The past two seasons under the stewardship of Byron Scott has been a chore for most Lakers fans, who have seen no end to his tactical failures, empty platitudes, and aggravating refusal to accept that the game has passed him by. Although there is no assurance that he will be fired after the team concludes Kobe Bryant's career in emotional fashion on Wednesday, good money is on the coach who led the team to the two worst seasons in franchise history getting thrown under the bus. This would create an opening for the team on the eve of a critical offseason in which the front office has an unfettered ability to remake the roster to kick off the post-Kobe era, and push the franchise as a whole into the modern era with a coach who will implement a system that actually complements the burgeoning young core.
In this respect, the most prominent names available are Tom Thibodeau and Luke Walton, but by the same token, they're also going to be pursued by every other team with an opening this offseason. Thibs' defensive mastery and Walton's superlative run as the interim coach of what is arguably the best team in league history both offer fairly convincing credentials, as well as obvious answers as to whom the Lakers would prefer to turn to in order to fill their opening. As such, an examination of the options beyond those two names is warranted, if only since the Lakers will very likely have to expand their search beyond those two names, and the subject of the following inquiry:
Assuming Luke Walton and Tom Thibodeau are not available as candidates for the Lakers, who would be your top choice for the head coaching position?
Ben Rosales: I'd go with Ettore Messina, who checks off a number of boxes that most candidates for the job don't have in tandem: (1) prior experience with the Lakers, such that the existing regime is comfortable with the idea of working with him and having him manage the team; (2) time as a head coach on their resume, something Messina has in spades courtesy of his long international career; and (3) exposure to modern offensive and defensive concepts, which Messina had already before coming to the NBA and is now getting a graduate-level education in courtesy of his Spurs tenure.
Although our sample size is limited - and biased toward the particular needs of contending teams rather than rebuilding ones - the front office is usually keen on choosing candidates with prior head coaching experience rather than taking leaps of faith with career assistant coaches. As such, Messina occupies a happy medium between the front office's comfort zone and the kind of forward-looking hire desperately needed for the team's current development.
Daman Rangoola: Scott Brooks. For all the (accurate) criticism that Scott Brooks received in his tenure; namely: poor late game execution, not staggering KD and Russ' minutes, too many minutes to Kendrick Perkins, etc., he doesn't get enough credit for the development of the young players on the team.
While Russell Westbrook's NBA Twitter approval rating is hovering around somewhere near 100%, that wasn't always the case. There was discussion about trading Russell, or that Russell was hindering Kevin Durant's growth by taking too many reckless shots - yet Scott Brooks never flinched. He let "Westbrook Be Westbrook" in a way that very few coaches would have, letting Russell make as many mistakes as he needed to progress his development. Serge Ibaka went from a raw player to a star in the league under Brooks' watch and Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. What better fit for this current core of young Lakers players that are trying to prove they are stars? At the very least, we can get an accurate assessment of the true ceiling of the players which will allow the front office to make their assessments for the future.
Next, it helps that Kevin Durant and Brooks have a relationship. The KD-to-LA pipedream remains just that, but it doesn't hurt that they have an existing relationship that by all accounts is good. If not KD, at the very least the Lakers would have a head coach who has coached superstars in the past and done a good job at it.
Chinmay Vaidya: My top choice would be current Portland Trailblazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts. According to many, he's been key to the development of the Damian Lillard- C.J. McCollum combo in Portland. That type of experience is something the Lakers could immediately see benefits from with their young backcourt of D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. Tibbetts knows how to communicate well with the players, knows how to develop talent and served as a D-League head coach. He might be more of a "player's coach", but Tibbetts is my top guy for the Lakers job.
Tom Fehr: This will never happen, but if Walton's off the table (who I think is certainly the most alluring option here), I'd say Mike D'Antoni. I still think he's a very good coach, and he's such a perfect fit for D'Angelo Russell. I think Clarkson and Randle would greatly benefit from having him as a coach as well. It drives me mad that they let him walk only to bring in the epic disaster that is Byron Scott. #FreePringles
Harrison Faigen: Ettore Messina is an interesting name. He is one of the greatest coaches ever overseas, spent a year with the Lakers a few years ago (giving him a splash of the much-needed "Laker blood"), and has had a few years to learn under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs now. Considered to be a master of X's and O's, he would be an immediate tactical upgrade over the Lakers current head coach. Jesus Gomez of Pounding the Rock has a great summary on Messina's CV here.
