Who Replaces Mike Brown as Lakers Coach?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Just hours after receiving votes of confidence from Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and superstar Kobe Bryant, Mike Brown was relieved of his duties as head coach.
“This was a difficult and painful decision to make,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a press release. “Mike was very hard-working and dedicated, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to make a change at this time. We appreciate Mike’s efforts and contributions and wish him and his family the best of luck.”
The Lakers were 1-4 under Brown this year, but his firing has much more to do with his relationship with the players during his entire tenure with the team, which dates back to last season, than their lackluster start.
The Lakers have invested $100 million, not including the stiff luxury tax bill they’ll receive at season’s end, in the roster. With four likely Hall of Famers in Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, nothing short of a championship is acceptable. Brown failed to instill confidence that he would be able to get the team to that level and as a result he was let go.
Now, Lakers management and ownership is tasked with conducting an in-season coaching search. They are likely to make a decision in fairly short manner while Bernie Bickerstaff serves as the interim head coach in the meantime. Here’s a look at the candidates they will likely consider:
Hiring From Within
One of the reasons the Lakers didn’t make this decision prior to the start of the year was because they felt an improved group of assistants, featuring Eddie Jordan, Steve Clifford, Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person and Darvin Ham would go a long way in helping Brown. Clearly, that wasn’t the case, but that doesn’t mean they’ll at least garner some consideration as the Lakers brass explores all options.
Jordan and Bickerstaff both have head coaching experience. Jordan boasts a career record of 257-343, while Bickerstaff has more experience and a record of 415-517. Jordan’s Princeton offense was part of Brown’s downfall, likely ruling him out. And, while Bickerstaff is much more of the disciplinarian this team needs, the chances of him remaining the head coach even as an interim are slim.
Clifford and Person are promising assistants who will almost undoubtedly get the chance to be a head coach someday, but this just isn’t the kind of situation that leads to an assistant from within being promoted.
Stan Van Gundy
Van Gundy is one of the premier coaches on the open market without a job and because of that, he deserves to be on any list regarding a head coaching hire. His tumultuous relationship with Howard, though, basically puts him out of the running for the Lakers job. It’s not that Van Gundy isn’t qualified or wouldn’t do a good job, it’s just that neither party is eager to work together again and there are other options out there the Lakers can justifiably choose over Van Gundy.
D’Antoni is a popular candidate whose name has been associated with the Lakers since Brown’s seat began heating up during the season. The success he had in Phoenix with Nash makes him an intriguing candidate, especially when you also consider the offensive struggles this team currently has. D’Antoni has also worked with Bryant and Howard as an assistant coach for USA Basketball. However, D’Antoni recently had knee surgery and is weeks away from being able to walk, let alone handle the rigorous schedule of an NBA head coach. The timing of his recovery is working against him more than anything, because if he was healthy he would likely be one of the favorites. D’Antoni is reportedly still interested despite being out until late December.
McMillan could be considered a dark horse in this search, although his chances are probably low based on the unfavorable ending to his head coaching stint with the Portland Trail Blazers. He does have experience coaching Bryant and Howard with USA Basketball as well. His background as a player and defensive mindset could bode well in the Lakers’ locker room. After letting go of Brown, though, bringing in a head coach with less playoff success doesn’t seem like a route they will go, initially at least.
As soon as Brown was handed his walking papers, there was probably a portion of the Lakers’ front office that quietly said, ‘We should have hired Brian Shaw.’ Shaw was a finalist for the job before Brown was hired, but the team wanted to go in a different direction at the time and move on from the Phil Jackson regime. Shaw had no comment regarding his interest in the vacant position as of early Friday, but his position with the Indiana Pacers as their lead assistant makes hiring him a difficult process. The Lakers would have to request permission from the Pacers just to talk to him.
Had Jackson not stayed with the Lakers for an extra two years than he originally signed on for, Rambis would have been his successor. Rambis is beloved by the organization and will always be able to work for them in some capacity, but not as the head coach this year. While Rambis could re-institute some of the triangle offense that the team experienced so much success with and bring a defensive system they missed after he left for Minnesota, his time with the Timberwolves showed he has a lot of growing to do as a head coach. The situations are far different, but Rambis didn’t show the makings of the championship-caliber coach that the Lakers are currently searching for.
HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy recently reported that Sloan is interested in the Lakers head coaching job and he’s one of the few available coaches who brings a résumé to the table that would immediately earn the respect of the players in the locker room. Sloan has been away from the game for enough time to rejuvenate his passion for the game and showed interest in a few vacancies this offseason. At this point in his life, he wants to coach a contender and this Lakers team would present his best opportunity to win a championship since he had Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone in his prime. If the Lakers call, Sloan will listen and be more than interested. He should be pegged as an early favorite.
The idea of Phil Jackson returning to the Lakers sounds just too crazy. But, really, it isn’t. It was far more surprising when he returned to the franchise in 2005 than it would be if he came back this season. The Lakers were awful in 2005 and took three seasons to transform back into champions. This team is tailor-made for Jackson now. It possesses more talent than any one of the five L.A. teams Jackson won a championship with. Plus, like Sloan, Jackson has also had enough time away from the game to recharge his batteries and get his health intact. Early reports indicate that Jackson is indeed interested and healthy enough to accept. His longtime girlfriend Jeanie Buss remains a big part of the Lakers’ front office and even outside of that there is plenty of familiarity with Jim and Jerry. The two parties would have to put aside some previous hard feelings and overcome some hurdles before making things official, but once again they both find themselves in a position where they need each other.