Los Angeles Lakers: Los Angeles Lakers
The league released the entire 2014-15 season schedule Wednesday. Seeing the challenges that lay ahead for the Lakers on a night-to-night basis is a stark reminder of why ESPN.com’s panel of NBA analysts picked L.A. to finish 12th in the Western Conference with a 30-52 record.
The outcomes of the games can only be predicted at this point, but the 82 contests the Lakers will play from late October through mid April? They’re ripe for dissecting.
For instance, the Lakers’ normal marathon-like “Grammy” road trip has been nearly cut in half, from seven games in 12 days last season to four games (New York, Milwaukee, Orlando and Cleveland) in nine days this year.
The All-Star break? It’s been extended from a long weekend to a full week-long rest, as the Lakers play Feb. 11 in Portland and then don’t play again until Feb. 20th.
Back-to-backs? L.A. only has 16 of them (tied for the league minimum) after 19 last season.
Familiar faces? They’ll take a trip down memory lane when they play at Atlanta for the first time Nov. 18 (Kent Bazemore), at Detroit on Dec. 2 (Jodie Meeks), at Portland on Jan. 5 (Chris Kaman) and at Milwaukee on Feb. 4 (Kendall Marshall).
And of course, their trip to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1 to play Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks is sure to attract a lot of attention.
With those highlights out of the way, here are 10 more games to watch for the Lakers in ’14-15:
1. Home vs. Houston Rockets – Oct. 28: As the Lakers turn the page with the season opener, they’ll be forced to revisit a forgettable chapter from their past with Dwight Howard coming to town. While the novelty of Howard coming back to play at Staples Center has worn off since he did it last year already, the game will have a little extra gravitas assuming Kobe Bryant is on the court. Bryant missed all four of the Lakers’ games against the Rockets last season because of injury. The game also marks a chance for Jeremy Lin to get some revenge against his former team after Howard and James Harden made comments that slighted him. Not to mention, it will be rookie Julius Randle's NBA debut.
2. Home vs. L.A. Clippers – Oct. 31: The Lakers should get a sense for just how scary their season could end up turning out on Halloween, facing the Clippers for the first of four matchups on the year. After beating the Clippers in the season opener by 13 points to start off 2013-14, the Clippers went on to demolish their Staples Center cohabitants by an average of 35.7 points in their next three meetings. An added wrinkle will be Jordan Farmar wearing red, white and blue instead of purple and gold.
3. Home vs. San Antonio Spurs – Nov. 14: L.A. will welcome in the defending champs relatively early on in the season. Having an aging Tim Duncan come to L.A. on his discounted contract while still playing for a contender will inevitably re-spark the conversation revolving around Bryant’s $48.5 million extension. And he’ll be especially vulnerable to criticism if he, personally, or the Lakers, as a team, stumble out of the gate.
4. Home vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – Nov. 28: Not only does this game promise two of the more electric rookies in next year’s class in Andrew Wiggins (if the much talked about trade goes through) and Zach LaVine, but it could also end being a preview of one of the teams that L.A. will be angling against for lottery positioning late in the season if things don’t go the Lakers’ way.
5. Away vs. Boston Celtics – Dec. 5: No matter what the expectations are for either team, it’s always a big game when the Lakers play in the TD Garden. This will be L.A. native Nick Young's first game against the Celtics since joining the Lakers – he missed both games last season, one because of an injury and one because of a suspension stemming from his fracas in Phoenix. Plus, Lakers fans will get a look at Marcus Smart, the combo guard that Boston took one spot ahead of L.A.’s No. 7 position in June’s draft, allowing Randle to fall into the Lakers’ lap.
6. Home vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – Dec. 19: Not only are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook always an entertaining pair to see doing their thing, but they could end up being the Lakers’ top free agency targets in 2016 (Durant) and 2017 (Westbrook). It will be interesting to see if the normally cool L.A. fan base starts the recruiting efforts early.
7. Away vs. Chicago Bulls – Dec. 25: For the 16th straight season, the Lakers will be playing on Christmas Day. This holiday will be a twist in a couple of ways for L.A., however. The Lakers will be playing on the road for the first time since 2006 (when they went to Miami to play Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat) and they’ll be going up against Pau Gasol for the first time since he left to join the Bulls.
8. Home vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jan. 15: The league’s newest super team will come to town with LeBron James, Kevin Love (presumably) and Kyrie Irving already having had about 40 games under their belt to mesh their games with one another. Will the Cavs be clicking on all cylinders by that point or still be under the microscope as a work in progress?
9. Home vs. Brooklyn Nets – Feb. 20: Not that the Nets should be all that compelling next season with some of the offseason moves they’ve made to change their team, but this one is significant because it’s L.A.’s first game on the calendar following the trade deadline. If the Lakers are movers and shakers at the deadline, this could be the debut of a dramatically different roster.
10. Home vs. Sacramento Kings – April 15: The Lakers finish out the regular season with a pair of games against the Kings, first on the road on April 13 and then two days later wrap things up at home against DeMarcus Cousins & Co. Optimistic Lakers fans will tell you these games will matter because of playoff positioning. Pessimistic ones will assume that this will be a tank-a-thon with two teams already eliminated by postseason contention by that point.
Boozer was claimed off waivers by the Lakers on Thursday. The final year of Boozer's deal was amnestied by the Bulls on Tuesday.
"When you look at four years and you win 200 games, he did a terrific job for us," Thibodeau said Friday. "Carlos has had a great career, he did his job here, and we wish him nothing but the best. I think the Lakers, I think that will be a good fit for him. But he did a great job for us."
Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds last season for the Bulls.
LAS VEGAS -- It wasn’t quite Magic Johnson jumping into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s arms when The Captain made a buzzer-beating skyhook to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a win in Johnson’s first game as a pro. But there certainly was some unbridled enthusiasm on display after L.A. beat the Golden State Warriors 89-88 in overtime at the Las Vegas summer league Monday.
Only this time it was the big man, Julius Randle, missing the potential game-winner and the guard, Jordan Clarkson, flying to the rim to tip in the go-ahead shot as time expired.
The Lakers’ bench stormed the court to celebrate and surrounded Clarkson -- the No. 46 pick in the second round of this year’s draft whom L.A. believed so much in that it paid Washington $1.8 million for his rights on draft night.
Clarkson finished with a team-high 19 points on the night, keeping right on pace with his 18.5 points per game average through the Lakers’ previous two summer league games. But this was his finest performance.
“I think Clarkson has great explosiveness going to the basket. He has a tremendous pull-up jumper,” said Mark Madsen, the Lakers’ associate head coach in Las Vegas, along with Larry Lewis. “But the thing about Jordan Clarkson is he’s always at the right place at the right time. And we saw that on the tip-in.