Anthony Irwin: Going to go in a different direction here and say my preferred coaching is literally any other person, scratch that, living and breathing species that is not Byron Scott. You know, I'd even consider a corpse, depending on its freshness.
I'm obviously being facetious, but I don't care which candidate is being considered, so long as the organization proved it's capable of understanding the damage Byron Scott has brought upon it.
Craig DePriester: I think that the time is right for a Scott Brooks hire. There's no doubt Scott Brooks leaves some tactical skills on the table, with in-game strategy and rotations being key weaknesses, but he's also the kind of guy that can come in and build a culture that will help the young core grow up. He's probably a 3-4 year hire to push Russell and Randle to the next level - he has an excellent track record at player development and team building, which is exactly these young Lakers need. Without a surprise maturation from Brooks, I still think the Lakers will eventually need a coaching upgrade to win a championship. That said, this is the right baby step for the franchise to start winning more games.
Bryant Freese: Kevin Ollie. I don't think this is going to happen at all, but I think it's the best option. He is a young coach that can relate and grow with the young players that we are expecting to be the future of the Lakers franchise. Ollie is only going to learn and grow as a head coach.
In just his second year as head coach at Connecticut, Ollie led the Huskies to a national championship. I would compare Kevin Ollie to the Boston Celtics hiring Brad Stevens out of Butler University. A young and up-and-coming coach that can learn and grow with a young team. Most importantly, Ollie and Kevin Durant have a good relationship after playing together in 2009-2010. Ollie gives the Lakers the best chance to sign Kevin Durant; that alone is worth hiring him.
Ryan Kelapire: Ettore Messina would have been my number one choice, but since he's already been mentioned, I'll pick a different candidate here. My choice is Jeff Hornacek. His tenure with the Suns didn't end on the brightest note, but I was extremely encouraged by the way he got the Suns to overachieve in the 2013-14 season. To me, a coach that can get his team to overachieve is a good one. It also helps that he has experience running an offense with two ball-dominant guards (Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic), since that's currently what the Lakers have going for them in their backcourt. Also, Hornacek's teams played at a fast pace and he understood the concept of adequate spacing and shot selection, instantly making him an upgrade for L.A.
Jameson Miller: I'm going to cheat a bit here and go conceptual rather than specific. First off, I'll never understand the logic behind starting a search for a new employee by, as a first resort, dipping into a pool of candidates who have been fired for their ineffectiveness at that very job. It truly boggles the mind.
For my preferences, I'll simply refer you to ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz's piece from last week about up and coming assistant coaches who could eventually be head coaching candidates. Arnovitz rattles off names like Nate Tibbetts, Jarron Collins and Nick Nurse side by side with revolutionary, far out terminology like "communication skills", "knack for schemes and coverage" and "steeped in the offensive gospel of the new era". What a time to be alive.
Who would be your second choice?
Ben: As inauspicious as it would be to hire a former Cleveland head coach for the third time in the past five years, my second choice would be David Blatt. A litany of stories in the wake of Blatt's firing have gone a long way to exculpate him, framing him as a victim of LeBron James' desire for unfettered control of the team. Although Blatt probably didn't help his case with what was described as a prickly personality, the team hasn't exactly gone gangbusters afterward under the supposedly player-friendly (and carrying the LeBron stamp of approval) Tyronn Lue.
At any rate, Blatt's strategic chops, his principal strength prior to being hired, have never really come into disrepute, and he originally came to Cleveland under the notion he'd have the freedom to implement his system and principles with a young, rebuilding roster. Given the relatively free hand that the front office gives its head coaches to do this, for good or ill, this would seem to be a good fit.
