With Mike D’Antoni no longer the Lakers’ coach, it seems there has been a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of the organization. While a major decision will need to be made on finding a replacement, the prospect of starting fresh — even if it will be challenging — brings about hope for better days after suffering through consecutive sorrow filled seasons.
This list of potential candidates to replace the departed D’Antoni looks to be long and wide ranging. From college coaches to those with ties to the organization to outsiders who have paid their dues around the league, the Lakers seem to be casting a wide net with the hope that they can find the right person to transition them from a team centered around Kobe Bryant to one that will revolve around the team’s next superstar. This won’t be a small task — for good thoughts on this subject, read this — but rebuilding (or, if being generous, retooling) never really is.
And while most all our thoughts are on finding the right person and having him move the franchise forward, my focus shifts backwards and to the past.
One of the hallmarks of the Lakers’ organization has been a combination of its ability to formulate a plan for success while having the patience to see that plan through even when it would have been much easier to change course and make a drastic move.
I think back to the building of the “Lakeshow” teams. The organization could have easily tried to get back on top quickly after losing Magic to early retirement by making quick fix trades that mortgaged the future of the team. Instead, they built through the draft, made solid signings in free agency, and when the time came to make a move for the big star or gamble in the draft, they could do that because they had built the foundation of a competitive team through their previous patience. More recently we saw the team hold onto a disgruntled Kobe Bryant when he lobbied hard for a trade, again having a solid enough foundation and enough assets in house to pounce in the trade market when a difference maker became available.
The past few years, however, has seen a departure from this philosophy.
Whether it was the quick hire of Mike Brown after rumors that the Warriors were in hot pursuit of him, his subsequent quick firing when the team looked to be tuning him out after a winless preseason and a sluggish start to the regular campaign, a trade for an aging Steve Nash that surrendered multiple draft picks, or a contract extension for Kobe before he had even stepped on the court for meaningful action after rupturing his achilles tendon, the Lakers have gotten away from letting situations play out fully in favor of making the bold move that would seemingly get the team back to the top quickly.
Most of these moves were defensible at the time. The success rate, however, ranges from not at all to we still have to wait and see. Nowhere, though, has there been a home run that the organization can hang their hat on as proof that their quick trigger was overwhelmingly correct. Of course context and circumstance matter and we cannot simply ignore those things to bury the bold thinking as if it were off-base from the start. I think it is always best to remember that even the most surefire move can have its detractors and few things are ever 100% guaranteed to be the right move.
That said, the Lakers must get back to their roots of being thoughtful and calculating rather than impulsive and gambling at every turn. Yes, Kobe Bryant’s career is winding down. And the pressure to win now isn’t just born out of his pursuit of a sixth title, but out of the franchise’s desire to get back on top and contend for a 17th banner.
But the fact is that the team is, essentially, starting from as close to scratch as it possibly can be this summer. With only 3 players under contract (Kobe, Nash, and Robert Sacre are already signed while Kendall Marshall has a team option and Kent Bazemore can be retained via issuing a qualifying offer) and a new coach on the horizon, now isn’t necessarily the time to shoot for the moon as if the team is only one move away from being in the Finals again. Simple math tells us this team is at least 10 moves away. After all, they need to make that many decisions just to hire a coach and field a roster of 12 players next year.
With that in mind, it’s time for the Lakers to get back to a more methodical approach. They need to get back to thinking long term, strategizing on how to position themselves for success over the course of multiple years (and not just the next two), and be patient enough to see it through even when the times get hard. When you think about the success of the Lakers it’s easy to see the flashy move — drafting Magic, signing Shaq, trading for Kobe’s draft rights, swapping Kwame for Pau — but in reality, what has mattered just as much to the organization’s stature has been getting so many of the little moves right.
Over time, they have built what they have through the ability to figure out the best plan of action over the long haul and executing it every step of the way even if at times it looked as though they may not be heading in the right direction. If there is one thing I hope Jim and Jeannie learned from their father, that would be it.