Lakers' coaching search begins and ends with triangle offense
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There is a recent blueprint here, even if it's a tad incomplete.
The same Phil Jackson who headed off into retirement on Wednesday was close to doing this dance a year ago, thinking seriously about leaving the Lakers behind and forcing the purple-and-gold powers-that-be to plot this new plan. The rumblings could be heard even then, whispers that the vaunted triangle offense that had played such an intimate role in Jackson's career wasn't welcome anymore.
Only Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss truly knows how badly he wants a new brand of basketball, an evolution into a Showtime-esque era that would require the right kind of coach and a more athletic roster to suit that style. But as the Lakers begin the league's most high-profile coaching search in the coming weeks, that question will be crucial in the decision-making process.
There were clues to be had during the team's last day of exit interviews on Wednesday, when all the most relevant figures not named Buss weighed in on the topic. The strong preference for a coach with an offensive system as opposed to a playbook seemed clear, with Jackson himself explaining the merits of maintaining that method.
"I've heard a number of names come up," Jackson said. "And there are a lot of systems that are very similar to ours in this game that go by keys and go by passes, instead of by coaches running up and down the sideline calling all the plays.
"I think that [the Busses] understand that that's an important aspect of basketball, and I wouldn't be surprised if the next coach [had] those philosophies that I have."
Kobe Bryant, the player formerly known by Jackson as "uncoachable," has long since been deemed untouchable. Such status certainly means his voice will be heard, even if he downplayed his potential role in this process.
"If they ask me my opinion on certain things, I will gladly give it to them and talk to them about certain things," he said when asked about the coaching search. "But that'll be a bridge that they'll have to ask me to cross."
So where does Kobe stand when it comes to a system?
"It's funny, Tex always had a saying," Bryant said, referring to longtime Jackson assistant and creator of the triangle offense Tex Winter. "He said, 'I don't give a damn what system you run, as long as you run it well.' And he's the one that brought the triangle to us and Chicago.
"It's his philosophy that he doesn't care. You can have the most sophisticated offense in the world, but if you don't run it right, it's not going to work. You can have the most simplistic offense in the world, but if you execute it properly, you'll have success."
Lamar Odom is the Lakers' second-longest-tenured player, trailing only Bryant. The Sixth Man Award winner said he would prefer that the next coach kept the triangle intact.
"I think I would love for that just to be our system, because when we do it right we can use everybody, get everybody involved, let them use their advantages," Odom said. "Of course [you'd want] a coach that can keep us bonded, push us. This should be an easy team to coach, you know? Kobe, Pau [Gasol], Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest. You have veterans who know how to play. They know how to play off each other."
The decision will be made by Buss, his son and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak. Yet the trio has yet to discuss the situation in earnest, and Kupchak said no timetable has been set.
"We'd like to be deliberate," he said. "In Los Angeles, typically we hire coaches and they stick with us for a long time, and hopefully win championships. So we'll take our time in making a decision."
Kupchak acknowledged that there would be "a candidate or two" from the existing staff. One of those coaches is widely known to be assistant Brian Shaw. An ESPN.com report indicated that the other is assistant Chuck Person. According to an SI.com source, Person is also expected to receive consideration for the Golden State vacancy. The source said Person will be a candidate in Indiana as well, depending on the uncertain future of interim Pacers coach Frank Vogel. Shaw is reportedly a candidate in Golden State and Houston, too.
Shaw has the public endorsement of Bryant and the extensive experience with the triangle on his side, but there are indications that the former Laker does not have an inside track to the position. Person, meanwhile, has been lauded for his role in directing the Lakers' defense to a strong season.
"If you're building a championship team, your DNA always has to start with the defensive end of the floor," Bryant said. "Always. I'm a firm believer in that. I don't believe in building a championship team on offense. It has to be built on defense and rebounding. Period."
If the Lakers are looking for a more experienced coach, however, then they may turn to Rick Adelman. The former Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Houston coach has a 945-616 career record that puts him eighth all time in wins. His read-and-react "corner" offense, the cornerstone of his 20-year career, has extensive similarities to the triangle. The main difference is the way in which he uses the big men, often running the offense through them at the high post as opposed to having them work on the blocks.
Adelman parted ways with the Rockets in mid-April when he was not given a new contract. His longtime assistant, Elston Turner, told SI.com that he believes the 64-year-old would be a good fit with the Lakers.
"He has experienced everything that L.A. the city and L.A. the team has to offer," Turner said by phone on Tuesday. "He's been groomed for a job like that. I've been with him 10 years, so I think I can say that much. He's qualified to get any job in this league. He's pretty damned good at it."
Cleveland coach Byron Scott and Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis have been eyeing this job for years, but the former Lakers don't appear able to take it even if it was theirs to have. Scott, whose up-tempo style has impressed Jerry Buss for quite some time, was once so determined to become the next Lakers coach that he had contract language inserted into his head-coaching deal with New Orleans allowing him to leave if the job became open. That language doesn't exist in his current deal, however.
Rambis -- who went 24-13 as Lakers coach in 1999 and lost in the second round of the playoffs after taking over for Del Harris midseason -- is waiting on word of his future with the Timberwolves and may be fired. His teams are 32-132 in his two seasons, with Rambis struggling to find success while using the triangle offense with his young, underwhelming roster. According to an advanced scouting source, Rambis had all but abandoned the triangle late in the season for far more basic sets.
As Kupchak indicated, the roster and which direction the Lakers' brass takes it will have everything to do with which style is ultimately chosen.
"We think this team can still win, so we're going to get a coach that we think can help us contend for championships in the foreseeable future," Kupchak said. "We'll sit down and we'll talk about what this group of players is capable of doing, what our opportunities are between now and July 1, the draft and any other opportunities that may be out there. That's going to determine how we play."