Updated Rankings for LA Lakers Coaching Candidates

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Updated Rankings for LA Lakers Coaching Candidates
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The Los Angeles Lakers’ quest for a head coach has produced an interesting list of candidates.

Although the Purple and Gold will likely only decide on their future headman after the draft, it’s still worth taking a look at the ones best suited for the gig.

Naturally, it will come down to fit, philosophy and cachet. We’ll go from the least likely to the most likely person to get the job.

 

Honorable Mentions

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There are a few candidates that ultimately will end up getting some consideration, but just won’t cut it.

Mike Dunleavy is one of them. He met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak in late May according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, but there isn’t much support or reverence for Dunleavy.

ProBasketballTalks’s Dan Feldman said it best: “Dunleavy encapsulates the retread label. He’s 60, bringing a perception that he has little room to grow, and his previous level of coaching wasn’t that high.”

"X" marks Dunleavy’s spot.

The next candidate should be rated higher in the group, but the stars just don’t seem to align. George Karl has been a pretty successful coach, but he is simply just a bad fit. InsideSoCal’s Mark Medina has the story:

Both the Lakers and Karl have their reservations about a partnership for various reasons. Karl runs a fast-tempo system after Mike D’Antoni encountered a divided locker room surrounding his up-tempo style.

That included Kobe Bryant, whom Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said will be most effective operating from the post entering his 18th season after suffering two major injuries.

Medina also noted that Karl clashed with Carmelo Anthony when he played for the Denver Nuggets because Anthony was too fond of scoring and doing little else. A similar problem could arise with Bryant. Karl’s philosophy simply doesn’t jive with the personnel, and that in turn makes him a poor choice for L.A.

That leaves Larry Brown and Scott Skiles. According to ESPN New York’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers have had internal discussions about bringing them in for interviews. That certainly is indicative of interest, but the fact they didn’t immediately reach out to them should be reason to believe they aren’t likely to obtain the job.

Brown has a penchant for leaving NBA teams, which makes him a tad unpredictable and unreliable. Also, he'd be 74 years old by the start of the season and has stated that he won't be the next Lakers coach.

Skiles for his part gets teams to overachieve, but usually gets his players to turn on him because of his demanding style. Let’s think about this for a second, Skiles getting on Kobe Bryant because he didn’t play defense hard enough on one possession. Does that sound like a relationship that could work out for Laker Land?

I have my doubts.

Onto to the big guns now.

 

Derek Fisher

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Other than Kobe, there might not be another active player in the league more revered by Laker fans than Derek Fisher.

He happily orbited around the Kobe System and helped the Lakers win five titles with his clutch play and leadership. The latter has earned him what appears to be universal respect around the league and was part of the reason he previously sat as president of the National Basketball Players' Association.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Fisher would retire as a player once the San Antonio Spurs dispatched his Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, and that makes him a potential candidate should he wish to join the coaching ranks.

It’s difficult to determine what his philosophy would be, but his familiarity with the Laker franchise (management and ownership) coupled with a strong rapport with Bryant seems to make Fisher a solid fit.

Furthermore, Fisher is perhaps the hottest name floating around, despite his lack of experience, because of Phil Jackson’s interest in bringing him in to coach the New York Knicks, according to ESPN NY’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.

Why put Fisher at the bottom of the list?

Because the Lakers put him there. Kupchak has his reservations, as the GM explained to USA Today’s Sam Amick: “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."

It’s not an absolute, but the lack of coaching experience certainly appears to be an obstacle for the Purple and Gold. In other words, Fisher is likely out.

 

Kurt Rambis

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Former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis is one of the most intriguing candidates on the board.

He is part of the Lakers family in more ways than one: He was once upon a time in L.A. a player, assistant coach, interim coach, front-office advisor and assistant manager (not at the same time, just to be clear).

Rambis has a very diverse portfolio, which leads me to believe he could be a valuable asset as a head coach. He played for nine seasons in L.A. and helped the Lakers win four world championships during the 1980s. Thus, Rambis is well-versed on the perspective of players.

