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Names To Watch As Lakers Search For Next Head Coach

With the reluctance of coaching next season as a lame duck, Mike D’Antoni abruptly stepped down—while still making $4 million in salary next season. Consequently, this meant the next head coach hire would count for the price of three (Lakers still owe Mike Brown up to $5 million).

Jim Buss knows he has been on thin ice with the fan base and the media ever since the mishandling of the Phil Jackson fiasco. Recently, Buss informed his family that he would step down in three or four years time if the Lakers were not contenders by then. Buss finally understands that the next coaching hire will likely define his tenure as the chief of Lakers management.

During the process of hiring the Lakers last head coach, Buss opted for the team to abandon the slow system triangle players and focus more on bringing the ‘Showtime Lakers’ back. Obviously, we all know how that turned out. While we have no idea to the mindset of direction that Buss plans to take this franchise, we can get a good idea from the list of candidates that have surfaced the past couple of days. 

Hard-Nose, Half-Court, Scrappy Defensive Style

- Byron Scott

With 13 years as head coach experience and having led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals over a decade ago, former Showtime member Byron Scott has already made it known publicly that he is interested in the head coaching vacancy of the Lakers. Scott brings an old school, no-nonsense approach that would definitely appease the mind of Kobe Bryant. The combination of a Scott hiring for the Lakers and the uncertainty of Kyrie Irving’s willingness to sign an extension this summer will definitely generate speculation of a possible Kyrie-Scott reunion in Hollywood. At least one source told Bleacher Report Ric Bucher that this was a legitimate direction that management are currently mulling over.

- Jeff Van Gundy

It would take quite a bit to lure Jeff Van Gundy from the comforting television commentating seats of ESPN; nevertheless the Lakers have always had Van Gundy high on their head-coaching list. Up and coming Bobcats coach Steve Clifford and defensive guru Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau were both assistants with Van Gundy during the early 2000 Knick years. Both Clifford and Thibodeau reciprocate the scrappy physical defensive mindset that Van Gundy was known for as head coach. 

- Lionel Hollins

Fresh off leading the Grizzles to the Western Conference Finals last season, Hollins has been a name that has floated with any available NBA head coaching vacancy since he was fired. Hollins would bring a tough-minded, grit and grind approach, but it also could come at a cost. Hollins was fired by Memphis because he had butted heads with Grizzles executives on multiple of occasions. With Hollins’ limited offensive creativity, it would be difficult to see the Buss family hiring Hollins, especially given what happened when offensive incompetent Mike Brown coached the Lakers. 

- Ettore Messina

The four-time Euroleague champion Ettore Messina would provide the glamour hire that the Lakers have always been known for. Having worked with the Lakers as recently as the 2012 season, Messina served as an assistant/consultant to Mike Brown. Bryant and Lakers management share the same affinity for Euroleague legend Messina. He demands a slow tempo, half-court system style of play on both sides of the ball. His stubborn coaching mentality may clash with personalities like Bryant, but Messina is known as coaching his best in the fourth quarter.

Up-Tempo, Free Flowing, Efficient Offensive Style

- George Karl

If the front office enjoyed the offensive flow and up-tempo style that D’Antoni bought to Staples Center, then Karl would be an ideal fit. Like his disciple Terry Scotts—who is flourishing as coach with the Blazers—Karl runs a high efficiency, equal opportunity offense that would be entertaining to watch. He could create a strong cohesive bond amongst the younger players similar to what he did with the young players on Denver. Given Karl’s track record of demanding ample control of the team roster, the Lakers do not seem like a likely fit.

Collegiate Coaches

- John Calipari

On the day of the NCAA Championship, former Kentucky legend Rex Chapman tweeted that Kentucky insiders told him that Calipari was headed to the Lakers, which caused a media frenzy. Since then, Calipari has asserted his intentions to stay at Kentucky, but we have seen this act before. Akin to how Calipari’s last NBA stint turned out, a Calipari-Lakers marriage could end with a messy divorce. Calipari commands complete control of the roster, and we know that the Lakers front office will not tolerate that.

- Kevin Ollie

As inexperienced as Ollie is, he managed to guide his UConn squad to a national championship. The Lakers have already publicly announced that they would be checking in to see Ollie’s interest. Ollie’s stock will never be as high as it currently is, yet Ollie has expressed his desire to remain at his alma mater UConn. Unlike Calipari, Ollie is still considered inexperienced as a coach and would be a much better fit than Calipari for someone to jump into the professional ranks.

