The handwringing over Byron Scott's tenure as the Los Angeles Lakers head coach has been omnipresent since he took over the reins last summer. Scott's ideological rigidity on offense has been highlighted by a proud defiance of the growing league-wide consensus favoring increased three-point shooting and a faster pace. His rotations and over-reliance on veterans have been painful to watch. He is all too eager to bench younger talent during crunch time while veteran players are stretched to their physical limitations.
His relationships and communication with players have been equally confounding. He is a solid disciple of the "old school" and is often found after a loss blaming the roster for being "soft" or lacking "toughness." At worst, Scott has uttered near-paranoid concerns that members of the roster would shoot him in the back if they were in a foxhole together.
After a 21-61 record in his debut season, which admittedly was marred by injuries to key players, Scott may not have a lot of margin for error left. Considering Jim Buss is on a self-inflicted deadline to get the franchise back into contention by 2017, this is especially important. If the Lakers were to move on from Scott it is critical that the front office hires a head coach that can: (1) get the most out of its existing roster; (2) move the team's style of play into the modern era; and (3) function as a magnet for offseason free agents. After all, what good is a lot of cap space if no one wants to play for your head coach?
Here are six head-coaching candidates whose resume and skills make them likely replacement targets if Byron Scott is shown the door at some point this season or after.
Fizdale is consistently one of the most discussed names whenever a head coaching position becomes available in the NBA. Currently an assistant coach and director of player development for the Miami Heat, he previously served five seasons as an assistant coach with the Warriors and Hawks.
Fizdale played a pivotal role during the "Big Three" era in South Beach, earning Head Coach Erik Spoelstra's trust and endorsement for a promotion. Spoelstra often encouraged Fizdale to pursue opportunities as a head coach, but his top assistant had been too ingratiated in successive deep playoff runs when LeBron James was still in town.
While Spoelstra has yet to sprout a coaching tree like other highly successful coaches around the league, it is only a matter of time. His .629 career winning percentage is elite within the league and his top assistants are bound to field offers from franchises looking to adopt attributes of Miami's system.
Spoelstra's top lieutenant is the most likely to depart from the team once a lucrative offer with a talented roster is made available. Fizdale is known for his innate teaching ability and player development expertise. His capacity to prepare inexperienced young talent like Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson to play meaningful minutes was on full display last season.
He has previously been contacted by the Philadelphia 76ers regime regarding their once-vacant head coaching position and was rumored to be in the running for the Cleveland Cavaliers position before David Blatt stepped in. His strong pedigree from the Riley/Spoelstra University and deep experience with the Heat squads that made it to four straight NBA Finals make him a highly intriguing candidate. Fizdale is looking for the right fit before making the jump from Miami. However, a young and talented Lakers roster with significant cap space may be enough to attract the Los Angeles native back home.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach and the highly touted "Shot Doctor" could be a plum catch for the Lakers. Engelland has been a treasured part of San Antonio's coaching staff for the entirety of its championship runs, dating back to 1999. Steve Kerr heavily recruited the Pacific Palisades High School alum before his rookie season as Head Coach of the Warriors. Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was reportedly also hell-bent on prying Engelland from the grips of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford.
San Antonio brass and front office officials around the league routinely praise Engelland as one of the league's most undervalued coaching assets. His ability to successfully identify players that have the potential to fit within Popovich's motion-heavy system is only surpassed by his talent for reconstructing a player's shot. Engelland is given credit for rectifying the shooting strokes of countless Spurs, most notably Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard's agent Brian Elfus has previously stated that Engelland "has a great feel and understanding of what makes players tick and how to deal with them ... I just think it's one of those innate things he has, an ability to connect and get the most out of a guy." Engelland could prove to be the type of head coach capable of molding a cogent offense while forming a fruitful connection with a young roster. The Lakers are in desperate need of leadership similar to Engelland's brand of striking player development and forward thinking solutions.
Surprise! Gregg Popovich's coaching tree has produced another another highly regarded Spurs Assistant Coach. Ime Udoka is only 38 years old, but widely considered to be destined for a head coaching position within the league.
The one-time NBA journeyman joined the Spurs' coaching staff in 2012 and coached the team's Summer League team prior to Becky Hammon taking over this past summer. Popovich is on record with the Portland Tribune praising Udoka for his strong "work ethic" and a "natural inclination to teach." Popovich went on to discuss what makes Udoka such a special coaching talent.
