Now that Phil Jackson is officially off the market (pause to hold back tears), it is time to evaluate the coaching free agent market. I have taken the time to look at who is available and have come up with a few options that I think could work in LA. I am not going to list these coaches in any particular order because I believe the Lakers need to decide the direction they want to go in before they can pick a coach. A lot of this will depend on the draft pick, Kobe Bryant, and which free agents they wish to pursue.
This post may seem premature since Mike D’Antoni has not been fired yet. There are good arguments out there to let him coach next year: paying 3 coaches at once is costly and ridiculous, and we should wait to get a coach after we see what players we have. However, Kobe has made it pretty clear that he no longer wants to play for Mike and already has a lot of issues with management, so it would probably be within their best interest to fire Mike before Kobe goes on a negative PR spree again. Also, we do need to sign free agents this summer since we currently have only 4 players on contract. Two players the Lakers will pursue have no interest in playing for D’Anotni: Pau Gasol and Carmelo Anthony.
I have stated multiple times that I hope we resign Pau and do not go after Melo, but ultimately the Lakers do not listen to me. It appears that Kobe wants Melo so they will at least give it a shot, but now that shot seems even farther away with the Knicks acquiring the Zenmaster (sniffles).
All in all, I believe it is within the Lakers best interest to get a new coach this summer. Now without further ado, here are my top choices:
The Lakers have stated that they want to bring Showtime back. Well Coach Karl would do a much better job of doing that than D’Antoni. Unlike D’Antoni, Karl believes in defense and was able to do a pretty good job of relying on other players to make up for Carmelo’s defensive deficiencies. Also he was able to take a team of nobodies and get them into the playoffs, unlike D’Antoni. Coach Karl knows how to deal with big egos and keep his team in line. Most importantly, he just won Coach of the Year. I was shocked that Denver fired him. I think he has the type of reputation and personality that the Mamba will respect. I love the fact that he can mold a team based upon its talent. There are some issues of course: Mamba running at high speeds on those injured legs, Karl’s health, and the LA factor.
I have criticized D’Antoni for 2 years regarding his fast paced offense, so I would be a hypocrite not to bring it up with Karl. However, I think Karl runs it better than Mike. I am not completely sold on the idea of such a fast paced offense, but if Jim Buss is as stubborn as he as thus far proved to be, he will pursue his vision for recreating Showtime.
Another issue is Karl’s health. He is a cancer survivor but not much is really known about his current condition. He is very private about his health, but that is something we would have to keep in mind. Lastly, we have to figure out if he can handle LA. D’Antoni has not been able to handle the pressure from the fans and media (remember his tirade about fans rooting for another team). It takes a strong personality to survive in Hollywood. Coach Karl had great success, but in a small market. Denver is a smaller city and the pressure is not as big. I personally think he can handle it, but with his health he may not want to enter the lion’s den.
Sloan is a coaching legend. He has coached the greats and is a Hall of Famer. I cannot say enough great things about the man. His issues are very similar to Coach Karl’s. I am not sure he wants nor has the patience for LA.
He spent his career in Utah, which is extremely different from LA. I think Kobe would love the old school personality of Sloan, but he may come off as prickly to the rest of the city. Lakers are celebrities in this city, and the great coaches know how to play that role. I love Sloan but he is someone who I could see freaking out at the paparazzi for ruining his meal. People either love or hate LA, and I fear he may be the latter. I think he has the potential to be a great LA coach, but only if he really wants it.
Kurt Rambis/Brian Shaw
Picking one of these coaches would appeal to the fans nostalgic side. It was a brilliant move to bring Kurt in as an assistant to soften the blow of hiring D’Antoni. When the Lakers initially hired Mike Brown, fans were furious. Everyone was expecting Brian Shaw to take over when Phil left in order to keep the triangle going. Instead the Lakers did a complete overhaul (look how well that turned out). If management decided to go back and make the decision that fans originally wanted, it would help appease some of the hatred that has been targeted toward the Buss kids and make Kobe happy.
There are issues to consider with these options as well: Kurt and Brian have not been terribly successful in that position (or being offered that position), and a lot of players have a lot of trouble understanding the triangle. I understand the confusion around the triangle; I have been watching the Lakers run it for years and I still could not fully explain it. My recommendation is to bring in an expert as an assistant: Luke Walton. He would make a great coach and understands that triangle as well as Phil Jackson. Additionally, adding another former Laker to the coaching staff would make fans happy.
The best thing the Buss kids can do is take the Lakers back to its roots. The brand is in trouble, but bringing in blasts from the past will remind the fans why they love the franchise and players why LA has always been the best destination.
I have very different reasons for liking each of these coaching options. Each coach takes the Lakers on very different paths. Now Jim and Jeannie Buss need to decide which road to take.