful, injury-ravaged Lakers this past season. Now they're looking at a guy who barely matched that in two full seasons?

OK, then.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Say what you want. It was only two seasons; Minnesota was still reeling from losing Kevin Garnett—whatever. I don't care. That's bad. Absolutely terrible. 

Kevin Love was under Rambis during his two seasons with the Timberwolves. Al Jefferson was there for the first one. And they won 32 games—combined.

Then of ESPN, Zach Harper did offer a counter to these snarky, yet justified, takes, asserting that most of the blame belonged to David Kahn:

Kahn has been the laughingstock of the NBA because he's been both arrogant in the way he discusses his moves and because of the moves themselves. Rambis was never the right hire for this job, considering he wasn't involved initially at the beginning of this Kahn-led rebuilding process.

Between the time Kahn took over the team in late May 2009, and when Rambis was hired in early August 2009, Kahn had already made five trades involving 17 different players. He also had butchered four of the 30 first-round picks in the 2009 draft.

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.

Every single point that Harper makes is correct. Kahn was running rampant and stupid in Minnesota, and the on-court product suffered as a result. Love wasn't the Love we know now at that time, either. The team was young. It was inexperienced.

It was poorly constructed.

But it wasn't too different from the Lakers of today.

The Lakers' future is deemed bright because they're the Lakers. And that's fair. Los Angeles is sunny, has good tacos and Kobe Bryant might be healthy next year. There is even cap space to look forward to these next few summers. 

Even so, the Lakers are going to be a young team. Steve Nash and Bryant will be the elders of a group headlined by no-names, placeholders and prospects under evaluation.

They aren't going to sign a cadre of established stars this summer—let's make that clear. All signs point to them waiting until 2015 to spend like whoa. Perhaps they sign a veteran here and there, but this is a team with the seventh overall pick in this year's draft. Kendall Marshall is going to be back. Kent Bazemore should be back.

The Lakers won't be built to win next season—despite what Bryant will parrot again and again and again. They'll be constructed to develop and learn, much like the Timberwolves were between 2009 and 2011.

Rambis isn't the guy for that undertaking. 

If he couldn't crack 20 wins with Love and Jefferson—and Corey Brewer and a Jonny Flynn we didn't yet lament—what would make the Lakers think he can keep them competitive while giving Bazemore, Marshall and other young players and rookies significant playing time?

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Rambis didn't fix anything with the Lakers this season.

Don't fool yourself into thinking he was some all-world stud in Los Angeles this season, either. He wasn't. He was brought in to fix the team's defense, and he didn't. 

"Their defense never really gave them a chance to win," he told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin upon being hired last July. "It was very erratic at best."

Exactly the same can be said of this past year.

The Lakers were ranked 28th in defensive efficiency throughout 2013-14. They ranked 20th one year before. 

Losing Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace clearly hurt, but should it have hurt the Lakers that much? With a defensive specialist like Rambis on board? 

Was he a victim of circumstance, of marginal talent and injured stars? 

It's best the Lakers don't bet their head coaching gig to find out.

 

Insufficient Salesman

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

When the Lakers' head coach position first opened up, ESPN's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne revealed the Lakers were looking to make a "splash."

College sideline-wanderers such as Kevin Ollie of UConn and John Calipari of Kentucky were mentioned. Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Hollins has entered the fray.

These are splashes. Cannonball splashes.

Hiring Rambis would generate the splash radius of a pencil dive.

To be certain, this isn't a knock on him. The same can be said of Alvin Gentry and Mike Dunleavy. They don't offer the same intrigue, the same mystique.

Creating a stir with their next hire is important—not just for the sake of seizing headlines, but because whomever the Lakers add becomes a building block.

This team doesn't have a legitimate core. Pushing 36, Bryant's health and dwindling physical abilities serve as a deterrent for prospective free agents. If the Lakers are going to stage a free-agency coup this summer or next summer—more likely next summer—they need a coach with the influence to help make it happen.

Someone who captures the attention of Love, LeBron, Rajon Rondo, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant (in 2016) and any other stars the Lakers plan to pursue in the not-so-distant future.

That could be Hollins.

It could be Byron Scott.

Maybe it's a head honcho the Lakers are able to pluck from the collegiate ranks (Fred Hoiberg, pretty please?).

One thing is for sure, though: It's not Rambis

Dream Bigger

Noah Graham/Getty Images

The Lakers are, well, the Lakers.

There's really nothing else to say. They have a reputation to uphold and a future to build.

Equally important, they have a Mamba to pacify.

Consider what general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters, via Lakers.com:

Obviously I'm talking about Kobe [Bryant]. He is under contract for two more years and we think he is a very integral part of this team. We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach will really get the most productivity out of him, whether it is scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score.

Although it's been unclear whether the Lakers would hire D'Antoni's replacement with Bryant in mind, Kupchak's comments suggest they will. And if landing someone who jibes with Bryant is a top priority, the Lakers could do much better.

Byron Scott, for one, has a strong relationship with Bryant. He isn't the flashiest name or the ideal candidate, but his ties to the five-time champion make him a bigger, better acquisition.

"Again, I think I've got a hand up on (the job) because of our relationship," Scott told USA Today's Sam Amick. "We get along extremely well. Kobe knows all about me and what I'm about."

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Rambis is not the answer in Los Angeles.

Rambis cannot hang his hat on such a connection. 

He can't point to a Western Conference Finals appearance last year the way Hollins can. He hasn't shown he can help coach a team from the ground up.

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He doesn't parent the same requisite distinction that others do.

Maybe he deserves a chance. Maybe his unremarkable credentials aren't weaknesses. Perhaps there's even a team that will value him for more than his short shorts and signature goggles from yesteryear.

That team just can't be the Lakers. 

The stakes are too high and the risks too great.

Rambis is too much of a bronze medal to a team desperately pining for gold.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference. Salary information via ShamSports.


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