The vehement protestations of Kobe Bryant to the contrary, the notion that the Lakers will have to spend this time next year again on the outside looking in on the playoffs has more or less become the accepted consensus in most circles. In a hyper-competitive West that witnessed a 48 win team miss the playoffs (Phoenix) and the Lakers finish second from the bottom in the entire conference, it would require an exceptionally fortuitous set of circumstances for the Lakers to even have a shot of nabbing a seventh or eighth seed next season. It is no accident that you hear notes of caution from Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the front office with regards to spending the Lakers' cap space this offseason, especially given the limitations they will operate under should they desire a max free agent in 2015. With their spending power not nearly at the level many believed it would be when 2014 was highlighted as a big spending year for the team -- thanks Kobe! -- this appears to be the path the team is locked into going forward.
And that's not an especially bad thing either, as off-putting as that might appear to be. Following the departure of Dwight Howard last offseason, the Lakers were left with almost nothing to compete with, the injuries to Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Kobe only confirming this reality. It became apparent that the Lakers would have to steadily rebuild from the bottom up, acquiring the role players so essential to a competitive rotation while maintaining sufficient flexibility to possibly nab a big piece in free agency. The timeline for that significant free agent acquisition has simply been moved to 2015, as the team will likely endeavor to shoot for value in free agency this summer and be satisfied with their big proverbial splash being their high draft pick while attempting retain the role players that impressed last season.
As a result, for most of the people involved save for Kobe, this upcoming season is one of relatively low expectations as far as most Laker seasons go. If the team is moderately competitive in most of its games and the subsidiary players, especially our draft pick, are developing nicely, then this can be considered acceptable progress. Ironically, the most ideal scenario for the Lakers would be another catastrophic set of injuries to give them a high 2015 pick since they will owe Phoenix that selection should it fall outside of the top five, but assuming Kobe is healthy for most of the year, this would be a difficult possibility to realize. In any case, the priority for next season overall is largely the same as the one the Lakers just finished: evaluation of players that can fit into the future core the Lakers are building and hopefully an attempt to build some consistency going into a very important 2015 offseason.
Now, where does this leave the Lakers head coach in this mix? The impression one gets from the Lakers' exit interviews is that the team appears to be leaning towards keeping Mike D'Antoni on the sidelines, although there has been utter silence from the team in this regard as of late. The arguments for and against have been hashed out endlessly throughout the season, so it's a bit pointless to cover them here, but suffice it to say that nothing is likely set in stone at the moment. It wouldn't be surprising for the Lakers to be monitoring the coaching market to see what develops and probe the interest of various parties before making an informed decision on D'Antoni's status. To put it simply, there's really nothing to gain by firing D'Antoni now before being assured that they have someone who can walk in and replace him.
We have covered a panoply of possible replacements and Craig's piece should be something you are constantly referencing until this particular saga is resolved. What makes this noticeably different from past coaching searches, however, is that the Lakers have an unique opportunity to bring a coach, as mentioned above, in during what should be a time of low expectations. If you peruse the list of Laker head coaches, the team has tended to stick with established candidates with decently sized resumes of NBA success, Pat Riley naturally being the big exception to this. And to a certain extent, this was largely understandable: a good majority of those coaches were brought in for a team that had championship aspirations and needed to reach that next level, not something you normally bring in a first-time head coach to do. As such, the scope of the Lakers' current coaching search should be broader than in past years by virtue of the team's circumstances.
This especially applies since the conventional wisdom for most rebuilding teams is to bring in a relatively younger or untested coach that can grow along with the team. At least initially, he can focus more on player development and getting his feet wet in the league by seeing how his principles and system work firsthand. You are banking on that head coach's perceived upside, very akin to looking at the upside and future returns for raw draft prospects, and hoping he develops into an above average sideline guy that has buy-in from his players because he was there helping them during their formative years in the league. Oftentimes, you seize upon one aspect of a new coach, whether it is strategic or tactical Xs and Os excellence, an ability to connect to players and be a motivator, or so forth and hope that they can rely on that particular strength while everything else falls into place eventually through time and experience.
