For a franchise with a history as expansive as the Lakers, it should be understandable that those following the team, whether in a professional or fan capacity, indulge in a bit of nostalgia every now and then. After all, this is one of the most successful franchises in the league, in all of sports really, and there are more than enough seminal moments for every generation to have their own seemingly unique story to impart. Depending on when you were born, your earliest memories might be of the start of the Shaq/Kobe era, whereas your parents might be waxing nostalgic about listening to Chick Hearn cover the Showtime Lakers on the radio, or perhaps your grandparents have their stories about how Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were better than anything the modern era had produced -- totally not self-reminiscing here by the way. But regardless, as glorious as the past was, it tends to be mythologized and the faults and issues of players, coaches, or the organization are glossed over and lost in the passage of time.
And this isn't something that just happens for things decades in the past. A good deal of people have shockingly short memories when confronted with the immutable legend of Lakers success, even for things that happened less than a half-decade ago. Look at the hiring process for replacing Phil Jackson in 2011, in which Brian Shaw was the unquestioned consensus choice even though his resume wasn't all that sterling for leading one of the league's marquee franchises. Shaw had no head coaching experience, Phil Jackson's coaching tree has been infamously bare as far as producing competent head coaches goes, and there was precious little discussion of Shaw's actual coaching bona fides beyond the fact that he had a clear association with the most recent decade of Lakers success as both a player and an assistant.
Now, Shaw has admittedly been far better than the average fruit of Phil's coaching tree, faint praise and Denver, even with its injury situation, not exactly having a great year notwithstanding. But it's fairly evident that the lens that Shaw was viewed through was an especially purple-and-gold tinted one: that he had "history" with the franchise and could appeal to that innate sense of Lakers nostalgia was a seemingly adequate prerequisite for believing that he could lead the Lakers to more success. It was a case of blind faith replacing context insofar as analysis goes, a dangerous path for any franchise to consider. Even the Lakers have to embrace change and adapt to new realities in the league; relying on what was effective even five or ten years ago might not be effective simply because it isn't relevant anymore. Constantly reevaluating your assumptions is a useful habit in any line of work but it especially applies in a NBA that has drastically changed in the past few years and will likely continue to do so.
And this is why it was especially aggravating to read the following from former Los Angeles Times scribe and current Forbes writer Mark Heisler:
2. The Buss kids, dismayed after two years of deeping hell, are desperate to please the fan base–and unlikely to get burned again by going "outside the family" as they did in their last two coaching hires.
Jim hired former Cleveland Coach Mike Brown, who lasted one season plus six games, personally.
Jim is torched for hiring D’Antoni, a former Knick but most identifiable as a division-rival Phoenix Sun–but Jerry Buss did that, in the last decision before his death, anxious to return to the fast-paced style he sought and delivered with Magic Johnson in the 1980s.
Worse, the Lakers hired D’Antoni after seeming to signal that they would bring Jackson back again. D’Antoni might as well have stepped off the plane into boiling oil.
3. There are good candidates "in the family."
Byron Scott, his visibility re-elevated by a stint as Laker studio commentator, will get the Kobe vote (they’re close) and the Magic Johnson vote, which still counts even if Johnson no longer has any formal affiliation.
Former Coach Kurt Rambis, who has since served as an assistant under Jackson and D’Antoni, will get an endorsement from Jackson (if Phil doesn’t take him to New York, either to coach or work in the front office). Rambis also has an in with Jeanie Buss, who is close to Kurt’s wife, Linda.
Okay, at least Shaw had some things going for him. He was young, possibly dynamic, had the support of the Lakers locker room, and continuing to run the triangle wasn't a bad call considering the personnel on the roster at the time. But it requires an incredibly myopic view of the NBA for either Scott or Rambis to be considered "good candidates" for the Lakers' head coaching gig in any capacity. Yes, both have very deep connections to the franchise, primarily as players for the Showtime Lakers, the former being anointed as the "next great Lakers head coach" by Magic Johnson -- whose own brand of "analysis" painfully falls into this hole of nostalgia time and time again -- and the latter being a recent assistant for the Lakers title teams, but any cursory analysis of their careers reveals them to simply be at best mediocre coaches. It's hard to write this because the reality of their coaching ability is so glaringly obvious, but the narrative that the Lakers need to somehow reconnect with their championship roots continues to be pushed nevertheless.