“With 0.5 seconds left, he was there. He tipped it in. It was a soft-touch tip-in, and that got us the win.”
Clarkson said it was just his second winning shot of his basketball career, the first coming back in high school.
It capped a great night for him, as he added seven rebounds, shot 2-for-4 from the 3-point line (he’s shooting 50 percent overall on 3s through three games) and limited his turnovers to just two after averaging double that in his first two games.
“I’m really just playing my game,” Clarkson said. “Just being comfortable with myself, getting to know my teammates and just learning to play with them. I feel like we got room to grow and it’s just going to keep getting better.”
Six and a half years ago the Lakers -- off to a hot start to the 2007-08 season but treading water after Andrew Bynum went down with a season-ending knee injury -- swooped in like a burglar in the night and found themselves a shiny new pivot man from Memphis.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, smack dab in the middle of the World Cup consolation game, Gasol announced that the Chicago Bulls had landed his services and thus won the biggest consolation prize in this summer’s NBA free agency. He might not be LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls aren’t thinking that Gasol can do for them what he did for the Lakers a half-dozen years ago.
It was a sad day for Lakers fans, and not just because they came to the sobering reality that Kobe Bryant is now the lone remaining member of the 2010 championship team still on the squad.
For a guy who was nearly traded so many times over the past several years -- starting with the deal that David Stern undid that would have sent him to Houston in a three-team swap for Chris Paul, ending with the transaction that L.A. backed away from in February that would have saved the franchise untold millions by sending Gasol to Cleveland, and including potential trades for Amare Stoudemire, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Kevin Love and others sprinkled in between -- it was hard to call the news surprising.
Gasol’s departure seemed inevitable for quite some time now. Yet it didn’t diminish the effect the news had on people when Gasol made his announcement.
Marko Yrjovuori, the Lakers’ sports massage therapist, posted a photo of him and Gasol -- both of them wearing big, goofy grins -- to his Facebook account with the caption: “Thank You for the Good times Pau!”
Paul Nankivell, who worked for the Lakers’ video department for years before joining their new television partner in Time Warner Cable SportsNet, also shared his appreciation on Facebook:
“Because of him, I got the chance to ride in parades, wear championship rings, and get champagne in my eyes after beating the Boston Celtics. But more importantly, I got to meet the kindest and most respectful NBA player I've ever come across. Good luck in Chicago Pau ... LA will miss you.”
Ty Nowell, the mind behind the Lakers’ web content on Lakers.com as well as the team’s active Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Instagram accounts, texted me when he heard the news: “Honestly, the guy changed my life. He made the Lakers the Lakers again at a formative stage in my career. Besides being a better human than the rest of us, I’ll always owe him that.”
The outpouring of support might not seem groundbreaking considering Gasol was in L.A. for quite some time and accomplished so much during his stay -- namely two rings and three trips to the Finals -- but trust me, I’ve seen plenty of players come and go from the Lakers. This kind of response is rare.
Gasol wasn’t just the guy leading the team with nightly double-doubles; when a staffer brought his wife or girlfriend or family to a game he was the guy who would say hello, engage in a conversation or pose for a photo.
For everything that Bryant’s tremendous talents and undeniable will brought to the organization, Bryant was never that guy.
The two worked well together, however. Bryant made Gasol a better player, pushing and prodding him to spend more time in “Black Swan” mode, utilizing his skill set along with Bryant's own to create an unguardable tandem when they were clicking -- remember Game 2 of the 2009 Finals?
Gasol made Bryant a better teammate, coming to L.A. on the heels of Bryant’s most dominant individual run of his career and reminding him that he can’t do it all alone, even if Bryant was one of only two men to ever score 80-plus points in a game.
It led to a deep appreciation between the two. Bryant wrote the foreword to Gasol’s book that came out last fall, “Life/Vida,” and penned, “If I could choose my brother,” it would be Gasol. This was after Bryant’s initial response to Dwight Howard spurning L.A. for the Houston Rockets, when he posted a photo of him with his arm wrapped around the big Spaniard with the hashtags #vamos, #juntos, #lakercorazon and #vino.
Bryant has been quiet about the Gasol news thus far. Maybe he’s like the rest of us and trying to figure out exactly how Pau should be remembered for his time in the purple and gold.
Remember him for one game? That’s easy. His 19 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals will forever be cemented into Laker Lore (and the sheer magnitude of that Game 7 performance will forever overshadow his equally impressive 17-point, 13-rebound, 9-assist, 3-block masterpiece in a must-win Game 6 two nights before).
Remember him for one stat? The one that always stands out to me is the fact that after the Lakers acquired Gasol in February 2008, they played their next 225 games (regular season and playoffs combined) before losing three in a row. He automatically raised their standard of play.
Remember him for one reputation-building series? How about when the Lakers swept the Nuggets out of the first round in Gasol’s first playoffs with the team in 2008? He averaged 22.3 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.8 blocks in the four games after going 0-12 in the first dozen postseason games of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Remember him for one moment? For me it was talking to him about being recognized by the league as J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner following a shootaround back in May 2012 and seeing tears well up in his eyes as he spoke about his charitable efforts supporting children in third-world countries with malnutrition and no access to proper education.
"Every time that I visited, it's been an experience that stayed with me," Gasol said. "You always meet a patient or several patients that are very inspirational or get into you in a way that's shocking. So, every time there's a child, there's a family, there's several of them that are obviously facing a very tough situation, a very tough time in their lives and you're just there to contribute a little bit, make their day, get a smile out of them, inject them some strength, some energy so they can hopefully have a better chance. As much as you can do, nothing is really little. That's why I encourage everyone in their means to have an impact on somebody else's life.”
I’ll cover players who make game-winning shots again. I’ll cover players who turn in nightly double-doubles. I might even cover players who bring a championship back to L.A. in the future. But I’m certain when I say that I’ll never again cover a player so in tune with what matters in life that he tears up in a lavish gymnasium when taking a second to ponder the plight of others who are less fortunate.
That’s the true measure of the man.
The truth is, as sports writers we’re not always afforded the proper time or space to make sure that context is never lost on the reader.
Back in December, I criticized Gasol for not playing because of an upper respiratory infection when the Lakers went out and lost to a lowly Philadelphia 76ers squad.
I took plenty of flak for the piece, with readers chiming in and calling it a “hatchet job” and questioning my motives. Looking back at it, I stand by what I wrote -- Gasol could have played and he didn’t, and that’s not what guys like him get paid millions for -- but I suppose some context was lost in it all.
Gasol had been a true pro for years despite having his name twisting in the trade winds and seeing the Lakers hire coaches post-Phil Jackson who didn’t put him in situations in which he could truly succeed.
Everyone has the right to be fed up once in a while.
