Charles Barkley has never been known for his tact. During a recent teleconference call to promote a celebrity golf tournament, the loquacious TNT analyst was asked if he would like to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.
His answer, per Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal: "You don't take bad jobs. You've got — your best player is 40 coming off a bad Achilles and knee surgery. That's not a good job right now. So, no, I just don't think you take a bad job.”
Has it really come to this? Have the Lakers become just another subpar destination, or is this just Charles being Charles?
Or is it actually a case of inverse expectations? Has management become so afraid to swing for the fences that they’re essentially kicking the can down the road?
The slow-motion orbit of L.A.’s coaching search continues, with more rumors and speculation than facts. What is clear is that this vacancy may soon be the last one left in the league. According to Brian Windhorst and Jeff Goodman for ESPN.com, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made an offer to longtime European coach David Blatt to become their next sideline head honcho.
What is also certain is that there are fewer intriguing candidates in the coaching pool than there were when Mike D’Antoni resigned on April 30. Stan Van Gundy joined the Detroit Pistons; Steve Kerr signed on with the Golden State Warriors; Quin Snyder was booked by the Utah Jazz and Derek Fisher, who won five championships with the Lakers under Phil Jackson, wound up being hired by Jackson himself—to coach the New York Knicks.
The Barkley appraisal of the Lakers' coaching dilemma essentially suggests they can’t find the right person to accept the job because the job itself is bad.
The problem with the logic is that the Lakers haven’t been turned down by anybody—because they haven’t yet offered the job to anyone.
Brian Kamenetzky of the Land O’Lakers recently examined L.A.’s unwillingness to seriously consider first-time coaching candidates, opting instead to focus on a relatively safe and uninspired list of veterans. He sums up the search thusly:
In the end, their patience might pay off. In absolute terms, the Lakers don’t lose much by waiting to see what happens in the early days of free agency. And while this sort of attitude reinforces their lack of a strong philosophical vision for their next coach, losing one of their preferred candidates to another team simply means moving down the list another spot. There aren’t enough vacancies around the league to lose them all.
Barkley’s statement presupposes that quality candidates won’t want to take the job because of its inherent badness. However, there has been no indication that qualified coaches aren’t interested in the position; rather, the front office seems unwilling to think outside the box.
It’s the idea that a legendary team is on such a deliberately slow rebuild in a packed Western Conference that the front office is simply abdicating any immediate chance for relevance.
From a larger view, that may seem like a logical, if cynical, assessment. But tell that to Kobe Bryant, or whatever coach ultimately gets the job of directing him.
Byron Scott, the clear front-runner for the coaching vacancy, had his second interview on June 10, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. A three-time champion with the Lakers during the Showtime era as well as a former Coach of the Year, Scott has lobbied hard for the opportunity to come full circle to an organization where he enjoyed his greatest basketball successes.
What Sir Charles sees as poison, Scott sees as a prize.
Lionel Hollins, Kurt Rambis and Mike Dunleavy would also likely argue the bad job premise.
Each of these candidates has a preference for defensive-minded, post-driven basketball—a style that suits Bryant just fine, and which would have been preferred by Pau Gasol over the past two seasons.
Whoever coaches the Lakers won’t be in charge of the draft, free-agent signings or the speed of the looming rebuild. But that person will be in charge of directing a team that owns all those championship banners—11 since moving to Los Angeles in the modern era and 16 in total.
And after all, is a multimillion dollar salary, palm trees and sunny Southern California skies really all that bad? There truly are worse jobs in this country.
A draft pick will be selected by the Lakers on June 26 and free agents will be pursued. A coach will be chosen at some point and will do the job to the best of his ability. And Bryant, still one of the league’s genuine superstars, will return and attempt to put a lost season behind him.
And the issue of what is or isn’t bad will be determined in the usual time-honored way—by a win-loss record.