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NBA AM: Best Fit to Coach the Lakers?

Who is the best fit for the L.A. Lakers as they hire their next head coach? Here’s a breakdown of the top candidates … Are the Sacramento Kings the frontrunners to acquire Kevin Love?

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Basketball Insiders’ writers discuss the most NBA-ready draft prospects in this upcoming class.

Who’s the Best Fit to Coach the Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers are taking a slow, deliberate approach toward hiring their next head coach. So far the list of candidates includes Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins, Kurt Rambis, George Karl, Larry Brown and Scott Skiles. Derek Fisher has been identified as a candidate as well, but Fisher has not decided whether he will retire and Phil Jackson is reportedly very interested in hiring him to coach the New York Knicks as well.

Who from this list of candidates makes the most sense for the Lakers? It depends on what are the most important priorities for the front office as they make their decision. With Kobe Bryant signed on for two more years, and a roster that is in need of a significant overhaul, there are competing interests. Bryant wants to compete for championships now, but the Lakers also need to start assembling a core to build around once he retires.

With the new CBA in effect, the most effective way to construct a roster is through the draft and the development of young players. Thus, the Lakers need someone with experience – a proven winner who will demand respect from Bryant, but who can simultaneously develop young players. Ideally, it will be someone who has proven he can develop a culture, give the team an identity and create lasting stability. Here’s a look at the candidates:

Byron Scott

Byron Scott previously coached the New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers. With the Nets, Scott made it to the NBA Finals in 2001-02 and 2002-03, though his team lost each time. After being fired by the Nets, Scott found relative success in New Orleans with Chris Paul as his point guard, reaching the Conference Semi-Finals in 2007-08.

Scott is respected around the league as a former player, and a coach who holds his players accountable. Scott would have the respect and support of Bryant, which is important. Keep in mind, Scott and Bryant actually played together on the Lakers, as Bryant’s rookie campaign was Scott’s last year in the NBA.

If Scott were to get the Lakers job, he has made it clear that he would instill a defense-first culture.

“That’s what I was taught when I came to the Lakers, that defense wins championships,” Scott said in an interview on ESPN LA 710 recently. “I think Kobe knows that. I think Pau [Gasol] knows that, because they won championships with that formula. And I think that’s the first thing we got to get better at, the defensive part of basketball. Then we got to get better at the rebounding. So, it’s something that we would do on a day-to-day basis. You got to work on that every day, and it has to be a team’s identity and a staple.”

This commitment to defense should resonate with Lakers fans, who watched the team surrender 107.9 points per 100 possessions this past season (which ranked 28th in the league).

Scott should be considered a strong candidate considering he is a fan favorite among Lakers fans, well respected around the league, has reached the NBA Finals twice and bases his coaching philosophy around defense.

Lionel Hollins

Hollins was let go by the Memphis Grizzlies after last season due to differing views with management. His contract was not renewed, despite a successful run with the team.

From the 2008-09 season until 2012-13, Hollins created a culture of tough, defense-oriented basketball with the Grizzlies. Offensively gifted players like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley grew into excellent defensive players under Hollins, and are better players because of his coaching.

Additionally, Hollins runs his offense through the post, which is where Bryant will likely look to score from after suffering significant injuries the last two seasons. If Pau Gasol returns next year, he and Bryant would fit into Hollins’ slower, post-based offense, unlike the up-and-down system that Mike D’Antoni ran the last two seasons in Los Angeles.

George Karl

George Karl is only the seventh coach in NBA history to win over 1,000 games and he has a career win percentage of .599. In addition, Karl led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in 1995-96, losing to the Chicago Bulls. Karl continued winning at a high level later with the Milwaukee Bucks and, most recently, the Denver Nuggets.

Karl led the Nuggets to the playoffs in each of his nine seasons as head coach, but only advanced past the first round once in 2009. Karl also showed last season that he can coach and win with young players, winning 57 games with a roster that featured an average age of 24.9 (the third-youngest in the league). Karl won Coach of the Year last season, but was surprisingly fired as part of an overhaul in the Nuggets’ front office.

While Karl seems like an ideal choice, his inability to get past the first round almost every season in Denver with Carmelo Anthony is a serious concern. In addition, Karl runs a fast-paced offense that often overshadowed Denver’s mediocre defense. Compounding that issue is Karl won’t have the elevation benefit that he did in Denver (which often causes problems for visiting teams) and may not have as much regular season success because of it.

Alvin Gentry

Alvin Gentry was the associate head coach to Doc Rivers this last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Gentry ran the offense, which led the NBA in efficiency (109.4 points per 100 possessions). Gentry spent time with Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, and runs an offense that is up-tempo and high octane, similar to the mid-2000 Suns teams. In fact, in his first season as head coach in Phoenix, the Suns ranked at the top of league in offensive efficiency, scoring a red hot 112.7 points per 100 possessions.

As effective as Gentry’s offensive system can be, his team’s in Phoenix struggled on the defensive side of the ball. However, after a season working with Rivers in Los Angeles, Gentry may be ready to integrate some elements of Rivers’ strong-side overload defense.

Working against Gentry is that in his two-plus seasons as head coach of the Clippers in the early 2000s, he failed to develop and win with young, talented players like Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, Keyon Dooling and Quentin Richardson.

His career winning percentage is .475, and he has coached in 705 games. Gentry is also currently in the running for the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching positions.

