Lakers' Offseason Hasn't Moved Quickly, but It Could Move Them to Right Coach

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJuly 21, 2014

AP Images

LOS ANGELES — One safe way to gauge how busy Mitch Kupchak has been is to check his hair.   

When he really needs to get it cut, you know the Los Angeles Lakers general manager has been absolutely swamped.

That's how Kupchak looked in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League last week, having jetted into town to study player prospects and also serve on David Stern's hand-picked, nine-man NBA competition committee gathering to discuss possible rule changes.

While in Vegas, Kupchak finalized most of the Los Angeles Lakers roster for the 2014-15 season, staying true to his April belief that numerous players who auditioned under Mike D'Antoni last season had proved worthy of being re-signed. The Lakers also hoped to retain some chemistry from the previous team instead of completely starting from scratch. Kobe Bryant, Jordan Hill, Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Wesley Johnson, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are all set to return. 

Enough time has passed since the Lakers and D'Antoni parted ways on April 30 without a replacement being hired. In fact, many of the fans who wanted D'Antoni fired have forgotten why they disliked him so much.

Three months is a long time to be without a coach, but it's not a shock to those who are looking to fill the role. 

The Lakers' approach all along has been to wait and see how the roster shakes out before hiring a coach, wanting to re-evaluate whether it makes sense to go a different direction based on what players sign. The composition of the roster now—featuring newcomers Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson—has turned out quite suitable, actually, for leading coaching candidate Byron Scott.

Scott considers himself a rebuilding specialist, someone who teaches and motivates, which is why he accepted the Cleveland Cavaliers job in 2010 when everyone figured LeBron James to be leaving. Scott could have sat out and waited for Phil Jackson's final Lakers season to play out, sitting poised to succeed Jackson in '11, but Scott wanted the challenge of rebuilding the Cavs and believed it could help him grow as a coach.

With Julius Randle likely to improve the Lakers' rebounding, GM  Mitch Kupchak has built a team that fits well with what Byron Scott emphasizes as a coach.
With Julius Randle likely to improve the Lakers' rebounding, GM Mitch Kupchak has built a team that fits well with what Byron Scott emphasizes as a coach.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

He also trusted he would get his chance to coach the Lakers he has always loved, prompting me to write a September 2010 column under the headline: "Byron Scott will still coach Lakers someday."

Whether the Lakers now stop and think they should bring in a coach younger than Scott—53 and now a grandfather—remains to be seen, but the roster hasn't turned out to skew particularly young. The plan all along was to ponder other coaching candidates—and how they might fit in with the players—before entering the final phase of decision-making.

Besides what Bryant referred to as a "tremendously close relationship throughout the years" with Scott, the Lakers' re-signing Hill was the one new element that could match up especially well if Scott is the coach.

Scott puts a premium on defense and rebounding, and he believes Hill was underutilized as a Laker because of D'Antoni. Bear in mind how fantastic a newly acquired Hill was for Mike Brown in the Lakers' two-round 2012 playoff run.

If Hill can be held more accountable and find some consistency, then perhaps the Lakers won't be as awful defensively as they shape up to be based on the names on the roster.

Neither Hill nor Johnson developed last season into the dependable defensive presence their tools suggest is possible. That was no surprise, considering D'Antoni brings out the best in players who are self-motivated and find his light touch to be empowering. (Exhibit A: Nash. Exhibit B: Lin.) Hill and Johnson need something different, and perhaps Scott will show he is right for them.

Scott is diametrically opposed to D'Antoni in how much he values rebounding. And for all that they don't offer, Boozer and Davis are two of the more dependable rebounders in this league. Boozer does it via strength and box-outs; Davis has the same 7-foot wingspan as Randle but a superior standing reach.

With Mike D'Antoni no longer on the bench, Kobe Bryant is likely to continue igniting much of the Lakers offense.
With Mike D'Antoni no longer on the bench, Kobe Bryant is likely to continue igniting much of the Lakers offense.Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The Lakers were last—by far—in team rebounding percentage last season, no matter that Hill was dominant at times on the boards. Both Hill and Davis ranked high in NBA.com's contested rebounding percentage (how often a rebound was collected with a threatening opponent within 3.5 feet), finishing in the same range as the likes of Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis.

Randle, meanwhile, believes unequivocally that he was the best rebounder in the draft and will be out to prove that to the NBA.

The offense also appears to be made for Scott, as it undoubtedly will revolve around his trusted ally Bryant, often in the post. Bryant, D'Antoni and Kupchak all knew that Bryant was going to be marginalized if D'Antoni stayed on and was allowed to run the offense the way he wanted.

The Lakers do have other shot creators when things bog down with Young, Randle, Henry, Boozer and the point guards, but it is shaping up to be the Kobe show again. Whoever the coach is, the Lakers are likely to be a traditional team in an era when the game is going toward faster tempo, quicker passing and smaller frontcourts.

The Lakers' emphasis on post-ups and rebounding happens to jibe with Scott's preferred format, so it follows that the longtime Laker would still get the chance to lead this group against the grain.

So why have the Lakers left him dangling like this?

Carlos Boozer joined the Lakers after the Bulls cut him after four seasons via the amnesty clause.
Carlos Boozer joined the Lakers after the Bulls cut him after four seasons via the amnesty clause.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Well, they know how much he wants them, and only them. They know him so well that they can joke with him about how he likes to play golf so much that they're just giving him more time to get that out of his system. Meanwhile, once all the other NBA head coaching vacancies got filled, there was no urgency for the Lakers to make a move out of a fear of losing out on anyone else.

Kupchak said from the start that this was going to be a protracted job search—and he planned for the draft and then free agency to take over his desk while his hair grew unkempt.

It's been three months since we speculated the guy who grew up mere blocks from the Forum and was the leading scorer on the Lakers' 1988 NBA championship team loomed as the leading candidate for D'Antoni's old job. But it still makes sense that it ends the way it looked when it began. Scott is still the guy whose son, Thomas, was hired by the Buss family as recently as October to be an assistant coach for the Lakers' NBA Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders.

As strange as it is for a club to be without a head coach for three months, there are still more than three months to go before next season even starts.

And if the choice is Scott, the timing may not be better. The pressure to succeed Jackson is two coaches and a few disappointing seasons removed. Gone, too, is the need to appease Dwight Howard.

The time is right for Scott to come back to this team now—so right that the delay for the Lakers to build the roster would mean nothing at all to someone so thrilled to be returning. 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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