Los Angeles Lakers: First 6 Orders of Business for New Lakers Head Coach
They say the hardest jobs in America are teacher, preacher and President of the United States.
I would vote to have head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers added to the list.
Managing what just might be the most high-profile franchise in the NBA, and possibly all of sports, is strenuous by definition.
The added pressure of returning to contention and respectability after the Lakers' anemic performance in the playoffs certainly won't make things any easier.
Though the Mavericks are certainly talented, losing to a team of their less-than-top-tier caliber, particularly in the manner that they did, showed a complete lack of effort and of pride on the Lakers' part.
These are the two of the main things the new coach will have to address.
Whomever the Lakers sign as their next coach will need to come prepared for a high-stress, low-tolerance environment in which they will be expected to right the ship(wreck) quickly.
Here are six things he will need to do to get started.
1) Invoke Mickey Goldmill
Remember in Rocky III when the reigning heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa had fallen in love with his own legend?
He had lost that fire in his eyes, lost his drive to compete and had gotten by because of the weaker competition he faced.
Imagine if Rocky had lost his title and his coach before facing Mr. T.
Well, that would have been disheartening.
(I refuse to give the analogical title of Mr. T to the Mavericks, the team whose biggest difference between now and their humiliating 2006-10 campaigns is Tyson Chandler. )
The new Lakers coach needs to reestablish that “eye of the tiger” in a team that’s gotten so fat off its victories that its experience has become a liability.
The common excuse for the Lakers various shortcomings was that they have been there and done that.
They had played in Game 7s, come back from series deficits and gone up against some of the most talented players the league had to offer over their previous title runs.
Because of all that, they simply couldn’t motivate themselves to show up anymore.
And for once, Phil Jackson didn’t have a solution.
All of his previous 11 championships had come with teams led by at least one fiery, hungry, determined player who refused to end the season as anything but a champion.
None of Jackson’s previous years as a coach had forced him into the role of motivator.
None of his years as a head coach had come without at least one of the four biggest stars of his career: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s recently-developed casual attitude stripped Jackson of that necessary “floor general” component and the dynasty that could have been came apart at the seams.
The next Lakers coach will need to thrive as a motivator.
When Pau Gasol enters one of his soft spells where he loses all aggressiveness and effectiveness, the new coach will need to be able to jam his foot so far up Gasol’s rear end that he busts Gasol’s teeth out with his heel.
He will need to be able to reel Bryant in when he turns critical games into his own personal game of H.O.R.S.E. with his horrid shot selection.
He will need to be able to make adjustments to the starting lineup and to the offensive food chain when it is deemed necessary.
He will need to encourage Andrew Bynum, the Lakers de facto best post player, to look for his shot more, screw what Bryant has to say about it.
He will need to motivate, he will need to lead and he will need to restore order, because for all of the Lakers’ supposed “leaders” and all of their supposed “veteran presences,” they are a team that has proven that it no longer has any leadership and has zero accountability.
2) Send Fisher to the Bench
This has been a looooong time coming.
Fisher’s overabundance of minutes have almost cost the Lakers both of their previous title runs.
Against Houston, Fisher was the main culprit in the Lakers’ inability to close out an inferior, injury-depleted team with his non-existent defense on Aaron Brooks who, on more than a few occasions, threatened to become the MVP of the series.
Against Oklahoma City, history repeated itself and Russell Westbrook abused Fisher more brutally than a terrorist stuck in a room with 24’s Jack Bauer.
We (and by we, I mean you) forgave Fisher because of a couple of timely three-pointers in the 2009 and ‘10, which I admit were critical to the Lakers winning both series.
But why couldn’t he have done those things coming off the bench?
Playing Fisher in a limited capacity allows you to keep his famous inspirational speeches, his clutchness and relieves you of being outplayed at the point-guard position virtually every night.
It’s a win/win.
Now obviously it goes without saying that the Lakers actually need to make an effort to go out and get a solid point guard for this to work, but for a team that employs two All-Stars, the Sixth Man of the Year, the best center in the Western Conference and arguably three top-10 perimeter defenders and the glamorous city of Los Angeles as a bonus, it shouldn’t be too hard to attract another talent, right?
3) Ditch the Triangle
With Jackson gone, his system needs to go with him.
