Weâ€™ll find out this afternoon for sure, but I think itâ€™s now safe to play Mitch Kupchak and start talking about who gets to have the expensive court-side seats next. Below are a number of potential coaches are listed in a personal preference order.
The First Team
Frank Hamblen: Heâ€™s got the on-the-job chance to impress, and I think he should be given the time and opportunity to do so. And not a Denver Nuggets-style chance, but a real one. He may not want the job long term â€” there have been reports to that effect, but no official pronouncement â€” but if he does he should get first crack. Heâ€™s paid his dues, he knows these players.
And weâ€™ll know by the end of the season if he can do the job. How does the team respond for the final 40 games? Do the defensive numbers (and intensity) pick up? Is there movement in the offense and is there more than just drive and kick? Do the Lakers make the playoffs? If these things come to pass, Hamblen deserves the job longer term.
Phil Jackson: At first I shook my head at this thinking it was a talk radio rumor, but apparently Buss and Kobe like the idea, and Jackson is said to be mulling it over.
And, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. This team is fairly well suited to him. Jacksonâ€™s teams didnâ€™t need a traditional point guard â€” when he did have one, in the form of Gary Payton, it caused problems. The two people who would serve as the focal point of the triangle â€” Kobe and Lamar â€” both are good passers, fitting with Jackson’s style. Regardless of coach, this team is not going to win this year, but it is built better to fit Philâ€™s needs than Rudy T.â€™s.
The bigger question here is personalities â€” is Kobe mature enough to let go things said about him in Jacksonâ€™s book? Will Mitch be happy being back in Jacksonâ€™s shadow? To a lesser degree, will the fans accept Jackson back? (I think they will, like a conquering hero.)
Eric Musselman Musselman has had a chance to be an NBA coach â€” sort of. He spent two years in Golden State and earned a .457 winning percentage and never reached the playoffs. But that was a step forward in the Bay Area, this was a team that lost an average of 63 games for the previous three seasons. And Musselman made those improvements with a team of tweeners. He was fired as first move by Chris Mullin, who brought in his own guy, Mike Montgomery (thatâ€™s worked out well, hasnâ€™t it?).
Or how about this for an endorsement â€” he was rumored to be Jerry Westâ€™s choice to take over in Memphis earlier this season. By the way, Eric’s father, Bill, coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Michael Cooper: Speaking of assistants who have not been given the chanceâ€¦
Heâ€™d be a perfect sell to Laker fans for obvious reasons. Heâ€™s been a player and a coach in the NBA, and heâ€™s won championships in the WNBA (for what thatâ€™s worth). Players in Denver appeared to like him. He didnâ€™t have a great record as the head of the Nuggets, but really was given no time to make changes (something hard to do mid-season). If heâ€™s going to get a chance, why not in LA?
Larry Brown: So he doesnâ€™t want the Knicks job, what about Los Angeles? There is no better teacher out there, no better coach in my humble opinion. Yes, heâ€™d be gone in a few years, but in those few years he could mold the Lakers back into a force. At the very least, you have to make this call if Jackson backs out. Update: Brown says he does not want the Laker job. I’d still call.
Off the Bench
People we can fall back on if the first five fall through include Jeff Bzdelik and Brian Shaw. Then thereâ€™s:
Kurt Rambis: He couldnâ€™t get the Kobe/Shaq team to meld, but then other good coaches failed at that and it took the best mental games coach of all time to pull that feat off. He spent years on the bench next to Phil, so maybe heâ€™s learned. As Kobe is still on the team, I think this is one you really need to run by him (more than the rest, I think you at least inform Kobe of what is going on all through the process).
The â€œPlease God Noâ€ file
Lenny Wilkins: Did you watch the Knicks this season? Once great but the game passed him by.
Byron Scott: Yes heâ€™s an ex-Laker, but he needs to be able to coach. Heâ€™s hated by his teams and has a reputation as being poor with Xâ€™s and Oâ€™s. His Nets team gave up on him. And look at his team in New Orleans now, which has been unimpressive this season.