Wildcard?

- Derek Fisher

Considering that Fisher is still playing in the league and without any coaching experience, he should be considered a long shot. Adrian Wojnarowski threw out Fisher as someone the Lakers should seriously consider, and it seems like a perfect fit to the puzzle. With the current state of the roster and the instability of the Laker front office, Fisher could provide the Lakers with a cheap coaching option and the willingness to go through the growing pains with a young roster next season. Furthermore, it does not hurt that Kobe’s must trusted basketball ally is Fisher—as they won five titles together.

D'Antoni's Departure Won't Fix Lakers

Rather than restoring the Los Angeles Lakers to their Showtime style of the 1980s, Mike D'Antoni was head coach during the bodily betrayal of both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, while also severely alienating Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

From his first day on the job, D'Antoni was destined to disappoint since he wasn't Phil Jackson.

While replacing Mike Brown, D'Antoni had a quartet of Howard-Bryant-Gasol-Nash to work with that we expected be a perfect match for his system. But that Big Four saw only 22 games together, and most, if not all, of those games saw none of them simultaneously healthy. Even still, the team's chemistry and cohesion was upended almost immediately in 12-13 with an early injury to Nash.

That Lakers' roster was incredibly thin and could not withstand extended absences of any of those players, though they still managed to sneak into the playoffs.

Both the Lakers and D'Antoni have lost considerable luster since 2010.

The Lakers have just nine playoff wins since their 2010 title and their anticipated franchise player of the future walked from the franchise last July.

There aren't many proven, big name coaches readily available to replace D'Antoni. Stan Van Gundy hasn't shown an interest in coaching soon, and the likes of Lionel Hollins or George Karl could be too impatient to come to the Lakers in this transitional phase.

The Lakers' trouble isn't finding a coach, but committing to a direction. The worst thing a front can do in the NBA is mire between title contention and being a lottery team, simply being mediocre and without an identity. While the Lakers' endured a team-record 54 losses, there is the expectation they can immediately contend.

That expectation is enabled by front office decisions like investing $48 million on an extension for Bryant, who has been unable to stay healthy over the past year. It is difficult to see how they can be anything more than a fringe playoff team as their best case scenario given the coaching instability, rash spending and a lack of assets beyond this June's lottery pick, along with 2015 cap room that isn't guaranteed to net their next superstar centerpiece.

After wanting the team to exercise his contract option for the 2016 season, D'Antoni decided it was better to leave the franchise. His 67-87 record is the worst among coaches who oversaw at least 100 games for the Lakers, but that tells only so much, evidenced by 16 players starting at least five games this past season.

It is extremely difficult for a franchise to completely avoid periods of rebuilding, even one as storied as the Lakers. The issues facing Mitch Kupchak and the Buss Family didn't begin with D'Antoni, and they certainly won't end because he's gone.

Lakers' New Reality

When the NBA postseason begins, the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be included for only the fifth time in 60 years.

This frustrating season has been a anomaly for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' longtime centerpiece, has missed all but six games the past year, missing nearly as many games this season (76) as his previous 16 seasons combined (107).

The Lakers won’t have an All-NBA selection for the first time since 1996, will be in the NBA Lottery for only the fourth time in 25 years, and are poised for their worst win percentage (.333) since relocating to Los Angeles in 1959.

Discussing a franchise’s ineptitude has become a delicate subject due to the concerns over tanking, but some situations are more promising than others.

So, underneath the wreckage of this broken season, there are nuggets of optimism waiting to be mined, affording the Lakers a chance for a new beginning.

Playing the Lotto

Since 1979, the Lakers have made five top-12 picks (Magic Johnson, James Worthy, George Lynch, Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum), with four (all except Lynch) becoming All-Stars.

Since 2007, the Lakers last two first round picks (Jordan Farmar, Javaris Crittenton) haven’t been as promising. Farmar has played on two Lakers championship teams but contributed mainly as a role player, with Crittenton being moved to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Pau Gasol trade and having off-court issues in the subsequent years.

The Lakers haven't exactly hit in the second round either.

Despite this recent stretch of underwhelming drafting, the Lakers’ upcoming lottery pick offers potential.

Since 2007, 13 top-ten picks became All-Stars within five seasons, combining for 34 total appearances. The highly-acclaimed 2014 draft class, featuring Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, could allot the Lakers a new franchise centerpiece, whether they select perimeter excellence (Wiggins, Parker), a post presence (Julius Randle, Joel Embiid), or another promising prospect.