Daman: Ime Udoka. For years now, Popovich and his staff have been the best coaching group in the NBA, so why not go after Pop's staff? I chose Udoka over Messina because I'm not sure Messina enjoyed his time as "Lakers consultant" and my conspiracy theory radar tells me that Ettore was brought in to be a potential successor to Pop. Ime has universally glowing reviews from Pop and LaMarcus Aldridge considers Udoka the reason that he eventually decided to join the Spurs. Whatever magic Ime worked in that room is the same magic the Lakers will be needing moving forward if they are to sign the kinds of free agents they are looking to sign. In addition, Ime Udoka's work ethic and demeanor will be a welcome change that will not only be good for the young core's development - but as a role model for them as well.
Chinmay: This is going to sound insane, but I'm going after Scott Brooks, the former head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder if Tibbetts isn't interested or goes elsewhere. Kevin Durant is a free agent this offseason and he has always been fond of Brooks. The Lakers are going to get a meeting with Durant, but having Brooks in the room might make them more serious contenders for his services. Let's not forget that Brooks helped develop Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. That's a nice list. He might not be the most technically sound coach, but Brooks has the NBA-level experience and has had plenty of success.
Tom: Scott Brooks. Now hold on, hear me out. No, he's not a great coach. He does, however, have a good track record of helping to build a culture around talented young players and help develop them. So, essentially, he's the opposite of Byron Scott. This would not be a long-term hire - I wouldn't want Brooks for probably more than 3 years - but I think considering where the Lakers are at in their rebuilding process, it would be a perfectly reasonable hire. I'll give an honorable mention to Kevin Ollie. No, I don't think he'd be a great coach now, but he would also fit the mold of someone that could help build a better culture.
Harrison: I echo the panel's interest in Scott Brooks for most of the same reasons. The standard stuff about him not being a tactical genius aside, he seemed to do a great job developing young players in Oklahoma City and most of those same players seemed to love playing for him. As an added bonus, his presence can't hurt the Lakers in their longshot pursuit of Kevin Durant this offseason.
Anthony: If I did have a preference, it'd be whoever gives the Lakers the best chance at Kevin Durant, so long as he agrees to sign quickly so the front office can move on to other needs. After that, I'm pretty noncommittal to any candidates. I just hope to see some creativity in the hire.
Craig: You sure Thibs isn't an option? Given the lack of highly attractive retread options (Mike Malone would have been an awesome hire, for instance), I'd rather have someone who's never been a head coach. I like Ime Udoka, who has the maturity and Popovich coaching tree pedigree to handle the bright lights of Los Angeles; however, with Udoka or any other assistant, I would insist on spending real cash on an experienced staff. If you look at the success of Steve Kerr last year, he inherited quite a bit of talent to work with, but he also had quality assistants helping him install a pro-level offense and defense.
Bryant: I also agree with Scott Brooks being an option for all of the same reasons others have mentioned. He did a great job developing the young talent in Oklahoma City. His overall coaching ability is an obvious issue, but just like Kevin Ollie, Scott Brooks gives the Lakers a good shot at getting Kevin Durant.
Ryan: My second choice would be David Blatt. I think it's clear by now that the Cavs' issues weren't a result of Blatt's coaching, as they haven't exactly improved since Tyronn Lue took over. Blatt is known to be one of the sharpest basketball minds, as evidenced by his success overseas, and I'm not sure he had a fair shake in Cleveland.
That being said, Blatt's coaching acumen isn't what I'd be worried about if he's the Lakers' next coach. Similar to Mike D'Antoni, I'd be worried about Blatt's ability - or lack thereof - to manage the Los Angeles media, plus his players in general. It seems that's Blatt's major weakness as an NBA coach - he has yet to gain credibility among NBA players and media members. Needless to say, that's conducive to being a successful coach in the league.
Jameson: If none of the things in my first answer come to pass, I suppose I could understand and live with a Scotty Brooks hire. The Lakers aren't really in a position where Brooks' lack of nuanced end-of-game X's and O's acumen is going to cost them a potential trip to the Finals, so in the meantime, his proven track record of forming strong relationships with players, (actually) developing young talent and (actually) instilling a culture of defensive accountability would go a long way toward propelling the Lakers young pups forward in their development.