Can The Past Lead The Lakers To Their Future Coach?

Darius Soriano —  May 17, 2011

There will be many things that the Lakers will not be able to control about this coming off-season. Uncertainty surrounds the expiring collective bargaining agreement. Other teams needs will dicatate what players will be available via free agency and trade to improve the roster. And, of course, there’s always what the brain-trust of this team actually feels is the right path to proceed down in trying to help them get back to championship form. A lot of what happens this off-season will depend not only on what the Lakers want, but what the league and players agree to and what other teams front offices think is best for their teams. When viewed this way, the Lakers don’t have a lot of control in how their off-season unfolds.

The one thing the Lakers can control is their search for a head coach. There will be no league or union action to interfere; no opposing GM to sweet talk. The Lakers simply have to interview the people on their short list, make an offer, and hire their guy. Obviously there are logistics involved that I’ve not mentioned, but you get my point. The Lakers are a premier franchise with championship caliber players on their roster; this is a marquee job. They’ll make a choice and get their guy, I’m sure of it.

The question is, who will that guy be?

Kevin Ding reports that Mike Dunleavy is a real candidate that needs to be taken seriously. I have many thoughts on this subject, but our old friend Kurt Helin did a good job of summing up some of my same concerns earlier today:

But the shift from Phil Jackson to Dunleavy would be radical. Jackson is a system guy — the triangle offense gives the players freedom and is predicated on players reading the defense and reacting to it, taking what is given them. Dunleavy is a micro-manager with a playbook, he calls the plays he wants run from the sideline every time down and expects the players to execute his orders. If Barron Davis chaffed against Dunleavy, how do you think Kobe Bryant is going to react?

This isn’t to completely bury Dunleavy as a coach as he’s had some success in this league. After taking over for Pat Riley, he coached the last run of the Showtime Lakers to a Finals berth against the Bulls in 1991. He coached the Blazers to several successful seasons and deep playoff runs in the late 90’s early 2000’s. His stint with the Clippers ended terribly, but he also took them to the playoffs when he harnessed the games of Sam Cassell and Elton Brand to a first round win and a Raja Bell corner three away from putting the Suns on the brink in the second round. I’m not endorsing him to be the next sideline man for this Laker group, but the man can coach and his past experience with the Lakers lends a familiarity that can’t be totally dismissed.

That said, if the Lakers are going to look to the past for a coach, there’s more than one way to look at and learn from history. I’ll let commenter Jodial, in supporting Brian Shaw, explain:

I have no idea whether Brian Shaw will make a great head coach or not, but I would sure hate it if he turned out to be one for a team other than the Lakers. For years, Mike Scioscia was the clear heir apparent to manage the Dodgers. People talked about his special leadership ability and his knowledge of the game. He had a championship career as a Dodger player, albeit in a supportive role, and he embodied the Dodger style of baseball (when it was still a winning style!) Unfortunately, ownership frittered away the chance to promote him and give him his first job, instead going with a long and forgettable series of retreads in the manager’s position, while watching Scioscia move across town and bring the old Dodger style to the Angels, with all the success that had been predicted for him. I’d just hate to see that happen with Brian Shaw…

He then adds:

The Lakers have actually been down a similar road before, exactly 30 years ago. That’s when an assistant with zero head coaching experience came in to lead a Laker roster that featured a mix of aging veterans and young stars, and that had flamed out spectacularly in the playoffs (in the first round!) the year after winning it all. Pat Riley did a pretty good job with that Laker team that year. And in the years to come too.

This support of Shaw doesn’t speak to his ability to diagram a play. Nor does it guarantee that Shaw will be able to get through to the players successfully. But it does show that choosing an assistant coach with no history of being a head man has actually worked out in the past for this organization. (For what it’s worth, Dunleavy was also an assistant with no head coaching history before he took over for Riles.)

While the potential lockout, new CBA, and other teams’ wants/needs will shape how the Lakers attack personnel moves, this act of choosing their next sideline steward will be just as important as any roster change that can happen. There will be several strong candidates to choose from and the Lakers’ history of success and ready made roster dictate that the correct decision be made now. I only hope that their trademark patience leads them to explore all options from all angles before making their decision.

Darius Soriano

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