Social media and sports talk radio were set abuzz with the news of Mike D’Antoni’s decision to resign rather than head into the 2014-15 season without assurances from the Los Angeles Lakers for 2015-16 breaking late last night. Factor in yesterday’s somewhat monumental (due to rarity) press conference where commissioner Silver imposed a lifetime ban for Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, and we’d say that’s an awful lot all at once to process and discuss for fans of teams in the Los Angeles market this weekend.
D’Antoni amassed a 67-87 record in just under two seasons as head coach of the Lakers. Although short in length, all of sudden change over the past 18 months could only have exacerbated the situation even more. From the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss, to both of Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injuries, to all of the other cruel twists of fate; this may in fact be one of the roughest patches this proud organization has endured.
In fairness, there may not have been a coach around that could have avoided much of what took place in terms of what seemed like a neverending streak of fluke injuries, but D’Antoni finds himself out of a position yet again nonetheless. We’ll leave the debate over the “fairness” of his tenure for another time, as we now must turn our attention to some potential replacements in his absence. It should be noted that while we are almost certain to hear any and all available (perhaps even some not currently available) name attached to these Lakers at some point between now and their selection, the team could also decide to allow the position to remain vacant for a time in order to see what coaches may ultimately become available while also leaving the door open for feedback from potential free agents or players acquired via trade. Although the organization typically claims to leave their players out of such decisions, accepting potential feedback could be another way for this front office to gain favor with some of the universally-coveted free agents.
Here are several of the top candidates the Lakers must contact during their search:
Lionel Hollins – Hollins has been away from the sidelines since the Memphis Grizzlies decided to go in a different direction after what was actually a relatively successful run during his time as head coach. His last few seasons in Memphis included three consecutive playoff runs and a career high 56 wins in his final season (2012-13). Aside from a fondness for post play and multi-faceted big men, the Lakers may also desire his ability to inspire toughness and intensity on the defensive end. The Lakers were 29th in Opp. Points (109.2), 26th in Opp. FG percentage (46.8), and were outrebounded by an average on eight rebounds per game in 2013-14.
Byron Scott – For all of those quick to point out how terribly things ended for Scott during his time in Cleveland in the immediate post-LeBron-aftermath, we remind you to take a look at what the man has done when armed with enough of the right mix of talent to work with. Aside from being at the helm of those two Nets teams that represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals in consecutive years back during their New Jersey days, Scott was also the NBA’s Coach of the Year during what was a surprising 56-win season in Chris Paul’s second season with the (then) New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) in 2007-08. Coaches are expected to get the most from the talent they have available, and Scott has generally done so and perhaps beyond when judging his career as a whole.
Kevin Ollie – May sound crazy to some of you, but the Lakers absolutely should consider thinking outside the box when making this decision. Having already shown an ability to coach during his short time as the head coach of the 2014 National Champion UCONN Men’s basketball team, like Scott, Ollie is also a Los Angeles native with ties to plenty of players still active within the league. If the Lakers decide to explore the college ranks, names like Mike Krzyzewski and John Callipari are almost certain to surface, but neither of those two seem interested in making the jump given their favorable circumstances in their current positions at Duke and Kentucky (respectively). Ollie may be very comfortable at UCONN, but may also be tempted if truly considered by his hometown team.
What about Lakers hiring Stan AND Jeff Van Gundy?
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) May 1, 2014
Jeff Van Gundy and/or Stan Van Gundy – After an initial chuckle upon seeing L.A. Times writer Ben Bolch’s tweet with the idea of hiring both Van Gundy brothers while rebuilding their coaching staff, the next thought was, “hey, why not?” They’ve already gone that route just recently with the recently-departed D’Antoni brothers, and with both Van Gundy brothers almost certain to be named as candidates for the vacancy (anyhow), it really doesn’t sounds like a crazy idea when you stop to think about it. Both brothers emphasize toughness on the defensive end, and you’d think each would be able to come to a happy medium in terms of any differences in offensive philosophies that may exist. The only real questions might be regarding the eventual pecking order, but even that seems to be something those two could work out. Even if they’ve soured on the idea of a package deal on the bench, the front office could very well consider each of these candidates individually.
Biggest mistake Lakers made on coaching front: Passing over Steve Clifford as interim coach after Mike Brown's firing. He would've won job.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 1, 2014
Adrian Griffin or another qualified assistant – As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out, the Lakers may have missed the bus on current Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford as he was actually a part of Mike Brown’s staff they eventually let go following the 2013-14 season. Whether Clifford was a good match for the Lakers at the time, his immediate success (as well as several others) might make a guy like Chicago’s highly-regarded Adrian Griffin, Miami’s David Fizdale (L.A. native), or any other top assistant more appealing to the Lakers this time around. Both of those two, for example, have been lauded for both their relationships with current players and the ability to influence player development. Longtime Euroleague coach Ettorre Messina is another name to expect to hear given his brief history as a consultant during the Lakers’ 2011-12 season. A report (also by Wojnarowski) describe a shared “fondness” between Lakers management and Kobe Bryant for the celebrated member of the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame.
Can the postseason make up for a relatively disappointing regular season?
On the heels of what was almost universally considered a strange, if not somewhat disappointing regular season for many teams, the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs certainly have not disappointed. Last night marked the first night of postseason play where a road team didn’t actually win a game. While you can thank Inside the NBA’s Ernie Johnson for that stat, allow us to point out the insane number of overtime games (8) including three between the Rockets vs. Blazers and four between Thunder vs. Grizzlies, by themselves.
Not to mention the inspiring run by a shorthanded Atlanta Hawks team, and the surprising manner by which a young and previously unproven Washington Wizards team handled the Chicago Bulls. Several analysts have already referred to the first couple weeks of this postseason as perhaps one of the most exciting opening-round we’ve seen in some time. The Wizards may have breezed through as the HEAT made quick work of the Bobcats (4-0), but every other series is currently 3-2 and we even have a couple heavily-favored top seeds (Indiana, Oklahoma City) on the ropes.
While many of us may have anticipated an easier matchup for what was once considered a “loaded” Pacers team, the Western Conference was destined to be a battle from the start. The toughest part of playing out West isn’t merely outlasting tougher competition throughout the regular season, it’s navigating through the even murkier waters of what often seems to be the loaded side of the proverbial playoff bracket.
Just ask those Thunder players how comfortable they are heading back to the Fed Ex Forum actually down in the series to a team in the Grizzlies that is showing just why their were considered an unfavorable matchup no matter the opponent. Momentum in a series can swing at the drop of a hat, so Thunder fans have to be hoping they’ll be able to at least cheer on the presumed 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant one more time in the event that he and Russell Westbrook can help force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City this weekend.
Speaking of swings in momentum, it sure was great to focus on what is actually one of the better pairings in the first round in the Clippers and Warriors following Silver’s announcement. While obviously maintaining an appreciation and respect for the magnitude of the decision, you can’t tell us those Clippers didn’t play with a sense of renewed peace as they pulled ahead of the visiting Warriors.
Unlike the Clippers and Spurs, both heading on the road to attempt to close their respective series’ out with their 3-2 lead, the Blazers join Memphis as the other lower seed heading home with a 3-2 lead of their own. Even if you disagree with this opening round being the most exciting we’ve ever seen, the fact that each of the remaining series’ could not only conceivably go to a deciding Game 7, but each could easily be won by either team without it ultimately being that much of a shock. As top-heavy as (at least half) the league may have been throughout the initial 82 games, the “second season” has been matched about as evenly as you could have expected. That, in itself, might make this postseason go down as one for the ages when all is said and done.
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