What’s more, he took on the job of assistant coach with the Lakers during the 1998-99 campaign (lockout season) and became the interim head coach when Del Harris was dismissed after 12 games. Rambis’ Lakers were 24-13 and got swept in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Utah Jazz.

Phil Jackson took over the team and the rest, as they say, is history. He steered the Lakers to five titles between 1999-00 and 2010-11.

During Jackson’s reign, Rambis served in the front office and later became an assistant coach in 2001. He used all of those experiences to catapult himself to a head coaching job with the Timberwolves in 2009, a position he held for two years.

All of these things work into his favor, but there’s a fairly substantive fact working against him: his full season head coaching record. The Timberwolves were 32-132 during his tenure as the head coach.

David Sherman/Getty Images

At the time of his firing, ESPN.com’s Zach Harper offered: “Rambis was not a very good coach over the past two years. His teams were inefficient offensively and abhorrent defensively.”

Talent might have had something to do with that, and Harper touched on that as well: “Rambis is not a good coach when he’s given a bad team. That’s been proved.”

This matters in the grand scheme of things, because the Lakers might be in the same boat next season. Only three players are under contract for next year, and two of them (Kobe and Nash) missed the majority of 2013-14 due to injuries.

In addition, with the Lakers prepared to rebuild for another two or three years, is Rambis really the person the Lakers want to coach a team that could potentially have a subpar roster?

During his one successful season coaching the Lakers, Rambis had Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Rice and Bryant. This time around, he wouldn’t have much to work with other then probably Bryant and the No. 7 pick in the draft. Remember, the Lakers won 27 games this year, and that would be a career-best mark for Rambis when coaching a full season.

 

Alvin Gentry

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Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry has generated interest from the Lakers and even interviewed for the job.

Unlike Fisher and Rambis, Gentry has coached for numerous seasons in the league. That technically should be an advantage, but it’s kind of difficult to characterize it as such.

His career coaching record of 335-370 (47.5 percent) is unspectacular, and he’s bounced around a little. Over the last 20 years, he’s coached the Miami Heat (one season), Detroit Pistons (three), Los Angeles Clippers (three) and Phoenix Suns (five).            

Gentry, a Mike D'Antoni disciple, is an offensive-minded coach who enjoyed success while directing Steve Nash’s Suns. Under his watch, Phoenix made it to the 2010 Western Conference Finals, thanks to the best offense in the league. The Suns were eliminated in six games by the eventual champs (Lakers).

Still, his offensive acumen is widely appreciated as ProBasketballTalk’s Brett Pollakoff noted: "Gentry is an offensive-minded coach who Doc Rivers brought to Los Angeles [Clippers] as his associate head coach in order to help the spacing of the Clippers offense. It worked, too — L.A. finished number one in the league in offensive efficiency, with a rating of 109.4 points per 100 possessions."

It’s worth noting that Gentry’s success is directly tied to Hall of Fame-caliber point guards. His offenses have certainly looked great, but it’s safe to say that Chris Paul and Nash can make most sets look like a beautifully executed play drawn up by Gregg Popovich.

Gentry wouldn’t be bringing Paul to the Lakers, and Nash’s health issues (nerve damage in his back) make it difficult to project the kind of impact he could have.

As a result, I’m skeptical of Gentry. He still gets a slight nod over Fisher and Rambis because he’s experienced success as a head coach, and that might be enough to get players and management to buy in. Nonetheless, I think there are better options out there.

 

Lionel Hollins

Danny Johnston/Associated Press

Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins might just be what the Lakers need and want.

During his tenure with the Grizzlies, Memphis became a tough and physical team that feasted on creating turnovers and beating up opponents.

Hollins expertly pulled the strings and got the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals last year. He was dismissed after the San Antonio Spurs eliminated Memphis.

His firing was due to a clash with management. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski offered up the details in June 2013, before Hollins was fired:

Since the analytics-driven new ownership group of Robert Pera took over control of the franchise this season, there's been dramatic conflict between management and Hollins. Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien has given vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger significant latitude in constructing the roster and a philosophy.

