Despite posting the storied franchise’s worst season in nearly 60 years, Kobe Bryant’s career winding down and inconsistency unseen in more than a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t in a rush to hire a new head coach.
A report Wednesday from USA Today indicates the Lakers are waiting to see what LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony decide during free agency this summer before hiring a head coach to replace Mike D’Antoni.
D’Antoni resigned on April 30, and the Lakers have interviewed six candidates, with most either donning the purple and gold at some point in their playing career or a disciple of former head coaches Phil Jackson or Pat Riley.
A 67-87 record over two years and a first-round sweep in last year’s playoffs sealed D’Antoni’s fate. He was the third head coach tenured in L.A. in the last three years, a sign of inconsistency at the top of the Lakers organization unseen since the 1990s, when the Lakers technically went through seven head coaches over nine years.
The Lakers are hoping to use their loads of salary cap space to pair Bryant with a top free agent like a James or Anthony, and using their input to make a final decision on a head coach. L.A. has only three players under guaranteed contracts for next season with a payroll of $35 million, which could be enough space to sign two players to long-term deals.
A four-time MVP presently guiding the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, James could be a free agent this summer by exercising the op-out clause in his current contract with the Heat, but he’s refused to answer any questions about free agency and many believe there’s no chance the 29-year-old leaves South Beach.
Anthony, whose New York Knicks missed the playoffs after winning only 37 games, has publicly stated he intends to opt-out of his deal and test free agency. As the Knicks disappointing season wound down, there was a growing concern in Madison Square Garden that Anthony could leave. Both James and Anthony can opt-out when free agency begins July 1.
New team president Jackson has said keeping Anthony is a top priority, and newly hired head coach Derek Fisher will pitch his best player to stay. However, the Knicks won’t have enough salary cap space to bring Anthony any help until the summer of 2015, meaning the 30-year-old will have to trust Jackson’s rebuilding plan in the heart of his prime. Fisher also could have been a candidate for the Lakers, but Jackson quickly snapped him up after the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs a week ago and when it appeared Fisher was going to retire from the team.
The Lakers maintain that any new star won’t have the final say on who the next head coach is, but they are still taking a very risky approach. There is no guarantee either James or Anthony will leave, especially since their current teams can offer an extra year and $30 million more on their next contracts.
However, the same report stresses the Lakers believe James and Anthony, good friends off the court, could someday pair up, and what better place than Los Angeles?
Of the candidates who have met with the Lakers, only former star guard Byron Scott received a second interview, according to ESPN Los Angeles. Scott spent 11 seasons with the Lakers, and is the most successful of the candidates, taking the then-New Jersey Nets to two consecutive NBA Finals and the New Orleans Hornets to the second round of the playoffs. Both those squads boasted All-Star point guards in Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, respectively, and Scott could push the Lakers to select a young floor general if he’s hired before the draft on June 26.
Scott’s most recent stint as a head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers could put a damper on his Lakers future. The young squad missed the playoffs in three straight seasons and never won more than 24 games during the rebuilding effort.
The Lakers have also sat down with former player and Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis, seasoned and former head coach from 1990 to 1992 Mike Dunleavy, Lionel Hollins, who coached the Memphis Grizzlies, the well-traveled George Karl, and previous Phoenix head coach and current Clippers associate Alvin Gentry.
Rambis did have his chance when he took over for the fired Del Harris in 1999, posting a 37-24 record, but L.A. later secured Jackson and went on to win five titles. Rambis also had chemistry issues with Minnesota All-Star forward Kevin Love when they were paired for two seasons, and the Lakers are believed to be an ideal destination for Love either via trade or free agency in 2015.
Dunleavy hasn’t coached since 2010, but he did take the Lakers to the Finals in his first season in 1991, though that team was already a contender following Riley’s departure and as constructed now, the Lakers will need a more patient coach during the rebuild.
Hollins and Karl are both known as “player’s coaches,” but go about it in different ways. Karl is known to have a more lax, calm approach with high-flying offensive schemes. Hollins helped mold the Grizzlies into perennial title contenders, but did it mainly through defense and rebounding.
Gentry could seem like low-hanging fruit, especially with the Clippers ownership status in limbo. He took two teams the postseason, reaching the Western Conference finals with Phoenix in 2010.