He tried to become re-engaged as the season wore on. Bryant revealed that Gasol was so mad after a loss to an 11-32 Orlando Magic team in January that he threw his shoes in the locker room during a postgame tirade.
The following month, after a 20-point loss to Indiana, Gasol said, "I don't think there's a lot of discipline right now.” Without naming names, he called out both coach Mike D’Antoni for not cracking down on selfish play and the freshly acquired Kent Bazemore for ignoring team play on a wild 8-for-19 shooting night.
You see, all of Gasol’s worldly interests don’t diminish his love for the game of basketball. But they do frame how he wants to see the game played.
Just as he strives to enrich the community around him, he seeks a basketball environment that is built on teamwork, sacrifice and pulling for the common good. Not one that purposely lessens the role of one player to appease the ego of another (as D’Antoni admitted to me that the Lakers did to Gasol when Howard was around). And not one that allows individual agendas to run amok as soon as wins become hard to come by.
He’s hoping he can get back to that in Chicago, joining a basketball purist in Tom Thibodeau and a roster, headlined by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, that has something to prove.
Gasol wrote a blog post on his personal website on Saturday explaining his decision. Unlike James, who was celebrated for going the personal essay route and ticked off the names of guys like Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao whom he would be playing with, Gasol didn’t mention any Bulls by name.
“While I take a new step in my career in the NBA, I have high hopes of playing with the Chicago Bulls and become an active person in the community of Chicago,” Gasol wrote, translating his Spanish words into English.
With Gasol, you know that those hopes are more like a promise.
The Lakers never really got a chance for a proper farewell with Gasol. He missed 12 of the final 13 games last season dealing with a bizarre bout of vertigo. There was no sentimental send-off at Staples Center after he played his last game, just merely Gasol, in street clothes, sticking around to sign autographs for fans following the home finale.
Little did anyone know it at the time, but the last game Gasol and Bryant would end up playing together as teammates was back on Dec. 17 in Memphis, a game in which Bryant fractured his left knee, ending his season prematurely.
Gasol scored 21 points, Bryant scored 21 points. Gasol played 33 minutes, Bryant played 33 minutes. Gasol had nine rebounds and three blocks, Bryant had four assists and a clutch 3-pointer down the stretch. L.A. ended up on top 96-92.
Gasol and Bryant finished as winners together.
How do you properly remember Gasol’s time in L.A.? Remember that.
The Lakers signed No. 7 pick Julius Randle to his rookie contract Sunday afternoon approximately an hour before L.A.’s summer league game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the team announced. The 19-year-old forward started the game against New Orleans.
Randle missed the Lakers’ summer league debut, an 88-78 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday, as L.A. management wanted to keep Randle’s salary off the books should they need the extra salary cap room to pursue free agents.
Randle was medically cleared to participate in the summer league shortly after the draft when he traveled to Indiana to have his right foot examined by a specialist.
In his lone collegiate season at Kentucky, Randle averaged 15.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 blocks in 30.8 minutes per game for the Wildcats.
L.A. can’t promise much basketball-wise at the moment. They are the only team in the league without a coach, for starters. They also only have six players who can be penciled into the lineup for next season. Two of them, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, are 19-year veterans coming off of injuries. Two of them, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall, are fringe rotation players. And two of them, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, are rookies.
At the present time, it would appear that the Lakers need Carmelo Anthony far more than Anthony needs the Lakers.
Well, the Lakers’ pitch would sound something like this: come to L.A. and be next in line to be the star of the league’s foremost glamour franchise. Things might look bleak right now, Melo, but not only do we have the ability to sign you (and your buddy LeBron James too, if The King is interested) right now, but we also have the flexibility moving forward to make a run at some of the premier guys around the league who will become free agents in the coming years.
Only that message won’t just be delivered by general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, it will be Bryant doing the convincing as well.
And that dynamic is what could prove to be the Lakers’ trump card. Bryant and Anthony have a genuine friendship stemming from their time with USA basketball. If Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley had the most star-powered friendship on the Dream Team, Bryant and Anthony filled that role on the Redeem Team when they experienced basketball nirvana together twice, taking home the gold in both Beijing and London.
Come help me get ring No. 6 and I’ll help you get ring No. 1, Bryant will say. Let’s pick our coach together, he’ll add. Heck, if you come, Pau Gasol will probably sign back on too, he’ll mention.
Bryant and Anthony got the best out of each other on those Olympic runs and could have a chance to replicate that chemistry in the NBA at a murky point in each of their careers. Bryant is coming off two major injuries. Anthony is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in his 11 seasons in the league.
They can try to conquer together if Anthony just says yes.
Anthony already owns an offseason home in L.A., so he’s quite familiar with the territory. And in a city that produces Hollywood stars and starlets, there is no bigger show in town than when the Lakers are rolling. Bryant wants to share that spotlight. And he wants to leave the franchise in the hands of someone he deems worthy when he does walk away, most likely in two years but perhaps in three or four if his body is feeling good and the team is looking like a contender.
Bryant and Anthony are both aware that basketball is a business, but it means something far greater for the two of them.
Let me push you to somewhere you’ve never been before, Bryant will say. I need you, he’ll add. If we come together, the rest of the pieces will fall in place, he’ll bargain.
Let’s experience basketball nirvana together again, Bryant will say.
He’s still far from being back 100 percent after physicians corrected a torn ligament in his left wrist and a bone bruise and abnormality of the meniscus in his right knee.
Henry said team doctors estimate it will take another five to six weeks of rehabilitation to get to that point, but he feels good about his progress nonetheless.
“I’m happy with that,” Henry said. “I’ve gone through this since April. I had my surgeries in April, so it’s been a long time. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I feel good.
“So I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. I’m all right.”
As well as he might feel, he is running at a reduced weight on the altered-gravity treadmill and has yet to graduate to on-court sprints. The left-handed Henry still is not using his left hand on the court.
“It’s doing great right now,” Henry said of his wrist. “It’s getting stronger and looser every day. That’s what I need it to do so I can get back to dribbling and being able to shoot and stuff.”
The plus side, of course, is being forced to work on his off-hand and round out his game.
“All right-hand stuff,” said Henry, who went through a variety of one-legged balancing activities and shot right-handed free throws with Lakers player development coach Larry Lewis on Friday. “I can’t do anything with my left. So I’ve been working on my right a lot this summer.”
His right knee, which he’s had problems with since high school, also is improving.
“It feels better,” Henry said. “It feels like I’m strengthening my leg the right way, so when I’m finally done with all the rehab I’ll feel good and I’ll feel explosive and feel fast, powerful, stuff like that. I like to play like that.”
Henry is set to become a free agent come July 1. Even though he’ll technically be under contract with the Lakers for less than two more weeks -- unless they re-sign him right when the free agency begins -- Henry believes the team will continue to guide him in his rehab.