Initially, this could have given the Lakers pause with respect to bringing in Hollins. However, the Memphis front office has proven to be dysfunctional according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, and Hollins may end up being viewed as a victim as opposed to the instigator that prompted the coaching change in Memphis.

Hollins got the Grizzlies to overachieve, and it’s only fair to wonder if he could do the same with the Lakers. Given the lack of talent on the roster, the team’s best chance at winning games is with a great defense. It would come down to keeping contests close and then getting Bryant to close things out late.

The credentials and style of play could work with the Lakers, but I worry about the fit. The Lakers have always played an entertaining brand of basketball that focuses on improvisation and artful scoring displays.

If Bryant as a player is in any way diminished next season (not hard to imagine after an Achilles tear and knee fracture), that will make the Lakers offense close to unwatchable.

Add a strong defense to that equation, and we have Lakers games with final scores jumping into the 90s on days where all the shots are falling. Yikes.

As a result, we are left with a better candidate…

 

Byron Scott

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Byron Scott’s ties with the Lakers might give him an advantage over all of the candidates.

As did Rambis, Scott played in Los Angeles during the 1980s and helped the team win three titles alongside Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Towards the end of his career, Scott bounced around a bit and played with the Indiana Pacers and Vancouver Grizzlies. He then rejoined the Lakers in his final season, where he connected with a rookie named Kobe Bryant.

The duo formed a bond that still appears to be strong, judging from Scott’s appearance on 710 ESPN’s Max and Marcellus (transcript via InsideSoCal):

He [Kobe] knows me. I’m an old school type guy. I want him to understand that and I think he does understand. We communicate during the summer by text and I’ll run into him somewhere and we’ll talk a little bit more about basketball. The biggest thing is I respect the hell out of Kobe. I think he respects me. That’s the first hurdle you have to get past.

Scott’s relationship with Bryant leaves the impression that it could be a solid marriage between the two should Scott become the Lakers coach. That’s hardly the lone aspect working in his favor.

While some might recall that the Cleveland Cavaliers never won more than 24 games in a season during Scott’s three-year stint coaching the team (2010-11 to 2012-13), he’s still directed some very successful teams.

He led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals (2001-03) and also steered the New Orleans Hornets to 56 wins and a conference semifinals berth during the 2007-08 campaign.

Scott-led teams usually end up in the postseason, provided that he has some talent to work with, and it’s quite possible that the No. 7 pick in the draft and Bryant might be just enough for the Lakers to get there under his tutelage.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

New Jersey and New Orleans both featured top-five defenses under his watch, and they did a good job of sharing the ball. Scott was a fan of the Princeton offense, which oddly enough was viewed as a disaster in L.A. when Mike Brown implemented it last season.

Things are different this time around because Los Angeles revolves around Bryant. Brown was fired because his offense couldn’t integrate Steve Nash, Kobe, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, all of which need the ball to be effective.

The Princeton offense helps role players shake free for baskets by reacting to defensive coverage. The big men don’t needlessly clog the paint with post-ups. Instead, they move around and open up the floor by setting back screens, running pick-and-rolls and freeing up perimeter players for interior scores.

One of the forgotten gems of Brown’s offense prior to his dismissal was the effectiveness of Bryant. He expertly timed his cuts to the basket, ran give-and-go plays and routinely got open. Bryant was simply sensational playing off the ball.

It’s an incredibly small sample size (four games), but the fact he got looks directly at the rim turned him into a uber-efficient scorer. NBA.com tells us Bryant scored 26.8 points on 59.8 percent shooting before Brown was fired two seasons ago.

It’s possible that Scott could opt for a different offense, but reviewing the game tape might lead him to conclude that Princeton is the way to go, especially for Bryant. Thus, I’m left to believe that he might be the candidate best suited for the job.

Scott certainly believes that is the case, and he said as much to USA Today’s Amick: “I think what they're going to probably try to do at the end of the day is hire the best coach ... possible to bring the organization back to the glory years. I'm a little biased, because I think that person is me."

He’s a perfect fit and he’s enjoyed some success previously, a clear sign that he can get things done. Furthermore, his philosophy will work wonders for Bryant.

Scott it is then.

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