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Lakers Roundtable: Parsing the top head coach options

As the Lakers begin their interview process for their open head coach position, the Silver Screen and Roll staff evaluates the two apparent top candidates.

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Needless to say, nearly all Lakers fans are over the moon with the current situation surrounding the Lakers' head coaching vacancy, as arguably the worst coach in the league has been let go and a panoply of highly qualified candidates have been lined up to replace him. An average, milquetoast option would have been immeasurably superior to Byron, so parsing through the current list of candidates feels like an almost indescribable luxury, but we would be remiss if we did not send in our thoughts after a few days of reports as to whom the top options aboard the Lakers' search will be. And what options they are, a wunderkind with deep ties to the Lakers organization who drove the most successful regular season team ever to an unfathomable 39-4 record, as well as one of the most successful European coaches ever who has spent the last two years in what amounts to an Ivy League education in basketball under Gregg Popovich. And without further ado, we pose the following question to the staff:

Would you prefer Luke Walton or Ettore Messina to fill the Lakers' head coaching vacancy?

Ben Rosales: To say that this is a good problem to have might be the gross understatement of the century. Both are very well-qualified candidates with clear and discernible superlatives that each find significant purchase in the Lakers' current situation. His personality aside, Luke is undoubtedly the flashier hire, a name option who will make more waves than Messina, not an irrelevant concern given how the Lakers want their new head coach to take an active role in free agent recruiting and representing the franchise. Although it would be erroneous to say that Messina doesn't necessarily connect with the current crop of NBA players, Luke just finished a tenure in which he kept together a Golden State locker room with a lot of exceptionally big personalities and induced them to overcome the usual post-championship hangover in favor of destroying the league at a historic pace. The sheer difficulty of this feat should not be discounted, so Luke's locker room demeanor and ability to acquire buy-in from his players should be considered his principal strength.

The end to which that buy-in is directed deserves scrutiny, however, as Luke is a bit of a blank slate insofar as what he will implement from a strategic and tactical perspective. His reluctance to go to New York and work with Phil Jackson indicates that he has little-to-no desire to implement the triangle, so his guiding light will very likely be Steve Kerr's motion offense that draws elements from both Pop and Phil. That's certainly not a bad option to go with, but Luke will have to implement those principles without the aid of Kerr or Ron Adams in Los Angeles, likely necessitating some growing pains in the process. To say that Luke is deficient tactically would be erroneous -- the notion that the coach of a squad that went 39-4 didn't nail most of the rotation and ATO choices is sheer lunacy -- but it also is Luke's biggest question mark going forward.

And this is where Messina comes in, as his credentials from a strategic and tactical perspective are more or less unimpeachable and honestly were his strength even before he came to the NBA. A read of what he focused on illustrates a lot of things that Lakers fans should find quite relevant with this roster: a predilection toward big, playmaking guards (cough) D'Angelo Russell (cough), a devotion to various types of pick-and-roll play, and an insistence on instilling fundamentals. The latter item is particularly important since Messina has apparently combined that with what he's learned in San Antonio and there hardly could be a better foundation for the young guys to rely on. As previously noted, however, Messina doesn't quite carry the same panache as Luke would as a hire, so you're balancing Luke's locker room credentials and greater appeal in the league with Messina's greater Xs and Os expertise. Given that the Lakers, gobs of cap space aside, likely aren't going to be attractive to the premier free agents anyways, developing the young kids takes priority and Messina is likely a superior option in that respect.

Tom Fehr: To be honest, this is rather difficult to answer. Both seem like very promising coaching prospects - one them is more seasoned, one of them is younger but did very well on an interim basis with the best team ever (and one could argue he had a fairly large role to play in their success). Personally, I think I prefer Luke, but I'm not sure if I could give you the definitive reason why. He seems both intelligent and personable, and he appears to have quite the coaching career ahead of him. But the reason I think the next Lakers coach will probably end up being Luke is that he's also someone that the Lakers ownership could get behind - as we witnessed with Byron Scott, it doesn't hurt to have "former Lakers player" on the resume. As far as I'm concerned, "I am not Byron Scott" is the best item on the resume of either candidate. I truthfully don't know that much about Messina, but all indications are he would be another promising hire. For the record, I'm fine with either. Please don't hire Mark Jackson or Derek Fisher.

Daman Rangoola: First of all, I'm ecstatic that it's come down to debating between two highly qualified coaches versus debating why the front office would even consider keeping Byron Scott.  Between these two options, I'll side with the person that carries less risk in Ettore Messina.  Ettore is simply more qualified and has been doing this for far longer than Luke Walton has and it never hurts that he's Gregg Popovich's lead assistant.  Ettore's experience with the Lakers organization as a special consultant in 2012 should come in handy as well.