Embiid, presumed to be the No. 1 pick for weeks after successfully recovering from a stress fracture in his back that cut his freshman season short, underwent surgery for another stress fracture in his right foot on Friday. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers’ plan at the top of the draft is anybody’s guess.
“I think it makes it a little bit less predictable,” said Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, brought in for a second workout with the Lakers, along with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton.
The trickle-down process already had begun, with Smart rushing out of the Lakers’ practice facility after the workout to catch a flight to Philadelphia to show his stuff for the 76ers. The Sixers have the No. 3 pick and seemingly had been high on Andrew Wiggins at that spot. But now that Wiggins could go No. 1 to Cleveland with Embiid’s injury potentially scaring the Cavs off, a whole host of possibilities are in play.
Smart isn’t the only one who could see his draft stock skyrocket with Embiid falling because of his foot. Gordon said there was “speculation” he could be heading to Philly to work out prior to next Thursday’s draft, as well.
Regardless of what happens with the six picks prior to L.A.’s selection on draft night, there’s a reason the Lakers brought in the group they did on Friday, which also included Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, former North Carolina turned D-League prospect P.J. Hairston and South Carolina State big man Matthew Hezekiah.
“Another great group of guys. So, the competitive level was at a high,” Smart said. He only has gone through two workouts with one other team, the Orlando Magic, which have the No. 4 pick.
While Gordon and Smart were considered to be top-10 talents ever since the lottery order was revealed last month, Payton has shot up the charts because of strong predraft workouts. He even secured an invite to the green room at the draft next week, which the league usually only extends to prospects it expects will go in the first 10 to 15 picks.
The 6-9, 250-pound 19-year-old said that he showed enough during the Wildcats’ run to the NCAA championship game -- averaging 15.0 points on 50 percent shooting and 10. 4 rebounds along the way -- that making him face off against other players just wasn’t necessary.
“There’s no reason for me to go up against anybody,” said Randle, who had 24 double-doubles in 40 games for Kentucky during his freshman season. “You’ve seen me all year. I think teams’ biggest thing is they want to see my skill and not see me banging (against other players). I had the longest college season out of anybody in the country.”
It’s an aspect of his game he rarely displayed in college -- he shot just 3-for-18 from 3-point range for the entire season -- and something he wants to prove he’s capable of doing at the next level.
“I’m very versatile as far as things I can do on both ends of the floor,” said Randle, when asked if he saw himself as more of a traditional back-to-the-basket big man or someone who will be able to spread the floor. “And I think I can play in many different styles. I don’t think there’s one style that’s going to fit me and what I’m going to do. I think teams are going to see my versatility and know that they can use me in many ways. Whatever way is best for the team.”
ESPN’s Chad Ford has Randle going No. 10 to Philadelphia in his latest Mock Draft 8.0. Randle was once considered a top-five pick, but a Yahoo! Sports report surfaced that Randle’s right foot may require surgery to replace a pin that was inserted after breaking the foot in high school.
“I met with the best foot doctor in the country and he said he wouldn’t do anything with my foot, so there’s no scheduled surgery or anything,” said Randle, adding that he would be ready to play in the summer league in July. “I feel healthy, athletic. I’m moving great. No problems recovering and I’m ready to go.”
Randle said he thought a team might have planted the story.
“I think a lot of it is coming from maybe some teams (whose) motive is maybe for me to fall in the draft to them, or certain teams may want me,” said Randle.
While Randle’s foot might not end up being a problem, his competition might end up being the bigger hurdle for him to clear before he can land in L.A.
The Lakers have another group workout planned Friday where they will invite back a pair of point guards in Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton for a second look. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who cancelled on the Lakers’ last group workout after initially being scheduled to appear, is also invited, along with several other undisclosed players.
One team source was particularly impressed by Smart, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com that his “tenacity was off the charts” at his first workout with the Lakers. Not to mention, Ford has the Lakers taking Smart at No. 7.
Whether the Lakers end up picking Smart, Randle, or somebody else, the team is leaning towards keeping their No. 7 pick rather than trading down in order to acquire multiple picks, according to a source with knowledge of their thinking.
While it’s widely believed that there is a gap in the talent available after Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker go off the board, the Lakers feel there is another gap between the player they have rated 10th versus who they have at 11th and below, so it’s not like they could flip their pick for say Phoenix’s No. 14 and No. 18 picks and still come out in with a player they are totally sold on.
Which brings us back to Randle. The guy certainly seems pro-ready. He played for a coach in John Calipari who runs NBA sets in college. Physically, he is extremely gifted, as he was measured for a 38-inch vertical leap during his Lakers workout (Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, another freshman big man the Lakers previously worked out, was measured as having a 37.5-inch vertical) and his body looks more sculpted than it did in college (Randle told reporters he’s dropped 5-10 pounds while putting on muscle at the same time).
And there is a certain star quality to him, which was on full display as he was surrounded by approximately 30 media members after his Lakers workout and was equally adept in taking on a league issue, flashing his big smile, showing confidence in his abilities (when asked to compare himself to the rest of the big men in the draft he said, “I feel like I’m the best one ... I don’t put myself second to anybody.”) or even spinning a yarn.
“The first time I went to a Lakers game I was probably in like sixth or eighth or seventh grade and I had courtside seats,” Randle recalled. “Kobe (Bryant) was warming up and I’m on the sideline and I’m going, ‘Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’ And he wouldn’t turn around. I guess he probably got annoyed with me. I go ‘Kobe!’ and he (slapped my hand). Then he just turned back around and started shooting. I mean, that was enough for me. I said I wasn’t washing my hand for a year.”
All these years later, he could be the one the Lakers end up hand-selecting.
ESPNLosAngeles.com had reported the Lakers planned to reach out to the Bulls for permission to interview the 2010-11 coach of the year.
Now, the Lakers have cooled on the idea of trying to get Thibodeau. And that request to the Bulls never happened.
Well, for starters, the Lakers are all but sure that Chicago will require that L.A. trades its No. 7 pick in the first round, if not more assets, to allow Thibodeau out of his contract that runs through the 2016-17 season.
With only three players under contract for next season and the draft considered to be loaded, the Lakers deem that too steep a price to pay.
Getting a good, young player on a relatively affordable rookie deal could end up doing wonders to fielding a competitive team, while maintaining the bulk of the Lakers’ cap space to pursue a veteran or two on the free-agent market in the coming summers.
Beyond that, even if the Lakers were willing to go down that road and part with a pick for Thibodeau, the only way they could get Thibodeau to bite at the idea of abandoning a team that has the reigning defensive player of the year in Joakim Noah and a bright young star, albeit an injury-prone one, in Derrick Rose, for an uncertain situation in L.A. would be to hand him a lavish contract.