For years, the Lakers have sorely lacked youth and athleticism, making their potential top-6 pick and $36 million in cap space all the more alluring.

D’Antoni Doing Work

Since leaving the Phoenix Suns, Mike D'Antoni has endured draining seasons with the Knicks and Lakers.

Despite his 184-245 record since leaving the Suns, D’Antoni offers credibility as the overseer of the Lakers’ rebuilding project.

Before winning Coach of the Year in 2005, D’Antoni became the Suns’ coach the season before, finishing 21-40. One then-underrated Steve Nash signing and several shrew role player additions later, D’Antoni averaged 57 wins over four seasons.

Of course, many expected the same results when D’Antoni took over the Lakers, but the roster, cohesion and direction have allotted no such opportunity. Perhaps these mitigating circumstances have been why the Buss family have stood behind him.

Namely, Dwight Howard’s lone, dramatic Laker campaign and exit left D’Antoni with a limited roster headlined by the aging and rehabbing Bryant, who attested to D’Antoni’s troubled tenure, recently saying, “the two years he’s been here, he’s dealt with so many injuries. He hasn’t gotten a fair shake.”

Indeed, D’Antoni has his flaws -- stubbornness being chief among them -- but he’s succeeded when granted the resources, and a starting lineup headlined by Jodie Meeks doesn’t entail that. Given the proper tools, we’ll more aptly gauge D’Antoni’s place as Lakers coach, but only then.

An Opportunity to Move On

Nothing is more nostalgic than letting go, especially in sports.

That being said, the Lakers must accept Bryant as their best player no longer guarantees a playoff spot let alone a championship contender, nor does taking a rumored shortcut (with superstar free-agents). The NBA is different now, centered on financial prudence, niche players and remarkable cohesion more than ever.

To return to NBA prominence, the Lakers must balance between creating headlines and crafting culture, practicing patience. Losing is never ideal, but it’s sometimes necessary, especially when the other option is middling in mediocrity. Among the Western Conference’s top eight teams, five of them (the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Blazers and Grizzlies) endured playoff droughts of three-plus seasons since the Lakers last missed the postseason (2005).

Landing a superstar free agent is ideal, but Bryant’s $48 million extension hinders any hope for a balanced roster with a max-level teammate. Bryant wants another championship, but the Lakers’ priority should be long-term security.

With a likely top-6 pick and an ever-competitive Western Conference, the Lakers must adjust to their reality: they’re rebuilding. But their resources and history will allot a chance to eventually return among the NBA elite, eventually restoring their storied luster.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.

Ranking The Best Five Draft Fits For The Lakers

The Lakers rarely have high picks and this draft will prove extremely important for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss to select a potential superstar as a successor to Kobe Bryant.

Why Kendall Marshall Is Unlikely To Be Lakers' Long-Term Answer At Point Guard

Kendall Marshall became a free agent before the start of his second season in the NBA, but injuries created a huge opportunity for him with Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers.

Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

The Western Conference is nine degrees warmer on average than the Eastern Conference, which must be considered as a factor in why it has been a far deeper conference over the past two decades.

The Points In The Paint Separation Between Contenders, Pretenders

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A Brave New World For Los Angeles, New York

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Star By Star

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Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

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On Dwight Howard, Defense, History

Pundits like Bill Simmons can look at a year Dwight Howard was hurt and a year where he played in a system that minimized his strengths and magnified his weaknesses to write him off using pithy garbage like personality, but analyzing production and talent over conjecture will always win out.

The Logistics Of Dwight Ending Up With Golden State

Getting Dwight Howard sits within the realm of possibility for the Warriors, but it would come at a steep, steep cost unless the Lakers are more generous than expected. Wasting their amnesty on Charlie Bell and using 2013 cap space to acquire a pick last season is again continuing to hurt them.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

Dwight Howard's Choices

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career, Dwight Howard will have to choose the franchise that best positions him to grow as a player and compete for championships. The time has come for Howard to decide whether he wants to be an all-time great player, or just a player that was good for his time.

Realities Changing For Lakers

In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition? But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.

Dirk, Kobe Forestalling Decline

Not much has gone right for either the Lakers or Mavericks this season, but both remain worth watching, if only for the presence of Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. Both players will hopefully continue adapting to playing at a near-MVP level in their thirties for many more seasons.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

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