Jackson’s high-profile offense has stalled far too often over the course of this season—and that was with him running the show.
If the Lakers were to keep the triangle, the only semi-reasonable candidate for the head-coaching position would be Brian Shaw, who spent the last decade under Jackson's system in one capacity or the other.
But do you really want Shaw, a man with zero head-coaching experience, to try emulating Jackson, who’s been running the triangle since Shaw was in the rookie season of his playing days?
If you still think abandoning the triangle is a bad idea, then think of it this way: Did Showtime really exist for the '80s Lakers outside of Pat Riley’s reign?
Paul Westhead, head coach of the Lakers during Magic Johnson’s first championship in 1980, is not the coach who began the Showtime era.
In fact, Westhead lost his job due to his clash with Johnson, who called Westhead’s offense “slow” and “predictable.”
When Pat Riley took over in ‘82, he spurred the Lakers to four additional NBA titles, seven conference titles and arguably the sexiest era of basketball ever.
By the time Riley left in 1990, the Showtime era was over.
Some attribute this to the retirement of the aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, others to the gradual aging of Magic Johnson, but most realize that Riley’s system could not outlive his tenure as coach.
More specific to this team, Ron Artest still has yet to find comfort within the triangle—and at this point isn’t likely to.
We have already stressed the importance of getting a consistent, effective point guard, and doing so would almost be pointless if we were to bring him in to a system which takes so long to become accustomed to.
Worse, under the triangle, the Lakers’ big men stall after being fed in the post, waiting for cuts instead of simply attacking, often limiting their effectiveness.
A new day calls for a new system.
4) Tinker with the Lineup
Harry How/Getty Images
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this entire season is that Phil Jackson never even bothered to experiment with the following lineup.
PG) Kobe Bryant
SG) Ron Artest
SF) Lamar Odom
PF) Pau Gasol
C) Andrew Bynum
The popular critiques of the aforementioned lineup is that: “The NBA isn’t 2K!!” or that this lineup “lacks a true point guard!”
Those statements are true. However, the triangle offense is credited with not needing “a true point guard.”
Odom went as far as saying that the Lakers don’t even call it the “point guard” position.
Either the triangle needs a point guard, or it doesn’t.
If it doesn't then why not at least give your most talented, most defensively capable (albeit not the greatest transition) lineup you have a chance?
With the triangle likely gone, hopefully these paradoxical excuses should follow.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is not a lineup you want to use over the course of a season, particularly given what Odom’s absence from the bench would take away from the Lakers’ depth.
The question is: Why do we never see this lineup in the waning moments of close, slower-paced, defensively-intense games?
Perhaps Jackson’s greatest weakness was his loyalty. His unfounded trust in Derek Fisher was likely what prompted him to ignore even attempting such a thing.
If the Lakers are to return to contention or even respectability with the field of competition growing more and more fierce, this new coach is going to need to make the tough decisions Jackson didn’t want to.
5) Really, Reel in Kobe Bryant
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
We touched on this lightly in the first slide, but when it comes to reeling in Bryant, nothing is ever light or easy.
Remember this is the guy that, before he had won his first MVP, had clashed with both Shaq and Phil Jackson repeatedly over his shot selection, overall shot distribution and his role on the team (his first MVP was the All-Star Game MVP in 2002).
Three All-Star MVPs, three championship titles, one season MVP and two NBA Finals MVPs later, and Bryant is still as stubborn as the donkey in this cutaway scene of Family Guy.
It was one thing when Bryant was the Lakers' only talent capable of producing consistently on the offensive end of the floor.
Bryant's selfish tactics, though a two-edged sword, were much more likely to hurt the opposition than his team.
Now Bryant's odds of helping or hurting are six in one, half a dozen in the other.
Though Bryant was surprisingly too unselfish in the Mavericks series, the criticism he earned for not being a difference maker was the only thing that transpired in the postseason which irritated him enough to draw any discernible reaction from him.
If left unchecked, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for Bryant to up his shot total by three-plus per game next season so he can make good on his promise to start “shutting up the mofos who think I’m done.”
You almost have to wonder if there was a point were Bryant subconsciously realized the series was over and held back just to attract criticisms, so he could motivate himself for the next season.
