By: Rossy Pasternak
For decades, the Purple and Gold has been synonymous with basketball greatness. From Wilt to Magic to Kobe, from Pat Riley to Phil Jackson to Jerry Buss. Recently however, the franchise has come upon dark times. Overshadowed by Kobe Bryant’s grand finale were possibly the worst two seasons in franchise history. With a cumulative record of 38-126 under Byron Scott, the Lakers went from basketball royalty, to being talked about in the same breath as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers took their first step in their efforts to fix what has been terribly broken yesterday, firing Scott. Now, with a roster of has-been’s and will-be’s, the Lakers are in dire need of a coach to give the team stability, direction, and above all else, wins.
Before we tackle the head coaching dilemma, there are a few things to be sorted out with the roster. The most glaring need is to solve the D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young beef. It has become apparent that one of these two players will need to be moved, and I would place my bet on it being the latter. It makes the most sense to move Young, as he is older, and doesn’t fit into the Lakers long-term plans unlike the former top-5 pick Russell. The problem with trading “Swaggy P” is finding a trade partner. I’m sure the Lakers will be able to find someone willing to take on the 2 years and approximately $10M left on his deal, but how much extra the Lakers have to throw in is yet to be known. If it is a first round pick, the Lakers may choose to explore trade options for Russell, or even have these two sort things out and play together.
Beyond that, the Lakers have cap space and roster flexibility to bring in whoever they want. A future lineup will likely see the Lakers pair Jordan Clarkson and Russell in the backcourt, with Julius Randle at the power forward. Larry Nance Jr. has played his way into being considered as a future part off the bench as well. The major problem surrounding this team is the troubling fact that free agents don’t want to play on a team that is rebuilding. No longer can the Lakers use their location as a draw – more and more, you see players taking deals in smaller markets because there is a better chance of winning. Just think of LaMarcus Aldridge saying no to the Knicks and Lakers last summer. Unless the Lakers miraculously sign Durant and Westbrook in the next two summers, success will not come quick and easy to this team. Add in that the 76ers get their first round pick this year if it falls lower than #3, and that they don’t possess their 2018 pick either, and the Lakers seem less and less an attractive destination.
One thing that could change that is who they hire as the 25th Head Coach in Lakers history. There are many viable options for this role, but looking at the Lakers previous three hires, you can throw convention out the door. Nevertheless, the Lakers need to nail this hiring, and will be under a microscope no matter who they pick for the job. There are two coaches, in my opinion, that would do wonders for these Lakers. The first is Kevin Ollie. Ollie is currently the head coach at UCONN, and also played 13 seasons in the League. Rumours are Ollie finds the Lakers job “intriguing.” Ollie has proven to be magnificent with young players, both as a coach at UCONN, and a mentor with OKC during his last year, where he developed close relationships with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. These relationships will likely help Ollie gain consideration for this job, considering he was a strong candidate for the OKC gig last summer because of those same connections. If the Lakers think they have a chance at signing either of these two, Ollie will be seriously considered.
The second candidate’s name has gathered a lot of steam after he led his team to a 39-4 start as interim coach. That team, of course, was the Golden State Warriors; and that coach was Luke Walton. Walton displayed his ability to relate to players, take their opinions, and make an educated decision based off of the information he is given. Walton has ties back to the Lakers from his playing days, where he sat on the bench for two championships, as well as most of Kobe and Phil Jackson’s tenures. So, just to review: Walton has learned from Laker legend Jackson, is a close confidant of Kobe Bryant, is friends with the Buss family, and beloved by all of Laker Nation. That alone is enough for Jim Buss to hire the man. Add the fact that he has also worked under Steve Kerr, a coach who is credited with helping revolutionize basketball, and you have yourself the new Lakers coach. Except – and this is a big one – he may not want to leave Golden State. The Warriors are making history, and none of the players and staff seem eager to be on the other side of it. And even if he did want to leave, why would he want to go to a team that has won 38 games in two years, which is less than he won as an interim coach in 43 games! The Lakers roster is bare, and has no apparent franchise cornerstones to take over for Bryant. Sure, his connections to the franchise may hold some sway in his decision, but ultimately, his career would be better served if he held out for a better job. One thing is for sure though, Walton will be a head coach in the NBA, and soon.
The Lakers are in a state of dismay right now. With no heir apparent for Bryant, and no real obvious coach to hire, the path into the future is bleak. Could the Lakers swing for the fences and hire someone like David Blatt out of the blue? Could they hire an out-of-the-box name like Ettore Messina, the Italian assistant coach for the Spurs? Whatever they do, they have to think long and hard about every single decision they make this summer, for it could change the status of this legendary franchise for good.
Will the Lakers make a splash in free agency? Will they ever get back to the Finals? Comment below!
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