Now, the timeline for this process is a tad bit compressed for the Lakers because of their free agent plans and the presence of one Kobe Bryant that a new head coach will immediately have to win over in order to succeed in both the short and long-term with the team. As a result, there is only really a one year grace period before the pressure of winning becomes paramount and even before then, the act of making the initial transition is complicated because of Kobe. This means that should D'Antoni be replaced and the Laker go for a younger direction for their new head coach, that candidate will need a certain amount of cachet via time in the league or suitable credentials to make inroads with Kobe and be able to hit the ground running because they only have one season to put down their roots before the storm arrives. Such a requirement was not lost on Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding when he suggested current Hawks assistant Quin Snyder as a possible D'Antoni replacement:
Fresh face offering much-needed hope for the demoralized Los Angeles Lakers fan base? Check.
Part of the Lakers family from prior experience? Check.
NBA coaching experience? Check.
A successful head coach before? Check.
Someone who won't break the bank to hire and commit to, considering it's unclear what free agents might be coming in the future? Check.
Someone in whom Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak believes? Check.
Someone in whom Kobe Bryant believes? Check.
As we mentioned last week, the Lakers have yet to decide what to do with Mike D'Antoni, but if they hire a new head coach, Quin Snyder gets my vote.
Snyder, to sum it all up, is both smart and cool.
Snyder has an unusually strong resume for a guy of his age (47), as he has head coaching experience both at Mizzou and in the D-League with the Toros, the Spurs' affiliate, as well as stops with the Sixers, Lakers, and Hawks as an assistant in addition to one season in Russia with renowned European head coach Ettore Messina, who was a consultant with the Lakers during Snyder's time there. As much as his time at Mizzou tarred what was once thought to be one of the biggest upcoming stars in the coaching ranks, there have been an awful lot of good things written about Snyder since then due to his exposure to the Spurs' culture on the Toros as well as his time with Messina in Europe. Tom's strenuous objections notwithstanding, if Snyder really has as good of a relationship with Kobe as Ding suggests -- and his ability to connect with the rest of the locker room is also notable, even if practically no one from that team save Kobe is expected to be on the squad next season -- then he at least merits consideration.
And when you compare Snyder against similarly young candidates, the one year transition issue is less of a problem because of his generally larger coaching resume and preexisting connection to the team. This helps his case significantly since his mind for the game has never really been questioned -- helps that he's exceptionally intelligent otherwise; getting a JD/MBA from Duke will add to that perception -- and it contributed to his boy wonder image at Mizzou. As ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz writes in the linked piece above, moreover, Snyder's ideal team would be "a roster of seasoned, cerebral ballplayers who could relate to his analytical instincts," which sounds an awful lot like Kobe and would probably appeal to the more statistics-inclined Jim Buss as well.
So at least for Snyder, the transition and buy-in issue isn't that big of a concern, but it is a pertinent issue to ask for any of the other candidates who lack head coaching chops and the ability to navigate year one as adeptly as Snyder supposedly could. Take Steve Kerr, still believed to be the favorite for the New York vacancy because of his connection with Phil Jackson and willingness to implement the triangle under his auspices, who might prefer something a bit closer to home in San Diego according to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck:
Who Will Be Head Coach?
We'll learn a lot more about Jackson's vision when he hires his head coach.
Steve Kerr is the early favorite, and understandably so. The TNT commentator is smart, savvy, a longtime Jackson protege and has coaching aspirations. But a Kerr hiring is far from certain.
Kerr is eying several potential openings around the league, according to sources, and he would prefer to stay on (or near) the West Coast. Kerr lives in San Diego, and he has a daughter attending college at Cal, in Berkeley. Contrary to a New York Post report, Kerr has not asked TNT for schedule flexibility in order to take the Knicks job, according to two sources with Turner Sports. (Disclosure: Turner also owns Bleacher Report.)
