‘What’s next’ for the Lakers is a daunting question.
Arguably the game’s greatest coach of all time is retiring. Kobe Bryant, one of the game’s greatest ever, is now 32 and no longer the dominant force that he used to be. And, we’re talking about the Lakers, owners of 16 titles and one of the most decorated franchises in all of sports.
After three straight Western Conference titles and two world championships, L.A. was dismantled and completely embarrassed in a shocking four-game sweep in the second round against Dallas. As Phil Jackson departs into lifelong Zen, his logical replacement is longtime Lakers player and assistant Brian Shaw.
The 45-year-old Shaw, who has won titles in L.A. as both a player and coach, is well respected around the league and thought by many to be the favorite.
Former Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings coach Rick Adelman -- considered an offensive mastermind -- has also drawn interest.
Lakers legend and current ABC and ESPN broadcaster Magic Johnson -- who even today remains close to the franchise -- told The Huffington Post that he believes both would be terrific candidates, although for much different reasons.
"I think that Dr. Buss is a guy who always looks for veteran coaches as well as guys who may not have had an opportunity, that’s been an assistant for a long time. That’s why Brian Shaw’s name has come up,” Magic said, “because he’s been an assistant with the Lakers and Phil Jackson for I think over six years. "
"It would make sense to look at Brian because he knows the players [and] he understands Los Angeles in the way of the Buss family, in terms of how they want to see their team out on the court."
Johnson, however, was quick to point out that the comfortable choice may not necessarily be the best option.
A consistent winner since his NBA head coaching career began in 1989, Adelman has taken two trips to the NBA Finals and perhaps would bridge a smoother transition.
“The Lakers are familiar with Rick because of the fact that he used to coach Sacramento and he almost beat the Lakers twice in those classic battles that the Kings and Lakers had,” Johnson said.
“One was the seven game series when [L.A.] had to go to Sacramento when Shaq and Kobe were able to beat Rick’s team. We know him very well, and then he’s been coaching in Houston and doing a wonderful job against the Lakers again," he added. "We're familiar with him' we’re familiar with his coaching style, and he would be a worthy candidate.”
While the general consensus is that Shaw and Adelman are the frontrunners for the position, Johnson said others should garner attention as well, including a couple names who haven’t surfaced yet in the media.
“I think you have others like Jeff Van Gundy who’s sitting out there, who can really coach, and is a great defensive mind.”
Such a defensive footprint may not be such a bad idea for this team.
The “trust issues” that Bynum harped on during the Dallas series -- however bad his judgment was to air public laundry -- were nevertheless very real.
Against Dallas and New Orleans in the playoffs, the Lakers looked disinterested on the defensive end, often not making quick enough rotations or, in some cases, rotations at all. Jason Terry, who has withered in past playoffs, was left wide open on countless occasions throughout the sweep. His playoff record nine three-pointers is an indication of just how clean his looks were.
Of course on many levels, as I've mentioned, it’s a matter of personnel, specifically on the perimeter. But maybe a guy like Van Gundy, who took the Knicks to The Finals in 1999, is the right fit.
The Lakers have gotten awfully comfortable in their own system. For the past two seasons, even with the title in 2010, they often suffered concentration and defensive lapses and lost countless games do to poor late-game execution, never a good sign for a veteran bunch.
According to Magic, Van Gundy isn’t the only other candidate worth a look though.
“Then there are former Lakers who already have jobs when you think about Byron Scott (Cleveland) and Kurt Rambis (Minnesota),” he says. “Those are guys -- if their employer would let them interview -- I’m sure that the Buss family would interview. Of course we know that they are under contract so I don’t know which way the Lakers are going to go because they’re really just starting the process, so it may be a couple weeks before we really find out.”
As for the Mike Dunleavy grumblings, ESPN’s NBA writer and analyst Ric Bucher told HuffPost not to believe the hype. He said in an email: “Dunleavy is not a realistic option.”
Bucher also said that Shaw and Chuck Person -– another Lakers assistant expected to be in the hunt -– face a key obstacle in their hopes of becoming head coach:
“Only a supremely experienced coach who has a deft touch with veterans can squeeze one more run out of these Lakers. That makes Rick Adelman and Jeff Van Gundy the only realistic options at this point. Jim Buss is leading the search and seems committed to moving away from everything connected to Phil Jackson, which is only another hurdle for both Brian Shaw and Chuck Person to overcome. The reality is that while the Lakers may make a move or two, they can't overhaul the entire team. And because they can't, it means they're coming back with a veteran crew.”
Johnson, ever the realist, also knows how things work in the NBA. There is a way of doing things at this level and a way of not doing them. Shaw has been there as a coach since 2004 and as Johnson said, has paid his dues, which could pay dividends.
“The players just had their exit meetings,” Magic says. “I think Brian Shaw will be the first to be interviewed. Brian is sitting in a good seat to take over.”