When we last left you, news had leaked that the Lakers had interviewed Mike Dunleavy for their open head coaching job. This news excited no one, save Mike Dunleavy, and had our very own Daniel Rapaport looking for younger options to fill the team’s vacant sideline chair.
Well, the team isn’t exactly skewing younger with it’s more recent candidates, but at least they moved on quickly to more viable candidates.
After Dunleavy, the team promptly moved on to Byron Scott. Scott is seen by some as a quality option, being a former Laker — Showtime! — and someone who has had success in his career leading quality teams. Lest you forget, Scott coached the then New Jersey Nets to back to back Finals appearances and then had a nice run with the New Orleans Hornets. Those who value these stops and Scott’s history with the team are excited about the possibility of him pacing the Staples Center sideline.
I, however, would not be amongst this group. Scott, to me, is a guy who has not shown to be enough of a tactician over the course of his coaching career, often lacking in ability to make adjustments or build schemes that optimize the play of his role players. Sure, Scott seemed to do well enough when Jason Kidd and Chris Paul orchestrated his offenses, but beyond putting the ball in those players’ hands and letting them do what they do best, Scott underwhelmed.
Further, his last stop in Cleveland has done his reputation no favors as he steered the Cavs to three consecutive losing seasons while also boasting an NBA worst 26 game losing streak in his last campaign. Scott hasn’t sniffed a head coaching job since then. And while his comments about “knowing this team” after doing studio work for Lakers’ broadcast partner Time Warner Cable Sportsnet is a nice soundbite, it carries less weight when you consider that the Lakers may only bring 3 to 5 players back from this roster next season. And while Scott boasts a good relationship with Kobe Bryant — something that is important and will be valued by Mitch Kupchak, that is only one variable and not one that should outshine some of his other issues his coaching career has exhibited.
Beyond Scott, the most recent names to surface are former Grizzlies’ coach Lionel Hollins and former Suns coach (and current Clippers’ assistant) Alvin Gentry.
Starting with the latter, Gentry had his most success steering a Suns team back on track after Terry Porter was disposed. Porter, who replaced Mike D’Antoni, preferred a slow-it-down approach to offense and tried to build his offense around Shaq after he was acquired for Shawn Marion. That experiment failed and in came Gentry, moving the Suns back to a more D’Antoni-esque system that featured Steve Nash doing what he does (did?) and flanking him with shooters and slashers who played team first, unselfish ball. Those Suns peaked with a run to the 2010 Western Conference Finals that saw them fall short to a certain team from Los Angeles who wears forum blue and gold.
Gentry, like Scott and Dunleavy, is an NBA lifer who has had several different stopping points in his career. The good news is that he has seemingly gotten better as he’s aged and is seen as a good offensive mind who players seem to play hard for. That lone sentence probably already makes him a better candidate than Scott, since Gentry seems to have both the X’s and O’s chops (at least offensively) while also possessing enough personable qualities to inspire guys to compete for him. Whether that is enough to land him the job remains to be seen, though I would wonder whether he has enough creativity on the defensive side of the ball to produce similar results that his offenses would.
That brings us to Hollins. The former Grizz head man is brings the most recent success to the interview room, boasting a 56 win season in his last year with Memphis. That team went all the way to the conference finals, getting knocked out by a Spurs team who was a Ray Allen three pointer away from winning the championship that season. After supposed disputes in philosophy and how much money he should earn, Hollins was not retained after leading the Grizz to their best season in franchise history. No, his top assistant got the job instead and Hollins got to take a year off while working as an analyst for ESPN.
What Hollins would bring to the Lakers is a defense-first (second and third) philosophy to coaching and a no-nonsense demeanor that helped establish the “grit and grind” identity the Grizzlies have adopted over the past several seasons. Hollins is not the most gifted offensive coach, though he did help develop Mike Conley while also building a post heavy attack around Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Hollins could be a bit too reliant on Rudy Gay and looked to him as an isolation weapon too often, which was part of the reason why Rudy was traded and part why Hollins’ creativity on that side is questioned. But after Rudy left, Hollins did well to turn the ball over to Conley, demand more from him while encouraging the entire team to play even more through the big men. That approach worked, of course, to the tune of the aforementioned best season in Grizzlies’ history.
If there is one aspect that should intrigue fans about Hollins it is that he seems to be able to generate buy-in and get very good results from players who aren’t necessarily seen as choir boys or who haven’t had good experiences playing under different coaches. Whether it’s Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mo’ Speights, or Jerryd Bayless — Hollins has find a way to connect with guys and get them on the path to being team first contributors. Maybe it’s his straight forward communication style or his back ground as a successful player in the league. Maybe it’s something else. But he seems to get guys to play hard and has a way of building good defenses (though it definitely helps to have Gasol, Allen, and Conley).
Hollins, like the other candidates, isn’t a young guy and has had his fair share of trips around the block. But, unlike the others, his best season was his last season and if the Lakers are really looking for a coach with experience it might be a good idea to tab the guy who has some and it be good recently.
That said, the Lakers surely aren’t done and there are persistent whispers that Derek Fisher will likely still get an interview whenever his season with the Thunder ends. It is even thought that he could be a frontrunner, even though his head coaching experience is nonexistent. So, maybe all these interviews are just the Lakers’ brass getting a feel for guys as they spin their wheels waiting for Fish. Or maybe the hire will come from this group or one of the other candidates the team is likely to talk to over the next days (and weeks).