And why would the Lakers want to be paying their coach $8 million to $10 million a year when privately they know they might not be a playoff team, let alone a championship contender next season?
The Lakers may already have done their homework and realized that if even if it has been well documented that Thibodeau and the Bulls’ brass don’t always see eye to eye, he isn’t necessarily looking to leave Chicago. The last thing the Lakers’ front office would want to do, considering how unpopular they are with the fan base in L.A. these days, would be to formally go after Thibodeau only to have their interest be rebuffed.
The Lakers aren’t the only team to be linked to Thibodeau this offseason, either. Grantland’s Bill Simmons reported the Memphis Grizzlies had visions of trading for Thibodeau, hoping to lure the coach with a .657 winning percentage in his four seasons on the Bulls’ sidelines to the Memphis gig by offering him additional power as team president.
Memphis ended up going in a different direction, of course, extending coach Dave Joerger’s contract after he went 50-32 in his first season with the team.
The Lakers, though, are still on the hunt to settle their coaching situation.
It was a mixed group. There were five one-and-done freshmen (Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Indiana's Noah Vonleh, UCLA's Zach LaVine, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Kentucky's James Young). There were four seniors (Creighton's Doug McDermott, Weber State's Davion Berry, Nevada's Jerry Evans and Pepperdine's Brendan Lane). There were three in-between (Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris and Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton). Seven were back-court players, five were were front-court players. They came from conferences as big as the ACC and as small as the WCC.
And they all had a story to tell of how they got here, on the precipice of realizing their NBA dream.
Below is a sampling of how the prospects answered the barrage of questions they faced from the media on Wednesday.
Q: Which current NBA player are you compared to the most?
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State: "Recently I heard the comparisons to Bradley Beal. Just what he did for the Wizards is just somebody in that type of mold that a lot of people have been saying."
Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton: "It’s a tough comparison, but I think guys like (Kyle) Korver, I’m really good at coming off screens. I’m a great shooter. I watch a lot of Ray Allen. Guys like that, I feel like I can really find a role in this league and be able to maximize that."
Elfrid Payton, PG, Lousiana-Lafayette: "I’ve been compared to (Rajon) Rondo, Tony Parker. Chris Paul how he kind of picks his spots, things like that, throughout the game. Those are a few I look up to."
Q: What are you trying to showcase during predraft workouts?
Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona: "Just the versatility. I can guard a plethora of different positions."
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse: "I tried to go out there and show I could defend another point guard, another top point guard, especially. I tried to shoot the ball and stick to my game. Making plays for others, seeing the floor and I think I was able to show that a little bit in the 2-on-2 and the 3-on-3 as well."
Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA: "I feel like I have all the tools to be a great defender at the 1 position. I have the speed, the quickness. I have to get stronger, of course. But learning how to read the picks -- going over or under them -- different type of defenses, off-ball defense as well. I’m willing to do anything a team needs to me to do. If they want me to go out there and just play straight defense, try to lock somebody up, I’ll do that. If they need me to be a cheerleader on the bench, I’ll do that. If they need me to run the team, I’ll do that as well. So, I’m going in to win a spot, I’m going in to play. But whatever happens, I’m going in to compete and have fun."
Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State: "I’m a playmaker. Not just on offense, but on defense. I’m a playmaker on both sides. That’s what makes me. I can shape a game on both ends."
James Young, SG, Kentucky: "That I can attack the basket. I didn’t do it a lot this season but I definitely try doing that every workout and just try showing people I can attack the basket."
Harris: "I just say my will to compete on both ends of the court. I’m going to give my all no matter what."
Vonleh: "Trying to show my versatility. Showing I can take guys off the dribble, I can finish above the rim, go to work in the post when I have a smaller guy on me. Just really show my versatility and show how I can rebound the ball."
Payton: "Getting into the paint. I like to live in the paint. I think it helps me and my teammates. If somebody steps up, I can drop it down. If somebody helps over, I can kick it to a shooter. And I think I have the ability to finish at the rim myself. So that’s kind of how my game is predicated."
Q: What's it like working out for an organization with as much history as the Lakers have?
Vonleh: "When I think of the Lakers, I think of a championship program. They didn’t have a good season the last couple years, but I think if they get the right pieces, they can definitely get back to that championship level."
Ennis: "The Lakers haven’t had a lottery pick in a long time so to be able to come in and work out here with this group is something I’ll remember forever."
LaVine: "I’m incredibly happy. I’m definitely keeping these (practice) jerseys right here. I might wear the shorts a lot, show everybody. I’ve always been a Laker fan growing up, ever since I was younger, I’ve lived and died with them. From Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, to when Kobe (Bryant) came in to where Kobe and them had that losing streak and then didn’t go to the playoffs (in 2005) to where they’re at now, I know everything about the Lakers."
Smart: "It’s crazy. It’s a great feeling. Not many people can say that they’ve been in the Staples Center or (the Toyota Sports Center) to see those (retired) jerseys in person. So, like I told everybody, it’s an honor to be here. I’m excited and I’m blessed."
McDermott: "It’s pretty crazy, man. This is a dream come true. It’s my first workout so, I was a little nervous to start. Especially it being the Lakers as your first one, but it went really well and it’s just a privilege to be here."
Gordon: "I went up and asked somebody, ‘Are those (championship trophies) real?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Everything is real around here.’ So I thought it was pretty interesting. It was pretty cool. Obviously L.A. is a very traditional program and it would be amazing to play here, but like I said, I’m just excited to get picked for any team."
Young: "It would mean a lot. I would love to play out here. Great offensive guys and I would love to be out here in L.A."
Q: What about the chance to play with Kobe Bryant?
Ennis: "I think everybody was (a Bryant fan growing up). You got to respect Kobe, definitely. I think to be able to work out alongside him and as a young player see him and how hard he works, I think that would help anybody, regardless of what position. I think work ethic is contagious and not just to have him, Steve Nash and all the guys, I think you have no reason not to get better."
LaVine: "It’s Kobe Bryant, man. I love his attitude. I love his work ethic. His killer demeanor. I looked up to him and Michael Jordan my whole life. I feel like a lot of people have. It would be a dream come true."
Gordon: "Kobe is psychotic about basketball and I am, too. That would just be absolutely incredible. Just playing with someone great. Just the little intracacies of the game. The details. I would love to see his work ethic. Kobe is the definition of a true pro, as well as Steve Nash is too. Just being around those two guys would help me tremendously."
Q: What do you still need to work on?
McDermott: "I think at the NBA (level), I have to be a lot bigger. I’m not going to grow any more so you definitely have to hit the weight room hard and that will allow me to guard a 4 at times. But you know, I played it in college. I guarded a lot of strong guys. So I think I can adjust once I get a little stronger, but as of now, I’m going to have to guard the 3, possibly some 2s, and I think I can do it."
