After parting ways with Byron Scott on Sunday, the Lakers are already moving forward in their search for a new head coach. While they are expected to look at a long list of candidates, it is a fair assumption they have a short list of top choices they would like to interview and gauge interest in soon.
Mitch Kupchak noted on Monday he does not envision the hiring process being strung out, explaining a hire could be made as quickly as within two weeks. In order to get the ball rolling, then, they must start to reach out to potential candidates and line them up for interviews. Well, that process has begun.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Lakers have received permission from the San Antonio Spurs to interview their lead assistant coach, Ettore Messina, as a possible replacement for the recently departed Byron Scott.
Messina spent the 2011-12 season as a Lakers’ assistant coach under Mike Brown, so the front office should be quite familiar with him. A European coaching legend, Messina is a two time Euroleague coach of the year who has four Euroleague Championships under his belt. After departing the Lakers, Messina returned to Europe to coach CSKA Moscow for a season and then returned to the NBA to the Spurs to coach under Gregg Popovich.
Cutting your teeth and familiarizing yourself with the NBA under Pop typically puts you on the fast-track to an NBA coaching gig. But as noted above, that would be selling Messina short on his own career accomplishments. Messina has long been considered one of the best coaches in the world. Refining his approach and adding nuance from NBA observations should only add to his rep.
This combination of experience, then, creates a fantastic candidate. When Messina first came to the NBA to join Mike Brown’s staff, we spoke with friend of FB&G Xavier Sánchez about Messina’s time in Spain and his philosophies on both sides of the floor. There’s lots of great information in that post, but these observations about Messina’s success with guards stands out — especially when thinking about the attributes of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson:
Messina has always relied on “big” playmakers. Antoine Rigaudeau, Marko Jaric, Manu Ginobili or Theo Papaloukas are just the kind of guys he wanted to give the ball to, all of them over 6-6 feet. Neither of those have been great shooters (Ginobili being the best of them) but incredible ball handlers, with good penetration and playmaking skills.
He’s also used a lot 2 american guards during his stint in CSKA Moscow, JR Holden and former Duke (Blue Devil) Trajan Langdon, both under 6-3 but with great shooting stroke that could compensate the lack of shooting touch its big PG had…
…In his four Euroleague titles, 3 of the MVPs where guards (Ginobili, Papaloukas and Langdon) but saying his system is “guard friendly” would be taking it too far. I like Messina when he says that a good coach has the ability to detect the player strengths and draws a system to work for them.
That last sentence should be music to Lakers’ fans ears and dovetails nicely with this video of Messina discussing some of the principles the Spurs use while teaching drills at a coaching clinic.
The concepts expressed in that clip — the “point-five” second rule, reading the floor in advance of the catch, teaching the fundamentals and stressing the importance of shooting, filling open spaces offensively to keep a spaced and balanced floor — are all key elements incorporated into the schemes of the most successful offensive team’s in today’s NBA.
The fact that Messina is not only open to these concepts, but seemingly adapting them into his own philosophy is meaningful.
Of course, we do not know if Messina will be the hire. He hasn’t even been interviewed yet. But with the Lakers seeking and receiving permission to talk with him, they have their eyes on a very desirable target and a candidate I would fully support were he the hire. Time will tell, but these are steps in the right direction.