LOS ANGELES — This is your chance to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Polish up that resume. If it includes a degree from the University of North Carolina—same as Mitch Kupchak—you’re practically in. If you’ve never been a basketball coach before, that really might not matter, because there is a strong school of thought in the Lakers front office that it’s time for a less experienced, still-rising personality to grow with the team.
Could you be the guy? The Lakers brass truly is open to all sorts of possibilities in hiring Mike D’Antoni’s replacement—young or old, earthy or flashy, recognizable name or a hotshot new kid on the block. Maybe you have a chance.
And many fans would be quick to point out that you couldn’t possibly do worse than Mike Brown and D’Antoni just did.
D’Antoni might even be able to get the job back if he shaved off his mustache, came in with a good pseudonym (Mark D’Antoni?) and repackaged himself as 2016 free agent Kevin Durant’s USA Basketball assistant coach instead of 2006 NBA MVP Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns head coach.
The Lakers had been struggling to pull the trigger and flat-out fire D’Antoni until he made it easier on them. D’Antoni, who also resigned from the New York Knicks in 2012 in what was considered a mutual parting, was uncomfortable entering the final season of his Lakers contract with so many people, including one named Kobe Bryant, wishing he would disappear.
And the Lakers’ response to D’Antoni’s ambivalence certainly wasn’t to put up the "STAY" billboards.
Where does the club go from here? The Lakers are more than a week into the post-D’Antoni era and are prepared to go perhaps another month without a head coach as they consider their options deliberately.
There’s still time to get those resumes in, and it’s entirely possible that the team's next head coach could be someone who has a job currently but will become available.
Considering the Lakers’ initial list remains a work in progress that might wind up being 20 names long, it’s obviously premature to focus on any specific candidates. But given that the team is coming off its worst season in L.A. Lakers history and recently went outside the family for Rudy Tomjanovich, Brown and D’Antoni to a great net loss, this is an opening for which the Lakers would like to tap back into their illustrious history.
Consider that the finalists for the job that Brown got were Rick Adelman, Brian Shaw and Mike Dunleavy. For Dunleavy to be among the candidates demonstrated how much goodwill Lakers management feels toward its own. (Dunleavy coached the Lakers to a 101-63 record from 1990-92.)
Where it gets dicey is whether anyone from the Lakers' past fits right now for reasons beyond nostalgia.
Derek Fisher, 39, not only has no coaching experience, but he has always indicated he’d rather go into business than join the coaching carousel when he’s done playing.
Quin Snyder, 47, is a tremendously viable option given his intelligence, experience and cool factor, but he was only a Laker for one season—and that was as an assistant coach on Brown’s staff in the Lakers’ forgettable era.
Without question, Byron Scott, 53, makes the most objective sense to blast in from the past.
He grew up in the shadow of The Forum, he won three NBA championships playing with the "Showtime" Lakers, and he played with Kobe and Fisher on the 1996-97 Lakers. (Funny thing about that last part: The guard from that team who is a current NBA coach isn’t any of those guys. It’s Nick Van Exel, who just finished his first season as a Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach.)
As an opposing coach, Scott has regularly met up with Bryant for private time after Lakers games over the past decade. And Scott has had success: He led the Jason Kidd-powered New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and '03 and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets.
It’s a safe assumption that Jerry Buss would have made Scott the Lakers head coach instead of Brown upon Phil Jackson’s 2011 departure if Scott, eager to get back to work a year earlier, hadn’t accepted the daunting task of coaching Brown’s old Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James about to bolt.
In Cleveland, Scott connected quite well with young Kyrie Irving, who said upon Scott’s firing: "I’m trying to get over the loss of my basketball father." In New Orleans, it had been similar with young Chris Paul, who said after Scott left: "Coach was more than a coach to me. He was my mentor. He made me the player I am today."
Scott’s ability to project confidence and communicate clearly would be big after D’Antoni failed in those areas. It’s common that the strengths of replacement coaches fall where their predecessors were lacking, and if he fits into any particular category as a coach, Scott actually views himself to be a rebuilding specialist.
The question, fundamentally, is whether Scott has the drive (critics say he might actually prefer golf to basketball) and the strategic savvy (how do you ever lose 26 consecutive games, as the 2010-11 Cavs did?) to take the Lakers where they need to go—and do it fast.
Those are fair questions the Lakers will have to answer, and if the answers are wrong, it’s good that they are being open-minded to all the possibilities. If the answers are right, well, it’d be downright poetic for Scott to move from Lakers TV analyst, as he is now in the Time Warner Cable SportsNet studio, to become the Lakers’ next great coach—much like a broadcaster-turned-coach named Pat Riley once did.
Back in November 2009, Buss hinted that someone he and son Jim had "a special fondness for" was already in mind to become the Lakers head coach.
Even more in 2014, that extra feeling counts for something with the Lakers.
Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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