Breaking Down Lakers' Top Head Coach Candidates After Frank Vogel Firing

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IApril 11, 2022

Breaking Down Lakers' Top Head Coach Candidates After Frank Vogel Firing

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Frank Vogel on Monday, which should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the team all year. After entering the 2021-22 NBA season as one of the front-runners for the title, they wound up finishing 33-49 and missing the play-in tournament entirely.

    The Lakers are now set to embark on what's expected to be a "lengthy and expansive" search for Vogel's successor, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Despite their struggles this season, the Lakers should still be one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the NBA. They have LeBron James, who just finished second leaguewide in scoring in his 19th season. They also have another top-25 player in Anthony Davis, although he's struggled to stay healthy over the past two years. 

    The Lakers still have plenty of unanswered questions about their supporting cast, particularly with regard to Russell Westbrook's future. But the duo of James and Davis should be a great starting point for whoever takes over as the next head coach.

    Who should the Lakers hire to replace Vogel? They have plenty of options from which to choose, including candidates on Vogel's current staff, coaches on other playoff teams and some who are already available.

Nick Nurse

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    On Monday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is among the Lakers' "top targets" to replace Vogel. However, just because the Lakers have him on their wish list does not mean the feeling is mutual.

    Nurse, who won a championship in his first season with the Raptors, would be a home run hire for the Lakers. He's one of the most innovative coaches in the NBA. No one has done more with less than him. The Raptors entered this season with low expectations, and he guided them to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Raptors had the league's fifth-best defensive rating after the All-Star break, which has been a cornerstone in Nurse's coaching legacy. Defense was a major issue for the Lakers this season. Having a coach with new ideas and a new way to deploy LeBron and Davis could get their defense back to where it was when they won a championship in 2019-20. 

    However, it's hard to believe he would want to leave Toronto and that the Raptors would be willing to let him go. If they were, it would cost the Lakers a lot to get him. Raptors team president Masai Ujiri is not one to give away a top-five coach on the cheap.

Quin Snyder

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder is currently preparing for his team's first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks. However, Marc Stein of Substack reported last month that Snyder had been "frequently mentioned in league circles as a hiring target."

    Including this season, the Jazz have made the playoffs for six straight years with Snyder at the helm. He's had the team consistently in the top 10 leaguewide in defensive rating, offensive rating and net rating. The Jazz finished with the league's best offensive rating (116.2) this season, and they were fourth in points per possession coming out of timeouts, according to Synergy Sports Technology

    Snyder would bring great energy to a Lakers team that at times looked listless this season. He spent a year as an assistant on Mike Brown's staff with the Lakers in the early 2010s, so he has some history with the franchise. 

    Snyder's contract status beyond this season is unclear, which complicates the situation. But if there is mutual interest, the Lakers and Jazz can work something out. With Danny Ainge joining the Jazz front office this season, he may want to head in a different direction, especially if they fall to the Mavericks in the first round. 

Juwan Howard

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    If having history with James will be a key for the next Lakers coach, then Juwan Howard should be a leading candidate. Not only has he coached LeBron as an assistant, but he also won two championships with him as a player.

    Beyond his history with James, Howard is also a good coach. He's 61-32 during his three seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, including a 25-5 record and Big Ten regular-season championship in his second year. He also guided the 11th-seeded Wolverines to the Sweet 16 this year thanks to upsets of No. 6 seed Colorado State and No. 3 seed Tennessee.

    The college game is drastically different from the NBA, but Howard developed his coaching chops in the Association. He spent six years as an assistant to Erik Spoelstra in Miami. Prior to taking the job with Michigan, Howard interviewed for the Lakers head coaching job that Vogel eventually got. 

    The Lakers were reportedly impressed by Howard during his interview, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, so they might be inclined to revisit him as a candidate. However, he has repeatedly told NBA teams that he wasn't interested in leaving Michigan, according to Wojnarowski, so the Lakers might have their work cut out for them with him. 

Doc Rivers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Last week, B/R's Jake Fischer reported that Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers "is another active bench leader being mentioned by league personnel as a potential Lakers candidate."

    If the fourth-seeded Sixers make a deep run in the playoffs, Rivers might not be available. If they lose in the first round to the Toronto Raptors, he might be on his way out.

    As the head coach of the Boston Celtics during the late 2000s, Rivers both beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and lost to them in one. He also spent seven years coaching the Lakers' Staples Center co-residents, the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Rivers is one of the few Lakers options with a championship ring as a head coach. He ranks ninth on the NBA's all-time coaching wins list with 1,043 regular-season victories and a 98-94 record in the playoffs. Rivers would be a big, splashy name for the Lakers and would win the press conference for them. 

    James and Rivers have had plenty of clashes over the years in the Eastern Conference. They also had their fair share of battles when both moved to Los Angeles. Pairing them together would be a Hollywood-esque movie that the Lakers always seem to favor.

David Fizdale

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Lakers could also look at a few members of Vogel's current staff, including former Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale. 

    Even though Fizdale was Vogel's assistant this past season, he wouldn't necessarily coach the same way. The Lakers need to look no further than what happened across the hall after the Clippers replaced Rivers with Ty Lue.

    Before Fizdale took over the Grizzlies in 2016-17, they were 20th in defensive rating. During his lone full season with the team, they jumped to seventh

    However, a poor relationship with star player Marc Gasol and a slow start to the following season led to his earlier-than-expected downfall in Memphis. It was such a surprising firing that James tweeted out a demand for answers. 

    Fizdale was a Miami Heat assistant coach during James' entire tenure there. Having been in battles with LeBron in Miami and having a front-row seat to what went wrong for the Lakers this season gives Fizdale institutional knowledge that few other coaches possess. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Tami Chappell/Associated Press

    Kenny Atkinson deserves another chance at being a head coach. He and the Brooklyn Nets mutually parted ways in March 2020 after star guard Kyrie Irving reportedly "soured" on him, according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Since then, he has been an assistant for the Clippers under Lue and the Golden State Warriors under Steve Kerr. 

    Atkinson has been pegged as a developmental coach, which might be a drawback for his candidacy for the Lakers job. This is not a development job. Atkinson will have to prove that he can be the one to lead them to another championship.

    Phil Handy brings to the table the same attributes as Fizdale. As a member of Vogel's staff from the start, he was there for the championship run in 2020. Prior to that, he won a championship with the Toronto Raptors and was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron's second tenure there. 

    Handy has been considered a development guru and has great relationships with players. When Vogel was reportedly on the hot seat earlier this year, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Handy would likely take over on an interim basis, not Fizdale (h/t Austin Green of Silver Screen and Roll).

    Handy has interviewed in the past for head coaching positions. He reportedly spoke with the Washington Wizards about their vacancy last offseason before they hired Wes Unseld Jr., according to Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register.

                 

    Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA

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