No timetable for Lakers' coach search
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Phil Jackson made his final remarks with a Los Angeles Lakers backdrop hung behind him and after he got up and walked out of the Lakers' press room Wednesday, you couldn't help but notice the empty chair he left behind.
The question is: Who is going to fill it?
Even though Jackson joked that he didn't hand in an official resignation letter, the search for the Lakers' next head coach has officially begun.
"Our foreseeable future will be to discuss opportunities and our new coaching staff with ownership in the weeks to come," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, the last team representative to speak to the media Wednesday after two full days of exit interviews.
Now he'll switch to entrance interviews to determine who will become the 22nd head coach in the history of the franchise.
"We'd like to be deliberate," Kupchak said. "In Los Angeles, typically we hire coaches and they stick with us for a long time and hopefully win championships. So we'll take our time in making that decision."
Kupchak said the team doesn't have a timetable to fill the position and he will meet with owner Dr. Jerry Buss and Lakers vice president of player personnel Jim Buss in the coming weeks.
It would be prudent for the Lakers to find their guy in advance of the draft on June 23 so that any moves the team would make via trade that day could be with the new coach's style in mind. If not by June 23, then certainly by June 30 because if there is a work stoppage when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on July 1, the new coach might not be able to lawfully contact the players on the roster until the lockout is lifted.
Kupchak would not explicitly comment on how a potential lockout could affect the search, but he said it doesn't change anything. The Lakers franchise and Jackson were fined $75,000 apiece for the coach's referencing the lockout last month.
"We're probably not going to handle the hiring of our new coach this season any different than we would have done two, three, four, five years ago," Kupchak said.
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The last time the Lakers replaced Jackson in 2004, they went outside the organization to hire longtime Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, but they could stay in-house this time around considering the team has won an average of 59 games a season and two championships in the past four years with continuity on the bench behind Jackson.
"Obviously we'll look to our current staff," Kupchak said. "I don't want to get into naming names, although I'm sure everybody knows who may or may not be a candidate. I have not gotten to that point with ownership yet, but I anticipate that there would be a candidate or two from our existing staff."
The candidates he speaks of are Brian Shaw, 45, who has been an assistant coach with the Lakers since 2004 and played for the franchise from 1999 to 2003 and Chuck Person, 46, who joined the staff last season after retiring in 2000 and serving as an assistant with Cleveland, Indiana and Sacramento.
"He's very familiar with all of us and how we like to be coached," said Kobe Bryant when asked about Shaw. Bryant is one of three Lakers players along with co-captain Derek Fisher and teammate Luke Walton to go on record endorsing Shaw for the job. "He communicates very well. One thing about Brian, he shoots from the hip. So, he tells what he expects from you, you're very clear in what your role is on the team and I think that helps."
Shaw's strength is the triangle offense; he has played in it and coached it for years. He has a long and strong relationship with Bryant, who is still the most important player in the Lakers' future as the team owes him $83.5 million over the next three seasons.
Person's strength is defense, as he was named the unofficial defensive coordinator of the team this season when the Lakers allowed the lowest points per game average (95.4) and opponent's field goal percentage (43.7) they had since their championship-winning 2001-02 season when they allowed 94.1 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting by opponents. He also has a good rapport with Bryant and has also been instrumental in Andrew Bynum's development, formatting the defense to show off the 23-year-old center's strength in rebounding and shot-blocking.
Without specifically mentioning Person on Wednesday, Bryant placed emphasis on the importance of the Lakers' next coach in being attuned to defense.
"If you're building a championship team, the DNA always has to start on the defensive end of the floor," Bryant said. "Always. I'm a firm believer in that. I don't believe in building a championship team on offense. It has to be built on defense and rebounding. Period."
Should Lakers management keep its current group of players, then Shaw and the triangle offense would seem to be a natural fit, but Jackson pointed out there are other instinct-oriented offenses out there that have similarities to the triangle.
"There are a lot of systems that are very similar to ours in this game that go by keys and go by passes instead of coaches running up and down the sidelines, calling all the plays," Jackson said. "So, there are other coaches in this league that have systems that work by sequences. I think that they understand that that's an important aspect of basketball, and I would be surprised if the next coach didn't have those kind of philosophies that I have."
One coach who runs a similar system to Jackson is Rick Adelman, who was let go by the Rockets at the end of the season. Adelman, who turns 65 in June, has a career winning percentage of .605 in 20 seasons with Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Houston and reached the Finals twice with the Trail Blazers in 1990 and 1992. He also has experience coaching Ron Artest from Artest's stints with the Kings and Rockets.
Other viable candidates who are available include Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and Jeff Van Gundy as well as coaches who are currently employed in Kurt Rambis (Minnesota), Byron Scott (Cleveland), Doc Rivers (Boston), Nate McMillan (Portland) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University).
If neither Shaw nor Person gets the Lakers job, they are both being considered as prospects for other openings around the league. Houston asked Lakers management for permission to speak to Shaw before the start of the second round and Golden State recently asked permission to speak to Person to fill their vacancy.
While the two assistants have familiarity on their side, both Shaw and Person are lacking head-coaching experience, and Kupchak and the Lakers' brass are seeking a coach while expecting a championship next season.
"We think this team can still win, so we're going to get a coach that we think can help us contend for championships in the foreseeable future," Kupchak said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.