It's perhaps a reaction against both Mike D'Antoni and Jim Buss, as we have two clear recent parallels for them in Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss respectively, but if anything, it shows how shallow this concept of relying on nostalgia is. Sure, the fanbase might be placated by keeping things "in the family," as Heisler suggests, but if this year has proved anything, it is that the basketball knowledge of a significant portion of this fanbase is lacking. If Jim Buss is so terrified of fan reaction that he feels it necessary deviate from the rebuilding strategy he and the rest of the front office have established in order to mollify the average Laker fan -- which yours truly does not believe he intends to do, by the way -- then that's a more unpardonable sin that anything he has done up to this point as head of basketball operations.
This is the same Rambis, after all, who was brought in as the Lakers' defensive coordinator this past offseason and failed to have any discernible impact. In fact, it's a curious reputation he has acquired as a defensive-minded coach considering that the vaunted strong-side zone he implemented in 2009 in an effort to recreate Boston's historically good 2008 defense was figured out in about 20 games that season and subsequently abandoned. But the larger issue is that Rambis' utterly disastrous tenure as the head coach of Minnesota goes basically unmentioned. He won 32 games over two years and made a series of completely inexplicable decisions that range from the bizarre to the incompetent, as our sister Timberwolves blog nicely lays out. Running the triangle with two point guards in Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions who thrived on heavy pick-and-roll play was one thing, but benching Kevin Love in favor of Ryan Hollins and running the offense through Darko Milicic requires a special kind of ineptitude.
Yes, he benched that Kevin Love who the Lakers are likely targeting in 2015 free agency, so the notion that the Lakers, let alone any franchise, would want Rambis really begins to approach the inexplicable. To top things off, Rambis' record of player development is fairly dismal, as top picks Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson both failed to develop under his tenure, and if there is any aspect next year's Laker coach needs to adept at, it is nurturing the Lakers' draft pick. Heisler also notes without irony that Rambis has an "in" via his wife being good friends with Jeanie Buss, which should throw up immediate flags that such a thing would even be considered for a decision that needs to be couched almost entirely in a basketball context.
As for Scott, his resume at face value is far more illustrious than Rambis', his two visits to the Finals as the coach of the Nets being the most oft-cited feather in his cap. His work with multiple elite point guards in each stop, including Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving is also frequently mentioned, but this is a good starting point for picking apart the substance behind his supposed strengths. We ran an article in 2010 that nicely documents this, as the words that consistently pop up with regards to Scott's offensive schemes are "lacking creativity" and "very Mike Brown," the latter of which should have particular resonance in our current context. It is particularly damning that this is the case when you have elite point guards that should be able to engender good offensive flow on their lonesome, so this strikes one as a case of Scott riding the coattails of his players rather than elevating their play.
This becomes even worse for Scott when one looks at how his stints in each of his stops ended, as his locker rooms essentially revolted and decided they didn't want to deal with him being a hardass. It perhaps is acceptable when you are a defensive genius like Tom Thibodeau or even someone like Scott Skiles that gets every last ounce of productivity from his players before they start to tune him out, but this doesn't appear to be the case in any of Scott's stops. His teams were decent on defense but nothing nearing the mastery Thibs' or Skiles' teams have reached to justify his abrasive attitude. His supposed high points with the Nets, moreover, were during a period of significant weakness in the Eastern Conference and there was a perception that his assistant Eddie Jordan was the one running the offense for him anyways. Scott's tenure with the Hornets also didn't end amicably as the team got flattened by the Nuggets by 58 in the 2009 playoffs and he was let go after a 3-6 start to the subsequent season.
So, in total, the suggestion is that the Lakers reconnect with their winning tradition by hiring arguably the worst head coach of the past decade or an essentially mediocre one who doesn't have any superlative qualities. The inherent contradiction should be pretty self-evident and is driven home by the fact that these are really the only two remnants of the Lakers' championship past that are actively involved in coaching and available. The lure of Lakers nostalgia is strong and must be especially so for something like Heisler's piece or this article from the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence to even be written in the first place, but it is something that simply makes absolutely no sense for the Lakers' current circumstances. Perhaps Mike D'Antoni needs to be replaced, the tone coming out of exit interviews to the contrary, but if satisfying the fanbase requires hiring Scott or Rambis, the Lakers front office should be more than happy to bear the opprobrium of the fans going forward.
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