Smart: "I’m still working on becoming a more consistent shooter. My jump shot is getting better day by day and it’s improved drastically. But I’m still working on it."
Harris: "Everything. Being more consistent with my shot. Working on my ball handling. Working on my decision-making skills. Just improving my all-around game, just trying to get better to just prepare myself for the next level."
LaVine: "I've just been working on my reads off the pick-and-roll, if it’s an (isolation play), go down, looking at the tag defender. If it’s a zone defense, split the screen with the right pass to make. Just getting a feel for it. I pretty much didn’t handle the ball that much this last year, so just getting all my ball handling and my vision back. And running a team is the most important part. Making the right decisions."
BEST OF THE REST
While the group of players were asked many of the same questions, there were some unique questions and answers that were either revealing, entertaining or both.
Ennis on how the workout went: "I think we all came out here and showed what we can do. It’s going to be a tough pick for them."
LaVine on his late-season struggles with the Bruins: "It’s a long season. You have ups and downs. I started off the season really hot, shooting about 60 percent from the 3 and 70 percent from the field and that’s not going to happen as a regular basketball player throughout your whole season. You know that. It’s like a baseball player who is hitting .700. You’re going to come down to earth eventually and you just keep rolling from there."
Harris on the difference between the NCAA and the NBA: "I’ve talked to a lot of guys and they just said the strength and the pace of it. They say it may not look like it’s going fast from the stands or TV, but it actually goes pretty fast and things happen quickly. Just getting adjusted. Everybody has that adjustment level right when they get to college and there’s going to be an adjustment level going into the NBA."
Smart on Lakers fans reaching out on social media: "I’m on Twitter every day. It’s crazy how many fans the Lakers have. They’re excited. They keep saying, “Lakers ... Marcus Smart. Lakers ... We need him here. Laker Land this. Laker Land that. We need Marcus in Laker Land.” So, it’s been an exciting process for me altogether."
McDermott on being a senior among so many freshman prospects: "It’s pretty crazy. I couldn’t imagine being 19, 18 some of these guys, going through this process. I feel like I’m still a young guy, but I’m three years older than them. So it’s pretty crazy. I like to give guys like that advice, too. Obviously these are all good guys and they’re all open to listen to older guys."
Payton on playing with a chip on his shoulder because he comes from a small school: "It’s a little chip. You’re always supposed to have a chip on your shoulder. I always play with a chip on my shoulder, but none of us are no longer in school anymore so we’re all on the same level field."
Young on if John Calipari will leave UK for the Lakers: "I feel like he’ll stay there. He’s doing great there and he’s just doing great for the program."
Gordon on what makes him tick: "What makes me tick? I don’t know man. I did a workout before this. This wasn’t my first workout of the day."
Season recap: Farmar has had an interesting basketball journey since leaving the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 2010. First, there were two seasons spent with the Nets, during which he ended up backing up Devin Harris and, later, Deron Williams, even though a big reason he left L.A. in the first place was to avoid being behind Derek Fisher in the rotation. Then there were stints overseas in Israel and Turkey. The native Angeleno left millions in guaranteed money from his Turkish team, Anadolu Efes, on the table to return home last summer and accepted the veteran’s minimum from the Lakers. He has showed great growth and maturity since his first run with the team, taking on the role of a vocal leader. His game has improved as well, as he has become one of the most reliable 3-point shooters in the league (43.8 percent). However, a persistent right groin injury caused Farmar to miss half the season (41 games).
Sacramento Kings in late February, scoring 30 points while shooting 8-for-10 from 3 and also dishing out the ball for seven assists. Not to mention, he did all that in just 29 minutes of playing time.
Season lowlight: Tears in his right hamstring caused Farmar to miss stretches of 10 games, 16 games, four games and 11 games as the season wore on. He’d probably also want a do-over on the Lakers’ Christmas Day game against the Miami Heat, in which he went 1-for-7 from the field with four turnovers.
Final grade: B-
Notes: The Lakers’ point guard position was cursed this past season. Not only did Farmar miss half the season, but also Steve Nash managed to play just 15 games, Steve Blake dealt with multiple injuries before being traded and Kobe Bryant, Kent Bazemore and Xavier Henry -- who all played out of position to fill in at the point when nobody was available -- had injury problems of their own. General manager Mitch Kupchak took the blame for the injury epidemic late in the season, admitting he might have mismanaged the roster last summer and failed to bring in enough insurance to cover L.A.’s bases.
Quotable: "I’m pretty confident. This is a business, and we need to approach it as such. I love Los Angeles. I love this organization and the fans. This is definitely where my heart is." -- Farmar said after his exit interview.
What's next?: Farmar made it clear that he didn’t make a financial sacrifice to leave Turkey for just one season with his former team. The Lakers should have plenty of money available this summer to give Farmar a raise and keep him around, but there are some questions surrounding the decision. Is Farmar ready to be a full-time starter if Nash is injured again next season? Is Farmar’s body type too fragile to withstand the demands of an 82-game grind? Would L.A. be better off using its first-round draft pick on a point guard, such as Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, rather than making a big commitment to Farmar?
As in, the Lakers have a 21.5 percent chance of vaulting up to one of the top three spots in next month's draft, and Worthy -- the franchise's last No. 1 overall pick back in 1982 -- will be representing the team when they find out their fate at the lottery.
The Lakers finished with the sixth-worst record in the league last season at 27-55. They have a 43.99 percent chance of ending up with the No. 6 pick and a 30.44 percent chance of getting No. 7. The more remote possibilities are moving up (6.3 percent chance at No. 1, 7.1 percent at No. 2, 8.1 percent at No. 3) or dropping even further (3.96 percent chance at No. 8, 0.1 percent at No. 9).
Worthy caught up with ESPNLosAngeles.com to discuss luck and the state of the franchise, while also offering his endorsement on whom should be the next coach of the Lakers:
What was the genesis behind you being the representative for the team? You were the last No. 1 draft pick by the Lakers, and that is an obvious part of your story, but maybe it could have been Jeanie Buss in that role. Maybe it could have been Jim Buss. How did it come about?
"Well, I got a call. I got a call from [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak and [Lakers vice president of public relations] John Black, and I’m not sure what the process was before that. I don’t know whether Jeanie just didn’t feel like going, or Jim, or one of the Buss children. I don’t even know if they asked Kobe [Bryant]. I don’t know that.
"But, when I got the call, Mitch kind of joked around and said he had heard me on a telecast saying we were overdue for a really high pick and he asked me if I would represent the Lakers at the lottery. So I felt honored, being an old-time Laker from that '80s era. Hopefully we'll bring some of that magical, mystical luck and get us to a good pick. I’m feeling good about it."
