LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers say they’re in no rush to hire their next head coach.
That means the next several weeks are likely to be filled with anonymous speculation, widespread rumors and outright lies about the innumerable candidates to succeed Mike D’Antoni after the Lakers’ worst season in more than 50 years.
After two misfires in the last three years with Mike Brown and D’Antoni, the Lakers will take all the time necessary to get it right in owner Jim Buss’ first coaching hire since the death of his father, Jerry. General manager Mitch Kupchak said there is no timetable for the search, which could extend past the NBA draft lottery on May 20.
Yet the Lakers still have one of the NBA’s most attractive coaching jobs despite their 27-55 season, and the new coach will be in on the ground floor of a thorough franchise rebuild over the next several years for the 16-time champions. D’Antoni resigned when the Lakers were unwilling to commit to him beyond next year.
“It’s one of the premier jobs, if not the premier job in the league,” former Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy said Thursday on his SiriusXM radio show. “Obviously, the history and the amount of championships they’ve won, and the fact is you’re in L.A. They’ve shown a great ability to reload over the years pretty quickly, and obviously they’ve got Kobe Bryant still on their team.”
A few candidates have already raised their hands. Former Lakers guard Byron Scott and forward Kurt Rambis are both possibilities after head coaching stints elsewhere in the league. Former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and NBA veteran George Karl both possess the gravitas necessary to impress Bryant and to succeed in Los Angeles.
College names also popped up in the endless online speculation about the job, including John Calipari, Kevin Ollie and Mike Krzyzewski, although it’s unclear whether the Lakers will try yet again to lure the Duke coach out of North Carolina.
Dunleavy, who coached the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1991 before moving on to Milwaukee, Portland and the Clippers, discussed his own interest on his radio show.
“Clearly, if I had an opportunity to interview with them, I would definitely be interested,” Dunleavy said. “I had a great run there when I coached in the ’90s. I interviewed the last time the job was open. They’re just a great organization.”
The Lakers’ new coach will have the closest thing to a blank canvas in many years in Los Angeles. The team has just three players under contract for next season, along with a draft pick guaranteed to be in the top nine.
But Bryant is still the Lakers’ centerpiece. He will be 36 when he returns in the fall from a season in which he played just six games due to two major leg injuries, but he will make $48.5 million over the next two seasons.
Bryant favors tough-minded coaches with the credentials and personalities to succeed in the big city, which suggests possibilities like Jeff Van Gundy, the former Knicks coach. Bryant is known to respect Van Gundy, now a television commentator.
ESPN reported the Lakers plan to ask the Chicago Bulls for permission to interview well-regarded coach Tim Thibodeau, who would be a tantalizing candidate if interested. Thibodeau has won 205 games over four seasons in Chicago, but struggled in the postseason.
Speculation began immediately about Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ former championship-winning guard currently finishing up his last playing season in Oklahoma City. Fisher has long said he’s not interested in coaching, preferring to go after an NBA front-office role when he retires, but his close relationship with Bryant and fellow point guard Jason Kidd’s immediate coaching success in Brooklyn could be part of an attempt to pull Fisher onto the Lakers’ bench.
There are other surprising candidates: The Lakers’ leadership has long been enamored with Ettore Messina, the Italian ex-Lakers assistant coach currently running CSKA Moscow.
The Lakers have extensive salary-cap room for the upcoming season, and the new coach will play a major role in their ability to attract free agents. If the Lakers have a player in mind as a target, they could keep their coaching spot open long enough to entice a marquee name such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony with the opportunity to play a role in the selection of the new coach.
Which means the next few weeks could conceivably stretch into months while the Lakers determine their new direction.
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