Friday, May 27, 2011
Questions about the bench ... No, not those kind
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers have done much more than simply shed their skin in anticipation of a new year this offseason. They've found a new head for their snake, as Mike Brown was quickly settled upon to become Phil Jackson's successor.
Now it's time for the team to determine what the snake's tail end will look like by filling out the rest of the coaches on Brown's bench.
Mike Brown coach under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.
Brown will be allowed to pick his own staff, however Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak reserve the right to veto any selection he makes, according to a source familiar with the Lakers' thinking.
He'll be starting with a nearly completely clean slate in which to deal with, after the team has cleared house in an effort to cut costs in anticipation of a potential lockout come July 1, while also having the intention of distancing itself from all things directly related to Jackson.
That means they'll be saying goodbye to longtime Jackson aides Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen, who were with him in both Chicago and L.A., when their contracts expire at the end of June the same way Chip Schaefer, Jackson's lead trainer since the early 1990's, was informed during the playoffs that he would not receive a contract extension. Hamblen told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that he has already been contacted by an undisclosed team, while The Los Angeles Times reported that Cleamons will likely interview with the Phoenix Suns for a spot on their staff to coach defense.
Jackson's other full-time assistants, Brian Shaw and Chuck Person, who were in-house candidates considered for the head coaching vacancy are a different story.
Shaw was the only person other than Brown to receive an interview for Lakers head coach. Even though he is a respected member of the organization who won three championships as a player and was part of two more as an assistant coach, it is unlikely he'll remain as an assistant under Brown. He is still in the mix to become the next head coach of the Golden State Warriors, however, having interviewed there. Brown was considered to be the favorite for the Warriors job, but now that he is with the Lakers, the race in Golden State has opened up again.
Person, on the other hand, could very well stay with the team and occupy a spot on Brown's staff, similar to the way Kurt Rambis bridged the gap in the late '90s as an assistant for Del Harris and then Jackson. Person and Brown have a shared history, as they were both on Rick Carlisle's staff with the Indiana Pacers where they coached Ron Artest together. Person has the support of Lakers management based on the strides the team made on the defensive end during the second half of last season when Person became a more vocal teacher of defense in practice. He also has strong relationships with the players, including Artest, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant.
The Revista Ufficiale NBA in Italy reported Brown has already been in contact with Ettore Messina for a position. Messina is a well-respected coach in Europe, having just finished a two-year contract with Real Madrid after completing a successful run at the helm of CSKA Moscow before that. Messina will have to weigh his desire to come assist with the Lakers offense and work with Bryant, who he is an admirer of, against his desire to make far more money as a head coach in Europe. Messina is a candidate to take over Olimpia Milano, owned by clothing designer Giorgio Armani, according to a source.
Messina has been rumored to be crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come to the NBA for years, having been courted by the Toronto Raptors in the past as well as by the New Jersey Nets last year after the team was purchased by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The San Antonio Spurs are also interested in Messina.
Dallas Mavericks special assistant coach Tim Grgurich is another person likely to join Brown. Grgurich was called "one of the best coaches of all time" by Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks after the Mavericks beat the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Brown considers Grgurich a mentor and the 68-year-old would fill a Tex Winter-like role as a "behind the bench" coach for Brown. Plus, Grgurich already owns a house in Manhattan Beach which could make it easier for Brown to pry him from the Mavs.
Brown could also look to his former staff from his five seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers to complete his coaching roster. His former charges have spread out, as John Kuester became the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, Mike Malone became the lead assistant behind Monty Williams with the New Orleans Hornets, Melvin Hunt joined the Denver Nuggets and Hank Egan, who Brown played for at the University of San Diego, retired. Chris Jent, another assistant under Brown, remained in Cleveland when Byron Scott took over.
Malone is considered to be the strongest candidate of the group, although NBA.com reported he could be holding out for a head coaching position. Also, compensation would have to be a consideration, because the Lakers are looking to continue their cost-cutting measures by keeping the salaries of their assistants down, according to a source.
Brown, whose career really began to take off when he was an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, still has strong ties to the Spurs and could look to bring someone from their organization to the Lakers as well.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.