"Well, the piece I'm still looking for is Bill Sharman. Bill Sharman was very instrumental in making the trade that brought me to Los Angeles, so I’m looking for [a bobblehead doll of] him. And Chick Hearn was at the draft in 1982 when I was drafted. Chick Hearn was there representing the Lakers. So I'd like to have three bobbleheads up there –- Chick Hearn, if I can get Bill Sharman and then Dr. [Jerry] Buss. Hopefully that will be enough to get us a top-3 pick."
What’s your opinion on how important this draft is going to be or how important this pick is going to be for the Lakers, considering where the franchise stands right now?
"I don't think they're looking for a quick fix. I don't think that’s what they're looking for. I think most teams kind of look at new-coming rookies as a projection. Something they can grow in the future, two to three years. I think that’s what they'll be looking for. There used to be a time when you looked for a certain position, or centers were available back then –- the Ralph Sampson days, those kind of things –- but I think the way the game is evolved is talented players are [defined by] talent, athleticism.
"I haven't talked to Mitch about anything about what they're going to pick, but based on what I've seen in the league the last 10 years, I think that’s what they're looking for: The best pick that’s going to fit their unit."
Another Laker legend, Jerry West, who we know for his irascible-type personality, once told me at the 2006 draft lottery that he doesn’t really like the event because it’s a “celebration of losers.” Is there any sense of this being below the Lakers’ standard to be involved in this?
"[Laughing] You know, I'm certainly not going to argue with Jerry West. He’s the king of lottery drafts and precision. But, yeah, it’s unfortunate. The Lakers don’t like to be in this situation. We’d like to be where we used to be in the past and being a top team, or one of the top three teams. So, it’s unfortunate that we’ve found ourselves here. It’s not something we’re used to. But I look back over the last three to four years. We thought we had Chris Paul and didn’t get him. That was very unfortunate. We get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and we only have a plethora of injuries. Then we lose Dwight Howard, when we were thinking of him as the future-of-the-franchise type of player. And now we have only three players coming back under contract [for next season].
"So, it’s unfortunate, but this is where we are. There’s really no shame. We just have to deal with it and get back the brand that we're accustomed to, and this is part of the process. It’s unfortunate, but I think we're happy to be where we are. I don’t think we’re happy to be where we are, but we’ll utilize the situation the best we can to get us back where we want to be."
What’s your opinion on the various reports out there that the Lakers would be open to trading the pick? Should you bring them luck, you move up into the top 3 and suddenly you could maybe deal it for an established veteran. For instance, Kevin Love. What do you think about going that route?
"For all of my NBA career and for what I’ve seen since then, that’s an option. That’s an option that’s very feasible, and if you can get the right pick, you can use it for your team or you can use it to get some players or trade that. Knowing Mitch, he’s extremely methodical and he’s going to weigh all the scenarios and I’m sure if it makes sense to trade the pick, I’m sure that’s one of the plays in his playbook. Like I said, I haven't had any conversation with him about it, but just from my experience in what I've seen, it’s possible."
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the market to hire the 25th head coach in franchise history, and now, several weeks after the job became available, it seems as if there are 25 candidates to fill the position.
The Lakers have still not reached out to any of the names they are considering, according to a team source familiar with the coaching search. They are expected to commence a preliminary round of phone interviews soon, but will not schedule any sit-down sessions until later in the month.
As the clock keeps ticking since Mike D’Antoni resigned April 30, three pertinent questions spring to mind:
1. What should the Lakers be looking for in their next coach?
2. Who are the Lakers considering?
3. What is taking so long?
We’ll start in reverse order.
While it’s natural to assume the Lakers should have a sense of urgency about finding their coach -- particularly as other jobs open up around the league (Golden State, New York, Utah, Minnesota and, presumably, Detroit) -- the Lakers are in something resembling a high-stakes game of Texas hold ‘em.
They know what cards they’re holding: two aging future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash under contract for close to $34 million for next season; a significant chunk of cap space beyond that; and, of course, the intangible asset of calling Southern California home -- plus a prestigious résumé as one of the most storied franchises in the league.
The draft lottery
What they’re waiting for is the flop. In this case, the information that will determine how they play their hand will come May 20, when the NBA conducts the draft lottery in Times Square.
The Lakers’ 27-55 record was sixth worst in the league this season, thus giving them a 43.9 percent chance of ending up with the No. 6 pick. But in the lottery system, it’s a crapshoot. The Lakers have a 6.3 percent chance of ending up with the No. 1 pick and a 21.5 percent chance of ending up in the top three. Then again, they have a 34.6 percent chance of picking somewhere in the Nos. 7-9 range, worse than their finishing slot.
In a New York minute, everything can change, as they say. The Lakers are hoping for a little luck on their side when they send the last No. 1 overall pick in team history, James Worthy, to New York to represent them for the night.
Whichever draft tier they ultimately find themselves in -- picks Nos. 1-3, standing pat at No. 6 (they are ineligible to move up to 4-5 in the current system) or falling to 7-9 -- could lead the franchise in drastically different directions on its coaching quest.
Let’s say they luck out and catapult into the top three. The Lakers will find themselves in a win-win situation. On one side of this coin, they believe that one of the top prospects -- Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, etc. -- will be an immediate franchise-changer, a player they can bring into the program to learn from Bryant for a couple of seasons before he takes the reins alongside whichever max-level free agent they bring in over the next two summers. On the other, they find another team that believes there is transformative talent available at the top of this draft and trade the pick.
Both are enviable positions for the Lakers to find themselves in, but they are the starting points for vastly divergent paths. If they use their top pick on a player they think can lead the team for years, then the coaching hire will surely be expected to cater to that prospect’s strengths as his top priority. While the sun and moon in the Lakers’ universe have revolved around Bryant for nearly the past two decades, developing that young player would suddenly become an even more important task for the franchise than protecting Bryant’s legacy as he plays out the final two years of his contract for $48.5 million.
If the Lakers trade the pick for an established veteran such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love, for instance, it puts the franchise on a totally different trajectory. Suddenly, by pairing Bryant with another star in his prime, the Lakers are theoretically back to being a factor right away, even in the stacked Western Conference.
Let’s say the pick ends up being worse than they were hoping for, in the Nos. 7-9 range. Maybe they fall in love with a prospect and take him at that spot, but maybe the pick is expendable. And while a selection that late in the draft surely wouldn’t be enough to land a vet like Love, it might be enough to convince the Chicago Bulls to let Tom Thibodeau out of his contract to coach the Lakers.
The opt-out options
If the draft lotto is the flop, then seeing which players choose to opt out of their current contracts and test free agency come July 1 represents the turn in this big poker game.