Would Jackson hire Kerr? Certainly. But Kerr could have more attractive options, if the Golden State Warriors fire Mark Jackson or if the Los Angeles Lakers dump Mike D'Antoni. He could also wait another year to make the leap.
Kerr has been talked about as an attractive head coaching candidate for a few years now and anyone who listens in to his color commentary on TNT can attest to his intelligence and knowledge of the game. And honestly, a lot of Kerr's attractiveness as a head coaching candidate has been built on that perception of him being a smart guy as well as the implicit faith that Phil seems to have in him as a possible head coach. He really has no experience as a coach in any capacity and the only time he spent otherwise in the NBA not as a player was as the general manager of the Suns. Yet he continues to gets chatter as a future head coach and one has to admit that this point that there is at least some substance behind his candidacy.
But as far as the Lakers are concerned, Kerr is a rather significant leap of faith. He has no connection to the team and there's really no telling what system he might run, how he can handle a locker room, and so forth. Of course, if the team was interested in Kerr, they would get a much better idea of this via in-person interviews, but nevertheless, they would enter such a scenario acting mostly on anecdotal evidence of Kerr's supposed coaching chops rather than being able to digest his credentials and ascertain their merits beforehand. At least the Knicks have the foreknowledge that Kerr is being brought in to run the triangle and he'll have Phil's support behind him, which grants him a certain gravitas he wouldn't otherwise be able to wield in Los Angeles.
This doesn't mean that Kerr shouldn't be considered as a candidate, but considering that anyone who takes over should D'Antoni get axed has only one year to get established, it might serve as an uncomfortable sign of urgency for a guy who not only has no time as a head coach, but no coaching experience period. Kerr will have to establish his own framework and team culture in LA and without the Phil context to aid him as it would in New York, it is a much tougher sell to make for the Lakers. None of these issues are insurmountable and Kerr certainly could be as hot of a commodity as he has been made out to be, but on paper, his challenges are greater than they would be for say Snyder.
Snyder and Kerr thus nicely occupy two relatively opposite extremes insofar as young coaching candidates go, the former very experienced with the latter not so much and everyone else more or less falling in-between the two. We discussed Connecticut's Kevin Ollie in brief when dismissing the notion of John Calipari and his recent title run and long NBA career likely allowing him to achieve a good amount of locker room buy-in is an intriguing combination. Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, who was covered in Craig's piece, offers a similar resume as both a long-time NBA player and successful college coach, although given his apparent lack of interest in the Minnesota coaching vacancy, he might not be on the market. From the current NBA assistant ranks, Miami's David Fizdale is likely the one most frequently mentioned, his background fairly analogous to Erik Spoelstra in that he rose through the Heat organization as a video coordinator and is respected both for his basketball knowledge and ability to communicate to players in the locker room.
All of these guys would have their own issues in trying to bridge the transition to being a NBA head coach, especially if their first gig is taking over one of the league's marquee franchises, but if the Lakers feel that they can successfully do so, they are all great reasons for the team to look outside the spectrum of coaches they have traditionally considered. Mind you, this doesn't mean that retreads with experience shouldn't be looked at. Quite to the contrary, having a coach with a NBA-proven system and locker room demeanor is definitely a plus and they are much less susceptible to many of the issues that might befall a younger, less experienced coach, but it is not clear if anyone that is an upgrade on D'Antoni will be available this offseason, namely the Van Gundy brothers.
As such, the Lakers should be open to examining the entire field of candidates now that there is a brief time in which the usual "championship or bust" expectations will not be hoisted on a new head coach should the Lakers elect to hire one. It is hard to say whether a younger candidate is "better" for the Lakers in their current circumstances, but it at least should be an option, especially if the list of retreads isn't very compelling after the first few candidates. In any case, the team's reluctance to fire D'Antoni in favor one of those retreads so far is very telling, as if they had decided to move on from him and thought that they had a better candidate available, it likely would have happened already. Perhaps they are waiting for the dust to settle on the playoffs to make a decision, but should they do so, a few names that might normally not pass muster for the team should probably be included in their search.
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