Lakers’ Search for Young Talent Should Extend to Coaching Hire Too

Daniel Rapaport —  May 22, 2014

According to a report from Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski (quite possibly the most trustworthy reporter in the sport), Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met with Mike Dunleavy Wednesday morning to discuss the team’s vacant head coaching position. Yes, the same Mike Dunleavy who was fired by Donald Sterling (!!!) after leading the Clippers to exactly one winning season in his seven years at the helm. Like I’m sure many of you were, I was less than thrilled to read that report this morning.

Sure, I understand that the Lakers and Dunleavy have a history. He took over after Pat Riley’s departure and led the team to two consecutive playoff appearances. But that was twenty-four years ago. And I get that Kupchak has pledged to interview a multitude of candidates before finally making his decision, so Dunleavy’s odds are bleak at best. But I have a question for the Lakers-and other teams- that I’ve been wanting to ask for years now: What has changed since Coach ___’s last firing that you believe he’s ready to lead your team to the promised land?

When the Lakers hired another Mike (D’Antoni) who’s less than popular in Los Angeles, it made sense roster wise. Mitch Jim’s thought process was that the Lakers had a roster tailor made to fit the D’Antoni system- Nash and Dwight, if the latter proved willing (which he didn’t), would run a nasty pick-and-roll with Kobe on the wing and Pau ready to hit the elbow jumper at the high post. Mitch had the seven-seconds-or-less Suns in his mind when he sat down with D’Antoni, but he conveniently overlooked D’Antoni’s tenure with the New York Knicks. He went 121-167 in New York and was subsequently fired. While I was one of the many Laker fans (don’t act like you foresaw last year’s trainwreck coming- no one did) who salivated at the thought of that offense firing at full potential, maybe the front office should have seen D’Antoni’s failure in New York as writing on the wall that maybe he wasn’t the right man for the job.

Kupchak recently told reporters that he’d prefer for whoever is hired to have some head coaching experience. My question is–Why? By definition, each and every coach who’s out of a job was fired before he was last hired. He didn’t do a good enough job at his last job to be retained, so why are we supposed to believe that he can lead our team out of the lottery, through an ultra-quick rebuilding stage and back to the promised land?

All the greats were once first-time head coaches. Phil Jackson took over the Bulls from Doug Collins once upon a time. Gregg Popovich went 17-47 in his first season leading the Spurs. Erik Spoelstra took over the Heat despite having zero NBA playing or head coaching experience and we all see how that worked out.

Look, I know that choosing a young guy who’s not established is inherently riskier. But the fact of the matter is that the Lakers aren’t in their normal position. They don’t have established veterans who are one piece away from a championship. There’s work to be done- this rebuild will more than likely be a multi-year process if we’re calling a spade a spade. The established names that have been thrown around, like Tom Thibodeau, probably don’t want to leave their current winning ways to undertake a full rebuild.

The Lakers are traditionalists, for sure. They were, after all, the last team to send a representative to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Just as they look for coaches with experience, they look for players with experience, and the team has long preferred to trade draft picks in hopes of acquiring established stars to help them avoid a rebuilding period. But you know who else are traditionalists? The Boston Celtics. But after realizing that their aging core would never topple the Miami Heat, they blew things up by trading away their best players and securing future draft picks. And who did the Celtics hire to lead them through the dark years? Brad Stevens, a first-time NBA coach who was the head coach of Butler before the Celtics. Yes, the Celtics hired a coach from a college mid-major.

The number 7 pick will result in a hyper-talented, likely raw player who will require development to become a star. The type of player the Lakers come up on about once every 10 years. The roster will be different, and I believe the man coaching the roster should be different to. I know it’s blasphemous to say, but the Lakers need to look toward a younger, more energetic guy to lead the team. That way, both the coach and roster can develop together. And in the process, maybe, just maybe, you stumble upon an all-time great coach. Because all-time great coaches don’t fall into your hands after getting fired by their previous teams.

Daniel Rapaport