LOS ANGELES — Everybody wants something from the head coach. That’s the immense challenge of the job.
Jim Buss will want someone who can win games right away and take some of this heat off. Kobe Bryant will want to play a slower style with him in the post and the mid-post. The first-round draft pick will want someone patient and instructive.
Los Angeles Lakers fans just want someone competent—but no matter the composition of the roster, those fans will still want a championship soon enough.
What the Lakers need from their next head coach is someone who can make all those people believe a championship is coming. They need that before we can even begin a conversation about who might have the experience or proof or valid reason to think he can coach the team to that championship.
Look at all of the Lakers’ recent coaching failures: Del Harris, Kurt Rambis, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni. There are some skills there, no doubt, but the common thread is a lack of innate leadership. None of those men were commanding and cocksure; all of them ultimately failed to inspire belief and trust in those around them.
It’s hugely common among coaches to lack that special stuff. Most coaches are OK or good but not great. They know plenty, they are fine people…but that’s it.
Especially coming off the crushing disappointment of 2012-13 and the worst 82-game record in L.A. Lakers history in 2013-14 (27-55), there’s one thing needed now: a leader of men.
The next Lakers coach has to have true confidence. He needs a charisma that inspires players and disarms reporters. If you can handle egos in the inner circle and questions from reporters, you gain control of the message that reaches the fans, and you win them over via those players and the media.
The message everyone needs now?
This really will be OK because I am here to make everything better. Trust me.
Insert reassuring smile. Add knowing sparkle in eye.
And then work on backing all of those bold words up, you charmer.
Upon the Lakers’ announcement of D’Antoni’s resignation Wednesday, I received some congratulations for his departure. But although I was generally critical of him during his two-year tenure, even more so than Brown, D’Antoni was a good guy.
The issue was a fundamental lack of leadership in a job that is far more than anything about managing personalities with multiple modes of communication.
Here’s what I asked one month ago in a column endeavoring to explain why D’Antoni was not the right fit for this job:
How much can you tell about a coach when he just doesn't have the players?
Well, don't tell me you still cannot tell how he communicates, teaches and inspires. You can determine whether a leader cultivates peace and hope in his community at any time—especially amid adversity.
The Lakers still won’t have the greatest players next season, but what they’d better have is a coach who can handle everybody’s business and produce a united state to solider forward.
Although the reflexive notion for a prestige job such as the Lakers' position is to bring a veteran coach in, this is a time when some novelty will be useful to endure the rough patches.
As much as Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Van Gundy are strong, intelligent NBA coaches, they aren’t cut out for any rebuilding stuff at this point in their careers—and they probably know that.
The guys who have fresh drive to go with leadership skills—even if their coaching resumes are lacking—are the most intriguing right now.
There are some real possibilities out there.
Byron Scott is a Buss family favorite and possibly the favorite for this job now. He's a guy who might have already been Lakers head coach if he hadn’t boldly taken the post-LeBron James job with the Cleveland Cavaliers rather than waiting for Phil Jackson’s seat to open up.
Derek Fisher is retiring as a player at season’s end and is a gifted leader who makes sense in a multitude of ways despite not having closed his Lakers playing career on the best of terms with management.
Steve Kerr seems already halfway home and an ideal fit under Knicks president Jackson in New York, but Kerr is from Los Angeles and is his own man with a knack for explaining ideas.
Kevin Ollie, fresh off the NCAA championship at the University of Connecticut, is an L.A. native and rising coaching star with experience as a pro player. Quin Snyder is the hot candidate among current NBA assistants and has already earned the respect of Bryant and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.
There are question marks and complications that come with all of those names, but each would bring a certain magnetism and self-assuredness to the job—with the opportunity available to grow into a great NBA head coach before things get really serious upon 2015 free agency rolling around.
Before they assemble their next championship-caliber roster, what the Lakers need to do is learn from past mistakes, not repeat them.
Remember how Bryant loved Brown’s work ethic but eventually turned on him when Brown proved he wasn’t a leader? Remember how Bryant loved D’Antoni’s creativity but turned on him when D’Antoni proved he wasn’t a leader?
Bryant might fundamentally be a tough nut to coach, but he can’t help it if he has a highly efficient bull-detector. The guy is good at distinguishing between someone who believes in himself and someone who is faking it and hoping to slide by.
And though Bryant is at a place in his career where it’s not about catering to him, the Lakers still would be wise to hire someone who can pass the Kobe smell test with flying colors.
No one is ever going to look better than Jackson, but it’s finally not about Phil anymore. Tomjanovich used to refer to himself as the dummy trying to go on stage after Frank Sinatra, but that huge, square-shouldered shadow no longer haunts its old job as it once did.
The opportunity is truly there for someone to come in clean and be his own man in Lakerland.
But that’s only if he can lead the men around him.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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