The Lakers officially announced a few weeks ago that Mike D’Antoni would resign as the team’s head coach. For whatever reason — personality clashes and personnel most likely — D’Antoni was just not a good fit in Los Angeles with the pressures that come with being the Lakers’ head coach.
D’Antoni’s fast-breaking style caught the dreams of new owner Jim Buss and helped secure him the job over Phil Jackson according to reports. But the dream was a nightmare, costing the Lakers Dwight Howard and leaving the franchise in tatters after Kobe Bryant’s injury. The Lakers at least get a high lottery pick.
But this is Los Angeles. The Lakers DO NOT do high lottery picks. They DO NOT tank.
Fans and NBA people are already trying to find ways the Lakers get Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love or, even, Kevin Durant in the coming years. This is just what the Lakers do and it is what Lakers fans are accustomed — and how they are accustomed to thinking.
The same will go for coaches. The Lakers have to believe they can have their pick of the top coaching candidates from around the league.
Already, former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, former Nuggets coach and current ESPN analyst George Karl, ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy and former Cavaliers coach Byron Scott have been attached to the team’s vacant position. And Tom Thibodeau whispers have already begun. Even Kevin Ollie, the coach of the defending champion Connecticut Huskies has been bandied about.
There are a lot of great coaches available. And with the Lakers and the Knicks both open, two of the NBA’s supposedly marquee — certainly the two most high pressured — coaching jobs are open at the same time. Not to mention the open jobs in Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit (assumedly) and Utah.
There are lots of coaching candidates out there — especially with the recent trend to hire young assistants who can relate better to players and follow the general managers’ analytics-based bent — but here are a few of the big names that will probably find jobs or find themselves in rumors this year:
Steve Kerr: The Warriors have all but admitted that they are out of the running for Kerr as their head coach. They have all but admitted that Kerr is off to the Knicks. Really it was quite sudden that Kerr emerged as a coaching candidate. Sure, Kerr somewhat hinted that he would be interested in becoming a coach as he worked the lead analyst job for Turner Sports and TNT’s NBA coverage.
The funny thing is, and this again has been a trend in the NBA, Kerr has zero head coaching experience. But he does have front office experience, serving as the general manager for the Suns from 2007-10. So he has been on the inside of an organization and the decision making processes. That is not the same as being a head coach. And it probably does not help that the man hiring him is perhaps the best coach in NBA history. So the Knicks appear to have a general manager with no management experience and a coach with no coaching experience. Sounds like the Knicks all the way.
Lionel Hollins: The Grizzlies unceremoniously dumped Hollins rather than extend him after he helped them reach the conference finals. It was no secret that the Grizzlies were going in a more analytical direction while Hollins fought against that. The management and the coach had two different visions. Someone had to go. So Hollins had this year off. But no one questions his coaching acumen. He helped Memphis become a gritty team that could defend its way into some offense.
While he might be the hot name, Hollins would not be a good match for the Lakers or the Knicks. He would only infuriate the local media and his headstrong ways on the offensive end of the floor and drive toward defense would possibly annoy Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Then again, he might let them do whatever they want so long as they play defense and commit to the defensive principles he wants.
What kind of team would attract Hollins? One that should be pretty comfortable with its offensive options and a need to recommit on defense. I do not think the Lakers, Knicks or Warriors, the job that he is most attached to, fit that bill. Golden State’s problems are more on the offensive end than the defensive end. So Hollins would not be a good fit there, in my opinion. He will probably end up there anyway.
Stan Van Gundy: Van Gundy has been out of coaching the last two years since Dwight Howard ran him out of Orlando — OK, Orlando needed to move on too after the team’s window closed shut and Howard skipped town. There is no doubt though that Van Gundy is one of the best coaches available. He is a hard-driving coach who expects defensive excellence and has a strong Xs and Os acumen. He would make just about any team he takes over that much better.
He would be the perfect coach for the Warriors, to be honest. He would find the best way to use all the various offensive weapons they have while maintaining the defensive habits Mark Jackson worked so hard to implement. Every NBA job Van Gundy had his teams have outperformed expectations.
Unfortunately for the NBA, Van Gundy is a family man. For real this time — not just because of Pat Riley. The understanding around Orlando media circles is that Van Gundy does not intend to take a head coaching job until his kids all graduate from high school. Which is another year or two away.
Prediction: Back to the Broadcast Booth
Mark Jackson: I have to ask this question: With Mark Jackson now available and his connection to the Knicks and the city of New York, why aren’t they even considering Jackson? He would do wonders with that Knicks team. He is a players coach and would have a great time relating to Anthony and getting the most out of his players. He turned a group of guys who were never known for their defense and made them a decent defensive unit with an offense that was always capable of going off. How does that not fit the Knicks?
Being the head coach of the Knicks would be a perfect marriage. He even has the dysfunction with his co-workers that defines the James Dolan Knicks. They would dominate Page 7!
It is not entirely clear at this point if Jackson will coach anywhere or who might want him. Maybe the Lakers make a call after they go through their normal list of candidates. Maybe he ends up there anywhere. It is the kind of spotlight he surely wants in his next coaching job and he is obviously the high-profile coach the Lakers would want to hire.
Prediction: Lakers… or back to the broadcast booth
George Karl: Karl was unceremoniously fired from the Nuggets after he won coach of the year. There were some philosophical differences with the new management and a major disagreement about whether he should get an extension. The Nuggets said no, citing his inability to find Playoff success.
Karl though has a long and proven track record in the NBA. He has had success wherever he goes and makes his teams better. They just never seem able to get over the top. Maybe that is not what a lot of these teams want. And they also have to ask the questions about Karl’s health and his long-term ability to be an NBA head coach, with the travel challenges that come with it.
Karl is not quite the coach to put a promising team like the Warriors over the top, but he would bring stability and a quality, dependable voice. Maybe he would. He has made teams great before.
Those are the best coaches available. They are all a bit of the normal retreads you see in the coaching carousel. But there are reasons they all keep getting jobs. Surely a team like Detroit will hone in on a young coach to lead its team and build from the ground up, whereas Golden State is looking for a coach to get it over the hump.