Rumors Surrounding the Lakers
There are only eight days left in the NBA’s regular season. Once April 16 rolls around, the offseason will begin for 14 teams. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to be one of those teams for just the third time since 1994. It’s not something they’re accustomed to as an organization and as a result, talk about potential changes they could make have surfaced left and right.
Last night was supposed to be about UConn and Kentucky, two teams who persevered through tough seasons (two in UConn’s case), facing off for a national championship. Instead, with one tweet from Rex Chapman, a former NBA player and a member of the Kentucky broadcast team, the biggest story prior to the tip was that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was set to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers regardless of the outcome. Calipari’s Wildcats went on to lose the game to the Huskies, although it’d be unfair to blame the loss on anything other than their poor free throw shooting and just how good the Huskies are. Still, it was an unnecessary distraction that really became amplified due to the followings that the Lakers and Kentucky have and the way that rumors can now spread like wildfires with today’s technology.
The rumor became so rampant that both Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Calipari had to address them before the end of the night. Kupchak denied the report of course, while Calipari said he wouldn’t “dignify” the question with a response, which wasn’t exactly the flat out denial that Big Blue Nation was hoping for. Calipari did say that he has the greatest job in the country, though, and he does have a team capable of competing for a national championship again based on the stellar recruiting class that he has coming in. They’ll likely be hit hard by the NBA Draft, but nobody is better at reloading with premier talent than Calipari.
That doesn’t mean this is the end of the Calipari-Lakers rumors. In fact, fuel was thrown on that fire today when ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin said on a radio appearance that the Lakers were leaning toward relieving Mike D’Antoni of his head coaching duties at the end of the season. This lines up with reports of D’Antoni clashing with Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, but it contradicts a report from Bleacher Report a week earlier that the Lakers were leaning in the opposite direction and actually considering keeping D’Antoni.
Lakers backup point guard Jordan Farmar said it best today that the Lakers season should have an asterisk next to it because it’s not really fair to strongly evaluate what anyone on the team has done. Injuries have wreaked havoc on their team and have held D’Antoni back as much as anybody. Still, if the fit isn’t right, the Lakers are going to have to go in another direction. Their fan base is certainly encouraging it and it appears that the most important voices in their locker room are doing the same.
Only time will tell if Calipari is a guy that they would legitimately have interest in should they let D’Antoni go. The Lakers have a history of trying to lure away some of the best coaches in college basketball recently, although they were unsuccessful with both attempts. They pinned Duke’s Coach K as their top target when Phil Jackson originally retired, only for him to politely decline as he has every coaching offer that’s come his way since he’s taken over at Duke. Shortly after, Kupchak also had a “feeler” conversation with North Carolina’s Roy Williams, just to see what his interest level in the position was. Kupchak, a fellow former Tar Heel, may have been willing to go with Williams if he was willing to make the jump, but he too passed.
Basketball Insiders contributor and Los Angeles Times blogger Eric Pincus recently presented the idea that the Lakers should go after UConn head coach Kevin Ollie to be their next top guy on the sideline. Ollie’s stock has never been higher after UConn’s surprising run to a national championship. He was already on the rise after the way he guided them through last season’s postseason ban, but by winning the title this year he proved that he is a rising star and NBA offers are likely to start coming his way. Ollie has a close relationship with Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, so while Ollie may not bring an immense amount of head coaching experience and none at the NBA level, he holds about as much potential as any new hire would – perhaps even more considering the Durant ties. Right now it may seem like the chances of Durant leaving OKC are low, but remember he’s still a couple of years away from free agency and the Lakers are an organization that still isn’t sure why Dwight Howard left this summer and believes they have a shot to lure LeBron James away from Miami. They always set their sights on the best, no matter how unlikely landing them may be.
Another interesting tidbit regarding the Lakers that came out today was from USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, who said that the Lakers could be one of the teams that go after Luol Deng this offseason. Bryant has made it clear that he’s not willing to wait a year for the Lakers to try to swing big for the top free agents in 2015. He wants to be back to contending next year and Deng would certainly help in those efforts.
The Lakers face the Houston Rockets tonight in their last national television game of the season. Howard won’t be playing, but it will still be a frustrating evening as the Lakers take on a team that is looking fierce going into the playoffs thanks largely in part to the center they let get away. The Lakers are used to being one of the teams to fear going into the playoffs, and while there’s no telling what moves are ahead for an organization that does a pretty good job of playing their cards close to the vest, changes certainly appear to be on the horizon.
Pistons Leadership Changing
If you heard a collective sigh of relief coming from the Detroit area earlier today, it was because of a report from Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News that stated Pistons president Joe Dumars has told people close to him he’ll be resigning at the end of the season. If true, Dumars’ resignation would likely beat his termination by seconds at best. It’s been clear for years that it was time for the organization to go in a different direction, but Dumars, who did build a championship team in 2004 that almost won it again in 2005, managed to keep control. With the Pistons set to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, Dumars’ shot calling days in Mo Town appear to finally be over.
The first order for business for Dumars’ replacement will be figuring out who is going to be the team’s next head coach. The coaching market is littered with quality candidates, including former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, who was interested in the job when it became open midseason and jumps out as a particularly good fit based on their personnel.
Next will be deciding what to do with the mismatched frontline Dumars has put together. Andre Drummond is clearly the keeper and they may be stuck with Josh Smith’s big contract, but they cannot allow Greg Monroe to walk away without receiving some type of value in return. There’s going to be a sizable market for him this offseason when he can become a restricted free agent, and the Pistons have to capitalize rather than letting one of the league’s top young big men get away from them.
We should know in relatively short order by the end of the season just how much validity there is to the report of Dumars’ departure. The organization is going to want to start building for next year immediately and they’ll want a new leader in place rather than letting Dumars continue to dictate the path.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.