Searching for the Lakers next coach...
Get all of Andrew Sharp's columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
It's inaccurate to call the Lakers an ongoing “soap opera.” The intrigue in Los Angeles is more than just a cartoon. There are vivid characters and varied motivations and legitimately high stakes for everyone involved. But it’s not quite prestige drama, either, because the storylines are always just crazy enough to remind you not take this too seriously. It's more like an hour–long CBS drama. The Spurs are 60 Minutes, and the Lakers are the NBA's The Good Wife. And after this month's wild Mamba farewell, the Lakers killed off Byron Scott in the finale Sunday night.
So... who's coming next season?
The Lakers need a coach with A) the starpower to recruit free agents this summer and beyond, B) the patience to develop a young team in the event those free agents don't arrive, and C) a reputation that helps restore confidence around the league, and among fans who just spent two years doubting every single move Byron Scott made.
Also, nobody knows exactly who's making the choice here. Jim Buss? Mitch Kupchak? Has Jeannie Buss been in sabotage mode the past few years in a plot to take the team back from her brother, and bring Phil Jackson back from New York? We will all watch and find out. I love this team.
Here are the candidates, some of whom have been mentioned elsewhere, and others who should be mentioned more.
Luke Walton. About four months ago, Walton was far and away the hottest young coach on the market. Some of that hype has cooled since then, as the NBA collectively realized that an interim coach guiding one of the greatest lineups in history to success isn't necessarily as impressive as it seemed at the time. Still, Walton is a big enough name to impress free agents, and he’d likely relate well to the younger guys on the Lakers as a former player. If Jeannie brings Phil back to California, Walton can even run the triangle. He's the favorite. Whether he’s actually a good coach remains to be seen, but it may not be a bad idea for the Lakers to spend the money to find out.
Kevin Ollie. Like Walton, we’ve passed the peak of Ollie–mania. There was a point after UConn's 2014 national title when the Spurs would have fired Gregg Popovich just to interview Ollie, but two mediocre seasons have cooled the NBA’s obsession a bit. Having said that, his biggest problem at UConn has been recruiting, and people should be chasing him this summer. He still relates well to players, understands the NBA game, and could transition fairly quickly to what the Lakers want to do. And what do the Lakers want to do most? Sign Kevin Durant. Ollie played with him in Oklahoma City, and while that probably means nothing, it's an added bonus that could help trick the Lakers into hiring one of the better young coaches basketball has. Or they could look at college and go bigger ...
Mike Krzyzewski. The illuminati option.
Everyone's throwing out the same old Calipari rumors this week, but they all have the wrong dream. The Lakers need a big name to recruit superstars who can also develop young talent? Someone who will impress the league and also get the benefit of the doubt from fans? Mike Krzyzewski checks every box. He would be a giant middle finger to every writer who’s currently killing L.A. for letting Tom Thibodeau get away, and he’d add instant credibility to this team. I grew up a North Carolina fan and will loathe this man forever, but he could be perfect in L.A. And as Team USA’s coach, he’s better positioned than anyone to recruit future Hall of Famers.
Would he ever leave Duke? Probably not. But the Lakers have pursued him before. At the very least, they should invite him to a meeting with $60 million in cash sitting on a conference room table, just to see what happens.
Jay Wright. This is one of those names that sounds great in theory, until you remember that Wright is 54 years old, has never really coached anything resembling NBA talent (even in college), and would command an obscene amount of job security (money and years) to even think about leaving. Also, what free agent cares about Jay Wright? Why would the Lakers do this?
John Calipari. It's probably not happening, but if Calipari ends his coaching career with a $55 million Lakers deal that leads to three disastrous seasons and a lifetime in Malibu, he goes down as my favorite coach of all time.
Derek Fisher. Probably not a good idea. He isn’t that different from Byron Scott, right? And his recent history in Southern California is not ideal. He would absolutely not get the benefit of the doubt as this team continues to rebuild. But he's apparently expressed interest, and if you are one of the people who thinks this team is still run by fools, it’s not that hard to imagine the Lakers brain trust talking themselves into Fisher. He’s also closer with Durant than Ollie, so maybe that will help his cause.