Chinmay Vaidya: Luke Walton. He comes from the Golden State basketball revolution and he's more likely to be able to connect with the young guys. It's hard to judge his impact because Steve Kerr was still around the team, but I feel more comfortable with Walton. The Spurs system has produced good head coaches (Mike Budenholzer,  Avery Johnson), but it's also given us the likes of Jacque Vaughn and Monty Williams. I'm not saying Messina is going to be bad, but I'd rather have Walton.

Bryant Freese: Both of these coaches will be a great choice for the Lakers. Ettore Messina might be the safer choice considering he has much more experience than Walton, and has worked with Gregg Popovich for the past two season. But I would go with Luke Walton, being just 36-years-old Walton can relate well with the young core of the Lakers. As well as bring the knowledge he has gained from coaching alongside Steve Kerr and working with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in Golden State. Walton has shown he can be the leader of a NBA team when Kerr was unable to coach the Warriors due to injury.

Jameson Miller: Great problem, tough decision—and not just due to the temporarily incapacitating effects of the dopamine rush I still get from reading this question over and over again.  I'd peg Messina as the superior tactician simply based on his available body of work (though we have no proof that Luke couldn't match his expertise in this area over time), with Walton coming out on top in player relations and potential (positive and negative). I'd also love to see what an alleged offensive wizard such as Messina could get out of D'Angelo Russell, who, lest we forget, remains the Lakers most important asset. Throw in the fact that I think Walton is likely to stay up north for at least another year, and I'm going with Ettore for now.

Anthony Irwin: As everyone else has stated, there is no wrong choice here between the two. Messina's resumé, especially with his Euroleague success, is extremely impressive. Combine that with basically going to NBA Harvard (San Antonio) over the last few years and he seems like the ideal candidate. That said, I think I prefer Walton, as he would probably get a fairer shake in Los Angeles. The fan base is as fragile as I've ever seen it and could use someone to get behind. Walton may not boast the resumé (though his qualifications are as impressive as they can be at such a young age) that Messina does, but the relationship with the fans he'd immediately have with the fans makes up for a large chunk of it. As stupid as that sounds, it's important.

Craig DePriester: It's a super interesting question, but I am relieved that it looks like the Lakers will choose between bonafide NBA coaches this time around. There's no doubt that Messina has a better resume and has won consistently at every level he's coached. His recent tutelage under Popovich only reinforces the fact that he is ready to coach an NBA team tomorrow. That said, I lean with Walton here. He may require some extra time to come up the curve as a tactician, but he already has an impressive track record of managing NBA rotations and egos during his team subbing for Steve Kerr. While the emphasis may be on the W-L record, he was also able to continue progressing the offensive system and avoid the potential championship hangover of guys wanting to get theirs over team ball. From a basketball perspective, I'm excited about him bringing the free flowing offensive philosophy from Kerr's system to the Lakers youth movement. Off the court, he's already experienced the spotlight of playing for the purple and gold and will be a good face of the franchise. If the Lakers want a recruiter in chief, I have to believe that Walton's charisma will serve them well. For that reason, Luke would get my vote.

Ryan Kelapire: They're both terrific choices, and certainly a major upgrade from the last Lakers' coaching search, but I would lean towards hiring Walton over Messina. Aside from my University of Arizona bias, I think Luke has the "it" factor of being a great head coach. He's a smart basketball mind, Warriors' players have raved about him -- proving that he can relate with players -- and he also fits the 'Los Angeles mold'. He's personable with the media and seems like a coach that would have a "rockstar" type of vibe about him. Coaching in Los Angeles is different than coaching elsewhere, and it's not for everyone, but I do think Walton is well-prepared for it, being from Southern California and a former Laker.

On the other hand, Messina is a great candidate in his own right. I could listen to him break down the game all day, and I have no doubt that he's as knowledgable about the game as anyone. Not to mention that his resumé as a coach in Europe is like no other, and he's Gregg Popovich's lead assistant, which can only be a plus. However, it's the other things -- player relations, media relations, etc. -- that are his biggest question marks. Would he be able to handle the L.A. media? Will he be able to connect with his players and gain their trust? Can he handle the spotlight that he'd be under in L.A.? If he can do those things, then he might be the best candidate for the job.

However, to me, Walton has the higher upside, and is a coach that could wind up being the face of the franchise for literally a decade or two. With the Lakers being as unstable as ever in recent years, that type of longevity would certainly be a welcomed change. But, either way, if the Lakers are truly picking between these two candidates, it's a win-win situation, and we should be thrilled that it has come to this.

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