Mike Dunleavy

Mike Dunleavy most recently coached the Los Angeles Clippers from the 2oo3-04 season through 2009-10. With the Clippers, Dunleavy coached several young players like Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, and he took the Clippers to the playoffs in 2005-06.

The team experienced more success under Dunleavy than it had in many years. However, this was the result of Dunleavy persuading Donald Sterling to open his checkbook to retain players and pursue free agents more so than his coaching prowess.

Dunleavy is a decent coach (.461 career win percentage) and he also has some front office experience. In addition, Dunleavy has a prior relationship with Bryant, nearly signing him as a free agent to join the Clippers in 2004. However, Dunleavy’s coaching style and rigid approach has caused players to tune him out in past.

Dunleavy has actually coached the Lakers before, replacing Pat Riley back in the 1990-91 season and leading the team to a 58-win season and the NBA Finals (where they lost to the Chicago Bulls). He was fired after the following campaign, when the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kurt Rambis

Kurt Rambis last coached the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, but was fired after just two seasons. Rambis tried to run the triangle offense in Minnesota, but struggled to teach it to his younger players. Additionally, it is telling that Phil Jackson is looking for a coach to run the triangle offense in New York, but has shown only marginal interest in Rambis.

While Rambis has plenty of experience, he has enjoyed success mostly as an assistant coach, and is likely not the man to lead the Lakers into the post-Bryant era.

There is no single perfect candidate. However, the Lakers have several solid options to choose from in the coming weeks. Whoever the Lakers pick, this decision should be made with an eye toward their long-term future. As much as Bryant wants to compete for championships these next two seasons, it just does not seem possible with the lack of established players and assets to trade with.

Note: Larry Brown and Scott Skiles have recently been identified as candidates, but Brown stated he is not interested in the position and Skiles has not been contacted by the team yet. 

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Minnesota Listening to Offers for Kevin Love

Rumors have gone rampant about Kevin Love wanting the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade him. The most recent buzz was generated by Love himself after the power forward spent a weekend in Boston, checking out the city and catching a Red Sox game with his agent (where he briefly spoke to Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo).

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders tried to dismiss Love’s weekend trip, stating that he doesn’t control where his players go in the offseason. He also added that he expects Love to be playing in Minnesota next season.

However, on Wednesday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Timberwolves have started to discuss Love trade scenarios with teams. With that said, they have made it clear that a deal is unlikely until the team has hired a head coach.

According to Wojnarowski, “Once Wolves hire coach, they’ll likely try to sell Love again on a vision and direction. For now, his stance hasn’t changed: He wants out.”

Up until Wednesday, the Timberwolves had refuted any report that Love was available via trade. Now, it appears that Saunders believes Love will walk away as a free agent after next season, so he is doing his due diligence to explore what offers are out there for Love.

In addition to Wojnarowski’s report, Sam Amico of Fox Sports reported that he’s hearing the Sacramento Kings are the current frontrunners to acquire Love from the Wolves, adding that the team would offer anyone but DeMarcus Cousins in a trade and would be willing to deal for Love without a contract extension in place.

This is a notable development in the Love saga as the Kings are the first team that is reportedly willing to make a trade for Love without securing a long-term commitment. While it is a risky move, it is not unprecedented. The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Dwight Howard knowing that he would be an unrestricted free agent after one season with the team. The gamble didn’t pay off, however, as Howard took his talents to Houston to play with James Harden. The Los Angeles Clippers made a similar gamble with Chris Paul. They traded several assets to the then New Orleans Hornets, but made the deal contingent on Paul opting in to the final year of his contract, which gave the Clippers additional time to prove they could build a winning team around him. Paul re-signed with the team last offseason, without even meeting with other teams.

The Kings themselves made a risky move this past season, moving several players to the Toronto Raptors for one guaranteed season from small forward Rudy Gay. Gay’s play improved after arriving in Sacramento, and he has stated that he enjoys playing for the Kings and would like to be there long-term. Gay can opt in to the final year of his contract with the Kings, which would be worth $19,317,326, or he can opt out to secure a longer deal. The Kings are hoping a trade for Love can yield similar results.

The Kings have assets to offer, including Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento can make Thomas a restricted free agent by extending a $2,875,131 qualifying offer), Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, Ray McCallum and the eighth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. They also have a number of veterans on reasonable contracts such as Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans among others.

Reports suggest that Love cares mostly about competing in the playoffs as soon as possible, rather than playing in a big market or particular city. Sacramento is currently on an eight-season playoff drought and likely is not on Love’s radar. However, a pairing of Cousins and Love in the frontcourt would be very tough for opposing teams to contain. Neither is an excellent defender, but both are relatively mobile on defense and secure over 10 rebounds a game. Combined with Gay and other pieces, the Kings could compete for a playoff spot, even in the deep Western Conference.

While many may question the wisdom of Sacramento making a trade with no long-term commitment, the fact is that small-market teams like the Kings are at a disadvantage when it comes to signing superstar free agents, and often can only acquire a superstar via trade. New owner Vivek Ranadivé  has already committed the team to building a new stadium in Sacramento, and has shown a willingness to take on big-name players like Gay. While he may pay the price, as the Lakers did with Howard, Ranadivé and general manager Pete D’Alessandro seems willing to roll the dice in order to make the Kings a winning team again. With a player as talented as Love, Sacramento may just hit the jackpot if they acquire Love, and he decides to stay long-term.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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