"He enjoys the discussions, the arguments about pick-and-roll and post defense and all that kind of junk. He understands what's to be gained from watching (video) and figuring things out that way. He's at work all day, either in coaches' meetings or watching (video) or on the court, trying to get better at his craft."
Udoka is known as a calming presence with an even keel amid pressure situations. In addition, he has been seasoned with a strong understanding of Popovich's motion offense system and gifted with an innate ability to connect with players while keeping them accountable.
Popovich and Buford are so high on the 38-year-old that they may be grooming him as the eventual successor to Popovich whenever he does retire. Udoka's attention to detail and player development acumen make him a highly desirable candidate. In addition, his partner, actress Nia Long, and their son currently reside in Los Angeles.
The prospect of returning home to his family and taking the helm of a talented but raw Lakers roster may be too much to turn down for Popovich's young protégé.
The current Lakers front office has a history targeting candidates with previous head coaching experience. Jackson has a strong resume on paper and a reputation for turning around the lackluster Golden State franchise while instilling strong defensive principles.
Jackson's .526 winning percentage in three seasons as head coach is to be admired and the Warriors would not have won the championship under Steve Kerr without Jackson's defensive tutelage.
All that being said, he comes with a lot of baggage and history has not been kind to him since his departure. Golden State's ownership and front office have had no qualms making it clear how difficult, nay, nearly impossible it can be to work with Jackson. Golden State's offense under his tenure was milquetoast at best, highlighted by stagnant ball movement and an over-reliance on isolation play.
In addition, there are some ugly stories floating around regarding Jackson's treatment of Festus Ezeli and a willingness to manipulate the emotions of players in a cruel fashion. If the Lakers are looking for a head coach that has a progressive attitude regarding offensive schemes and a less confrontational style with players, then Mark Jackson may not be the best candidate to pursue.
Madsen is the highest profile internal candidate if there were to be a search for Scott's replacement. The former Lakers player was promoted to an assistant coaching seat once Byron Scott took over from Mike D'Antoni. The front office clearly has faith in Madsen, gifting him with two successive Summer League head coaching positions and a role as the head of analytics (whatever that entails).
Madsen is often praised for his work ethic and consistently positive attitude. He is clearly a smart guy as well, earning his M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business. However, count me as one who has lost a ton of faith in Madsen. His offensive schemes employed at Las Vegas Summer League were nothing short of sclerotic and his rotations perplexing at best. His end of game play calling at Summer League was similarly atrocious.
A lot of this can be blamed on the fact that Madsen had to implement Byron Scott's Princeton offense, which is a terribly poor fit for the Lakers' current roster. However, Madsen has done little to impress after two seasons of mediocre head coaching performances.
In addition, his work carrying the flag of analytics within the franchise has had little to no impact. The team's on-court performance shows few forward thinking solutions and his inability to communicate analytical insight may be the reason Clay Moser will now function as the liaison between the analytics team and the coaching staff.
Given Madsen's trouble on the coaching bench and ineffectual role as the head of analytics, I would have a hard time taking him seriously as a candidate for head coach.
The current Cavaliers assistant coach, and two-time champion with the Lakers, is one of the league's hottest names being discussed for future head coaching gigs.
Lue served as one of Doc Rivers' top assistants in Boston and Los Angeles before nearly securing the head coaching position in Cleveland. In fact, the Cleveland front office came away from his interviews so impressed, they made Lue the highest paid assistant coach in NBA history at four-years, $6.5 million.
Current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has consistently raved about Lue, stating, "He respects the work that's required to do the job and he has the gift of being able to verbalize things to players in a straightforward way without being offensive...He has a chance to be very special."
Lue is immensely popular with players and has a keen eye for developing defensive structure based upon roster strengths. His work with the Clippers' defense helped led their debut season under Rivers to a seventh place ranking in defensive efficiency.
In Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, Lue exemplified his in-game acumen and attention to detail. When head coach David Blatt attempted to call a timeout Cleveland didn't have it was Tyronn Lue who pulled Blatt back. Lue not only saved Blatt a level of embarrassment hereto reserved for Chris Webber, but also saved Cleveland from a technical foul and loss of possession at a critical moment. His keen ability to stay present and aware in pressure situations will serve as a very valuable attribute when he is given a head coaching opportunity.
Lue is on a four-year contract, but it is difficult to see how he stays with the Cavaliers for the duration of his deal. A homecoming to Los Angeles could be in the works if Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss decide to bring one of the franchise's favorite sons home.