Sounds insane, I know, but this is Kobe we’re talking about.
So how does the new Laker coach walk in to this wasp nest and tame the queen bee (metaphorically speaking)?
Well, given how many years it took for Jackson to gain Bryant’s confidence, this new coach has to come in ready to go to war.
The new-sheriff-in-town approach may not seem particularly conducive to a championship parade, but in all honesty, the Lakers aren’t likely to be holding one next year anyway.
“Trust issues” rarely resolve themselves so quickly, especially under new management.
The Lakers will probably need time to buy into the new system that the next coach brings in, and for Bryant to adapt to playing under a coach that, regardless of who signs up, will be far less accomplished and patient than Jackson was.
Conversely, if the new coach lacks the fortitude to bring in Bryant and, consequently, the rest of the team, expect for Bryant to play outside of himself and for the rest of the team, discontent with becoming mere spectators, to check out and continue to give uninspired performances.
Though there are roster holes that need to be filled and attitude adjustments that need to be made, the state of the Lakers’ future will be placed largely on the shoulders of their new coach.
6) Restore the Swagger
Some coaches just have that connection with their teams. They inspire inspired performances night in and night out.
They have great relationships with their players, they bring in new, exciting philosophies and systems, and they bring in high energy, and the team is better for it.
This is certainly not a knock on Phil Jackson, but sometimes a change is necessary.
You would be hard-pressed to find one soul in all of Laker-land or among the Laker faithful who wouldn’t welcome Jackson back with open arms if he put off retirement for another year, myself included.
Still, sometimes situations escalate that just cannot be resolved in the short term. Sometimes you run out of energy.
We saw it happen in Utah with Jerry Sloan, and it happened in L.A. with Jackson.
Sometimes a change is necessary.
Restore the Swagger Pt. II
The Celtics feed off of Doc Rivers' energy level, off of his passion. They emulate his style and buy into his system.
When the Celtics lose, they lose as a result of injuries or facing off against better teams, not failing to show up, certainly not in the playoffs.
While Phil Jackson is far out of Doc Rivers' league from a career achievement standpoint, what enabled Doc to reach his Celtics with more consistency than Jackson has reached his Lakers in the last few years is his energy level.
Though the Lakers have achieved more success in that time frame, they were the healthier team and were ultimately the better team, if only by an inch.
The 2008 playoffs was only Rivers’ second time making the playoffs as the Celtics' coach, and only Paul Pierce remained from the Rivers’ first go around.
Yet outside of the first two rounds of that 2008 title run, for better or worse, the Celtics always performed to their potential.
Go ahead, take away their first two rounds together and try to think of a time when an opponent lasted longer against the Celtics than it should have.
Conversely, think of how many times an opponent lasted longer than it should have against the Lakers.
What made Jackson so successful during the strong majority of that time frame was the Lakers' superior talent and his ability to make crucial game-to-game adjustments which ultimately saved the team, despite their complacency.
The Lakers no longer have such a wide margin of error.
Restore the Swagger Pt. III
Though the Lakers are not likely to bring in a coach matching Rivers’ swagger, pure talent or ability to relate to his players, they will need to bring in someone who can match his energy level.
In 2004, Rudy Tomjanovich equated taking over for Phil Jackson to “going on after (Frank) Sinatra” and bailed after half the season.
The next coach, Frank Hamblen, lasted 39 games before abandoning ship.
Assuming you aren’t with the Clippers, losing is not an accepted concept in Los Angeles, and whoever steps in will need to deal with pressure and weather the impending storms to come.
If the Lakers' players want any shot of returning to the mountaintop next season, they will need to adapt very quickly to their coach’s system and to his energy.
The biggest visible difference between these Lakers and the 2009 and 2010 NBA champions was their energy level.
Once the Lakers got complacent, the losses piled up, and once that happened, losing became acceptable and the Lakers lost their pride.
Sure there were off-court issues, but they lost that twinkle in their eye, that fire and as a result when it hit the fan, there wasn’t enough of a team left to make a stand.
Energy equals hustle.
Hustle equals pride.
Pride equals wins.
Wins equal swagger.
It all starts at the top, and if Jackson’s successor brings in the right energy, then the rest will follow, and maybe next season won’t be a waste for the Lakers after all.