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NBA PM: Breaking Down the Laker Coaching Candidate’s Chances

A look at the 12 names that have surfaced in association with the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching vacancy and the likelihood of whether they will get the job.

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Mike D’Antoni hasn’t been resigned from his position as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for 24 hours yet, but there is already a dozen names that have flown in as possible replacements. In today’s NBA PM, we break them down into groups of low, medium and high probability in order to try to decipher who the most likely candidates are to become the next lead man on the sidelines for one of the league’s most storied franchises.

Low Probability

John Calipari – Rumors about the Lakers being interested in Coach Cal surfaced just hours before they played for the NCAA Tournament championship thanks to their color commentator and former NBA player Rex Chapman. However, he denied interest then and did so once again this morning. The Wildcats have the preseason No. 1 team going into next season, whereas the Lakers have a roster full of holes and an aging Kobe Bryant taking up over $20 million in cap space. The time, nor fit, isn’t right for Cal. As badly as he may want to prove himself at the NBA level, taking the Lakers job now would put him on the fast track back to the NCAA.

Tom Thibodeau – This is a wakeup call moment for the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau has clashed with management to the point where they let his top assistant go and traded away one of his favorite players in Luol Deng without taking his input into account. Yet, for the second straight season he led his team to the playoffs without Derrick Rose. Thibodeau’s stock is on the rise and if the Bulls were willing to let him go, the Lakers would love to have him. But, the chances of them letting him out of his contract are slim to none. If anything the interest alone should help Thibodeau start getting the respect and say he deserves in Chicago.

Kevin Ollie – The calls for Kevin Ollie have been going on for quite some time in Lakerland as our own Eric Pincus suggested the idea prior to the NCAA Tournament, only for it to catch fire as he led the UConn Huskies to a national championship. Ollie had a long NBA career and is well respected by many of the players in the league today, including Kevin Durant – who is going to become  a free agent in a couple of seasons. However, Ollie is already nearing sainthood at UConn and is very comfortable working for his alma mater. He’s a family man too, which is important to take into account. It’d be a major shakeup for them to move across country. The Lakers would probably be willing to offer the cash it would take for Ollie to uproot his family and leave his alma mater, but they probably won’t make the offer in terms of the years that it would take. Ollie should ask for no less than the six that Brad Stevens got from the Celtics. That may be too long of a commitment for a franchise that needs to win now.

Medium

Ettore Messina – His name is being thrown around a lot right now as a potential head coach in the NBA, but are the Lakers the team to blaze the trail with giving an international legend his first chance to lead a team in the big leagues? Doubtful considering where they are right now as a franchise. The only reason he’s in the medium range rather than low is because he does have some familiarity with the Lakers from his lone season working under Mike Brown and apparently during that time he impressed Kobe Bryant. Still, he seems like a much more likely gamble for the Utah Jazz than the Lakers.

Kurt Rambis – Rambis has a job with the Lakers for life. His wife is best friends with co-owner Jeanie Buss, but he also has the respect of the organization after serving in a variety of roles from a player to interim head coach and championship assistant coach. Rambis struggled in his stint as a head coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves and would likely bring a style too similar to Phil Jackson’s for Kupchak and Jim Buss’ liking, but don’t be surprised if he’s still an assistant regardless of who ends up getting the head coaching job.

Steve Kerr – Kerr has already talked to the New York Knicks about their vacant head coaching position and is the reported frontrunner. Recent reports have said the Knicks hope to lock him up in fear that the Golden State Warriors could look to tap him as Mark Jackson’s replacement, as Jackson appears to be on his way out. While he is interested in the Lakers’ gig as well, it seems like an odd fit, much for the same reason that Rambis would be. Kerr is a systematic guy who would likely look to install the triangle offense. The Lakers have been there, done that, won a lot of championships with it, but don’t seem to believe in it as a fit for today’s NBA.

Mike Dunleavy – Dunleavy received an interview after the Lakers let go of Mike Brown, but for whatever reason it always seemed to be D’Antoni’s job to lose from the get go. Dunleavy is still well respected by the Lakers organization thanks to his first stint as a head coach there and would probably jump at the opportunity to coach there again. The familiarity and strong history with the franchise is enough to get him in the mix, but Dunleavy’s not viewed the same outside of the Lakers organization that he is within it. They’ll likely look to make a bigger splash, they cannot afford to make any more unpopular hires.

High

Byron Scott – Finally the Lakers are looking for a head coach at a time where Scott is without a job. He has to be one of the odds on favorites, not only because of his strong Laker ties from his days of winning championships there as a player, but because of how close he is with Kobe Bryant. Scott was Bryant’s mentor when he first came into the league and is one of the few coaches who would get his stamp of approval right off the bat. The only thing is, Scott has flamed out of his last two head coaching opportunities and his stock is not that hot right now, hence why he’s without a job. Still, he’s got a lot going for him with the Lakers, and when you look at the cards he was dealt in New Orleans and Cleveland, he wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed. They could easily justify the hire to their fan base and sell Scott to potential free agents. He has to be viewed as one of the heavier favorites right now.

George Karl – Karl was at the top of his game, winning the Coach of the Year award, when insurmountable differences led to his departure from the Denver Nuggets. He took a year off, but still has the interest in making a return to the sideline. He’s a proven winner and someone who the Lakers could sell as capable of turning things around quickly. He has a good relationship with Kupchak, but the only question is whether the Lakers are looking for someone who will hang around for longer than Karl, who admittedly at 62 years of age (turns 63 on May 12) is only a few years away from retirement.

Jeff Van Gundy – It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen Van Gundy on the sidelines, but that’s not due to a lack of interest. Several teams have tried to pull him away from the analyst’s booth, only for Van Gundy to be content with where he’s at. Much like his brother Stan, who has said he is not interested in the Lakers’ opening, Jeff has really found a comfort zone away from coaching. He enjoys what he’s doing and is really good at it. The Lakers is a challenging gig, but it comes with a lot of prestige. If he believes he’s the guy who can turn things around there, it’s hard to see how he couldn’t at least become a finalist, and potentially win over the shot callers.

Lionel Hollins – The Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league defensively and Hollins comes with high credentials in that area. The last time we saw him he was guiding the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals. For a while it looked like they were a completely different team without him, but they’ve rebounded since and have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the second half of the season. Still, it would be unfair not to give at least some credit to Hollins as their foundation was largely laid by him. For a team that is looking to win now, Hollins is a strong hire. It’s just all about whether he can get along with management, which was his undoing in Memphis. Considering the Lakers’ willingness to spend and not micromanage their coaches, there could be a fit.

Derek Fisher – Fisher’s season could be over as soon as tonight and while he does have some of the things working against him that placed Rambis and Kerr in the medium range, he’s absolutely beloved in Lakerland. He also has the ties Durant thanks to the time that he spent in Oklahoma City the past two years. During his time with the Lakers Fisher displayed incredible leadership, the ability to get the most out of what he had to work with and poise in crucial moments that you simply have or you don’t; it cannot be developed. It’s a risky move to hire someone without head coaching experience, but it’s become somewhat trendy around the league and the timing seems right for the Lakers to make a gamble like this. It doesn’t scream “win now”, which is the kind of hire Bryant is hoping the Lakers make, but you can rest assured that their superstar won’t be complaining one bit if his most trusted backcourt mate ever is calling the shots on the sidelines the rest of his career.

Do you agree with these assessments? Could the Lakers next head coach not be on this list? Leave your thoughts below!

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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