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NBA Saturday: The Lakers’ Coaching Dilemma

The next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers faces a daunting challenge … There is no place for Donald Sterling’s awful views

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The Lakers’ Coaching Dilemma

When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni as their head coach midway into the 2012-13 season, it seemed to make a degree of sense. After all, he had built a career around being an outstanding offensive coach with a system that was designed for Steve Nash. Since Nash was on the roster it might have been a natural fit to have him reunited with the head coach that helped him become one of the best players on one of the best teams in the NBA.

Unfortunately, a lot of things went wrong for D’Antoni. First and foremost, he started in an awkward position, replacing Mike Brown on the fly. Second, while the Lakers looked good on paper and had generated a great deal of hype with the All-Star trio of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Nash, they never had that trio together and fully healthy. Howard was nursing a back injury that prevented him from being as effective as usual, Nash managed to play in just 50 games and was a shadow of his MVP self in those games, and even Bryant was lost to an injury during the final push for the playoffs.

This season, of course, the Lakers lost Howard to Houston in free agency, Bryant managed just six games and the ghost of Nash appeared in 15 ineffective games.

D’Antoni is no Red Auerbach, but the Lakers’ woes this season had little to do with the head coach.

What happens to the Lakers next season will also have little to do with the coach, by all indications.

The 2014-15 Lakers will spend nearly $30 million on Bryant and Nash alone, meaning a large chunk of their salary cap will be taken up by players who may or may not be effective on the court. They have very little else committed in terms of guaranteed money, but this summer does not offer a bumper crop of marquee free agents at which to throw money. Carmelo Anthony is hardly a savior, even if he could be convinced to leave New York. LeBron James may be a free agent, but it’s unlikely he would choose to leave Miami or to play with Bryant. Kyle Lowry is understandably high on the Lakers’ list, but does Lowry alone make the Lakers contenders?

Let’s say the Lakers re-sign Pau Gasol at a reasonable number, add Lowry (who really loves Toronto), and fill in the roster with one-year deals like the Dallas Mavericks have done for the past two years. Would they even be a playoff team in the brutally tough Western Conference?

The reality is that the next Lakers head coach is going to have to be able to handle losing for at least a season. He can count on mounting losses and he can count on being skewered by the media and fans that are accustomed to their team being among the elite. That person has to also be ready to weather the storm that will be Kobe Bryant on a losing team, especially if his frustration is multiplied by his own injuries and advancing age. The next Lakers head coach also has to be mild-mannered to handle off of those issues with patience and grace.

Piece of cake, right?

Being the head coach of the world’s most popular basketball franchise can certainly be rewarding, but barring a miraculous turn of events, it’s also going to be a job fraught with daunting challenges in the near future.

It will take a brilliant leader to emerge out of that situation unscathed.

No Place for Sterling’s Views

Once upon a time people believed the world was flat. They thought that if you sailed out into the ocean you would eventually come to the edge of the world and fall right off.

Fortunately, one day someone decided to test that theory, and found that there was no edge over which to plummet. The world kept right on going, and this discovery led the realization that the world was one big, round globe.

The evolution of the human thought process is incredibly important – essential, even – for the survival of the species.  For centuries we have challenged ideas that were accepted as fact, often learning that the truth is something that was still waiting to be discovered.

Similarly, there was a time in America where people who did not have white skin were believed to be inferior in some way. The belief was that they were not as smart, not as capable, perhaps not even as human as the white folks. Thankfully, that belief was challenged, and while racism still exists in this country, it is not nearly as prevalent as it was a century ago. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you must admit that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States represents the single largest advance in the field of equality since Abraham Lincoln ended slavery. Humanity has once again evolved.

Make no mistake, racism was still alive and well in America after the slaves were freed, and was even surprisingly prominent among the white Northerners who fought on the side of emancipation. Lincoln’s action didn’t end racism, but they started the wheels of change that would slowly turn, resulting in the break down of barriers that kept whites and blacks separated. The result was that the two races actually got to know each other, and found that their similarities greatly outnumbered their differences.

With this as a backdrop, it is unconscionable to believe that someone as prominent as Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, still harbors a deep-seeded hatred of skin color. This is a man who not only owns a franchise in a league that is largely comprised of African-Americans, he is also in a position to be around and have strong relationships with some of the best people in the game. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Danny Granger and DeAndre Jordan, in particular, are some of the finest people – not just players – in the NBA. It’s hard to imagine how someone could spend a great deal of time around those guys and still harbor bigotry and racism of any kind.

The time for racism and bigotry has passed. Like those people who first discovered that the world was round, we must evolve in the way we think about the world. It was gratifying to see NBA commissioner Adam Silver throw the strongest penalty possible at Sterling in the wake of the latter’s ignorant and disturbing comments. Racism may still exist, but as a society we have to make it clear that it is absolutely unacceptable.

All that’s left is for the NBA’s Board of Governors to wash Sterling completely out of the league, sending a resounding message that there is no place for that kind of thinking in modern, evolved society.

Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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