Why hire a coach in June if it develops come July that LeBron James is looking to leave Miami? Why commit prematurely to a coach -- and, subsequently, a certain style of play -- and potentially shut yourself out from consideration by James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and others when it comes time to decide on their futures?
That's another major variable the Lakers are weighing. When it comes to landing a marquee free agent, you want any edge you can garner over the other teams competing for his services. The Lakers could be in a position where they can tell James or whomever else they target, “Not only do we want you, but we want you so much we’ll let you help pick who is going to be your coach.” For some players, that could be a major incentive.
With all that in mind, it should offer some clarity as to why the Lakers’ candidate pool is so deep at this point.
They have different coaches in mind who would be specific fits for every different direction they could end up heading in.
If they are going to be a rebuilding team, why not take a chance on a younger coach who can grow with those young players? It worked in Phoenix this season with first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek. Why not hire Kevin Ollie, fresh off taking Connecticut to a surprise NCAA title, to lead that transition and cut his teeth in the league without the pressure to win every night? Or maybe Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder becomes that guy. Or Derek Fisher should he retire from playing after the Oklahoma City Thunder finish their current playoff run.
Veteran coaches who are looking for work, like Lionel Hollins, George Karl and Mike Dunleavy, have all expressed interest, but they are at points where they have little leverage. They would take the Lakers job whether they end up with the No. 1 pick or the No. 9 pick; whether Los Angeles signed a big-name free agent or held onto its cap space for the summer of 2015; whether Nash and Bryant were healthy or they were going to continue to struggle with injuries.
But making moves to become a more veteran-laden squad could coax Jeff Van Gundy or Stan Van Gundy to leave their broadcast jobs. Equipping their team to be competitive right away next season could get Thibodeau to tell Chicago to listen to the Lakers’ pitch. Bringing in guys who already know how to win could convince Mark Jackson to come on board. Going that route could get John Calipari to consider leaving his ready-made gig at Kentucky. It might even get Steve Kerr, who seems to have his pick between the Knicks and the Warriors at the moment, to want to don the purple and gold.
All of the names mentioned above have surely already been bandied about by the Lakers’ front office. Throw in Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Ettore Messina, Roy Williams and Larry Brown. There are others, undoubtedly.
The Lakers just don’t have enough information at this point to start eliminating any, nor do they really have enough to rank names properly, either.
Which brings us back to the first question: What should the Lakers be looking for in their next head coach?
There are three job requirements that he must be able to handle, no matter what happens in the lottery or in free agency. First and foremost, he must have a clear vision defensively. Seeing the video-game-like numbers opponents put up against the Lakers this season -- including that terrible stretch when they gave up an unthinkable 408 points over three non-overtime games -- convinced Lakers execs they have to go back to a coach who will make it a priority.
The Kobe factor
Second, the coach must be able to coexist with Bryant. The Bryant-D’Antoni relationship deteriorated to the point where the pair barely spoke by the end of their tenure together. Even in D’Antoni’s first season in L.A., when the Lakers still managed to win 28 of their final 40 games to make the playoffs, there was conflict.
Bryant would often use the Lakers’ shootaround time to receive treatment in the training room. When D’Antoni thought this was causing a disconnect between Bryant and his teammates, the coach asked the star guard to change his routine, according to a league source. As a compromise, Bryant still often used shootaround for treatment, only he had the training table brought out next to the practice court so he was physically present, technically, during the sessions. After playing such a long time at an elite level, it was understandable for Bryant to need extra time to get his body ready, but it led to occasions on the court where the team would be executing one way based on adjustments made during shootaround that morning -- and Bryant would be executing another.
With the financial commitment the Lakers have made to Bryant and the clout he has in both the locker room -- several of Bryant’s younger teammates grew up idolizing him the way that he grew up idolizing Michael Jordan -- and with the fans in Los Angeles, to whom he has helped deliver five championships, the coach must have a rapport with Bryant if the team is going to have any chance at real success.
Bryant won't necessarily be best friends with whomever gets put on the sidelines next to him -- he even famously clashed with Phil Jackson at times -- but will buy in if he is convinced the coach is capable.
So the fact that Bryant, as a rookie, was teammates with Scott and has been in contact with him in recent weeks, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN the Magazine, cannot be understated. Then again, he has relationships with many of the other coaches mentioned above, from Thibodeau (who was an assistant with Philadelphia when a high school-aged Bryant used to practice with the 76ers) to Rambis, Snyder and Messina (who all have coached him in L.A.) to Fisher, of course, a fellow rookie on that 1996 Lakers squad.
Third, the coach had better be just as astute at recruiting as he is with X’s and O’s. With the restrictive nature of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement preventing the Lakers from going over the luxury tax as willingly as they did in the past, having a coach who attracts top talent can be a workaround. The best players in basketball generally go on to win championships. Teams like the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks or 2003-04 Detroit Pistons that win as a collective are much more rare than James and the Heat, or Bryant and the Lakers, or Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs stacking titles because they have the best individual talent on the court.
With that said, if whomever the Lakers choose arrives with the promise of getting one of those top-tier players to join him in L.A. down the line, it makes that candidate all the more attractive. Scott is a nice coach and all, but Scott plus Kyrie Irving is a pretty package. Same goes for Calipari if he can leverage his relationship with James, or Ollie or Fisher if they can sway Kevin Durant to head West.
The chips are down in the Lakers' coaching search. The stakes are high. But don't expect to spot any tell signs until the draft lottery May 20. And even at that point, there could still be a lot more poker to play before the hand is decided.
You wouldn't know it from talking to Mike D'Antoni after the game. The coach stood in the cramped AT&T Center hallway outside the visitor's locker room looking as glum as Eeyore, sounding as beaten as an old rug.
It was beautiful basketball, a real life interpretation of the vision how D'Antoni believes the game is meant to be played.
And it cloaked D'Antoni in melancholy as it played out, making him wonder if this would be it for him. Maybe he should take it in one last time, make like Walter White as he revels in the perfect functionality of his lab equipment in his final moments.
It's no secret that his coaching seat has gotten mighty warm in the last couple of months. From the Lakers stumbling to a 27-55 record, the worst season in the history of the franchise since the team moved from Minneapolis to L.A., to Kobe Bryant -- whose relationship with the coach has deteriorated to the point where the two rarely speak to each another -- openly questioning whether D'Antoni should be retained or not, it wouldn't shock anyone if the Lakers showed him the door as they go into one of the most important summers they've ever had.
Yes, the Lakers owe D'Antoni $4 million for next season and yes, several Lakers players -- Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Kent Bazemore, even Jordan Hill -- had career years playing in his system.
But sometimes there needs to be a scapegoat, and in a league that saw 12 of its head coaches fired last season -- including several who led their teams to the playoffs -- the coach is usually the one to go.