Mark Jackson. I think Jackson's been unfairly maligned the past few years. He's not as brilliant as Steve Kerr, but he's not worse than Scott Brooks, for example. He's a solid option for a young team.On the other hand ... if you're the Lakers can afford anyone, why not go for Kerr?
Dave Joerger. He’s not technically available, but every few months there are rumors that Memphis isn’t happy with him. He’s also one of the best young coaches in the NBA, and management’s apparent ambivalence has never made much sense. If it's possible, he's a better candidate than just about anyone on this list. The Lakers should at least put in a call to the Grizz and see if they can make it happen. It makes more sense than Derek Fisher.
Spurs assistants Ime Udoka or Ettore Messina. It’s hard to tell with the Popovich coaching family. Maybe one of these two assistants will be the next Mike Budenholzer or Steve Kerr. Maybe one of them is the next Jacque Vaughn or Mike Brown. Gambling with the next three years is dicey for the Lakers. Then again, for a team that should probably be concerned with how this hire looks as much as anything, stealing a supposedly–brilliant assistant from Gregg Popovich is not the worst idea.
David Blatt. MAVERICK GETS BACK IN THE COCKPIT. THERE’S A MIG 28 ON HIS TAIL, AND HE’S GOING TO HIT THE BRAKES, AND THEY’LL FLY RIGHT BY. HE'S IN LOS ANGELES. HE'S GOT A LOCK. HE’S FIRRRRINGGGGGGGGGG!
We need David Blatt back in the NBA. Does he make sense for the Lakers? Probably not. But we need David Blatt back in the NBA
Nate McMillan. I don’t have strong Nate McMillan opinions for you, but he was very solid for several years in Portland, and he's due for another chance. And hey, he’s not Derek Fisher.
Vinny Del Negro. He's not Derek Fisher, but he is Vinny Del Negro.
Brian Shaw. He deserves another shot at some point. The Nuggets situation was a nightmare for reasons that went well beyond coaching, and he was highly–regarded by most of the league before he crashed and burned in Denver. He'd be a decent backup plan if they strike out on top candidates. Also, if Shaw comes to L.A., I will bet my life's savings that Phil Jackson follows within 12 months.
Jarron Collins or Nate Tibbets. If the Lakers strike out on pipe dreams like Coach K, Joerger, and Ollie, one of these two could be the best option. I’m saying this as someone who reads Kevin Arnovitz’s assistant rundown religiously every year, and also as someone who cares about the Lakers and wants this team to reclaim some dignity. Collins is at least as smart as Walton, probably moreso, and while he’s not as big of a name to potentially draw free agents, he has roots in Los Angeles that could buy him some patience from fans. Meanwhile, Tibbets has apparently done a phenomenal job with two guards (C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard) who look a lot like what D’Angelo Russell is supposed to be one day. Either one of them would infuse this organization with new blood, and add some creativity to a team that desperately needs it. (Note: Their is a 0% chance either of these guys get hired here.).
• MORE NBA: Greatest Goodbye: Kobe pours in 60 in unforgettable finale
Jeff Van Gundy. He gets mentioned as a dream candidate for all these jobs, every year, and I don’t know why. It’s possible that it could work, and he’s definitely a big name that could add credibility in a pursuit of free agents. That part makes sense. But he’s so much happier as a broadcaster, and presumably well–compensated. It would take a very serious offer to bring him back to coaching, likely including full personnel control, and… are we sure he’d have the patience to succeed with a Lakers roster that's still several years from contending? It would require a massive investment for a payoff that’s not totally clear. So actually, maybe he's the perfect choice for what this team's become. Unless…
Kobe Bryant. It worked for Larry Bird, why can't it work again?
Maybe you think it’s time for the Lakers to return to sanity, but maybe you are flat–out wrong and never understood this organization in the first place. Maybe you don't have what it takes. You thought it was over, but now it's time for Superman to go into the phone booth and come out holding a clipboard. MAMBA IN.