The Lakers will begin a national search to fill the team’s head-coaching vacancy after firing Mike Brown on Friday.
One of those candidates will explain former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. In a press conference at the Lakers’ facility, Kupchak said the Lakers have yet to reach out to any possible candidates.
“When there’s a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all time greats and he’s not coaching, you’d be negligent not to be aware that he’s out there,” Kupchak said. “As I mentioned earlier, we’re putting together our list and attack plan. We have not reached out to anybody at this time.”
Jackson won six of his 11 NBA championships in two separate coaching stints (1999-2004, 2006-2011). Jackson currently lives in Los Angeles during the NBA season with his longtime companion, Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president of business operations. Jackson is also said to be in much better health on his knees and hips and rejuvenated after spending the past NBA season in retirement. Still, Jackson had said during his last season that he had no interest in experiencing the grind of an NBA season.
In the short term, Lakers assistant Bernie Bickerstaff will serve as the team’s interim coach, while the rest of the assistants will stay put. That includes Eddie Jordan, Darvin Ham and Chuck Person. Kupchak said he talked with Bickerstaff between 30-45 minutes explaining the strong possibility the promotion is only temporary.
“If we don’t get the coach and we want and Bernie is doing a great job, crazy things happen in this league,” Kupchak said. “But I think going into it and the way I explained it to him, that’s not the plan. But it’s certainly a possibility.”
Instead, the Lakers are aiming to look elsewhere as Kupchak said, “the sooner, the better.” Kupchak said he won’t require “championship experience.” He conceded there’s a remote possibility the candidates would be NBA assistant coaches. When asked if players would be consulted about the hire, Kupchak said “maybe.” No players, including Kobe Bryant, were consulted about Brown’s hiring May, 2011.
Some candidates could include former Utah coach Jerry Sloan, former Portland coach Nate McMillan, former Lakers assistant and current Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and former Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni.
Because of Jackson’s strong experience with the Lakers, Kupchak wouldn’t rule out his third return. Consider Kupchak’s revelation on whether the Lakers would ever run the triangle offense again that Jackson implemented.
“I don’t anticipate the team playing in the triangle tonight,” Kupchak said. “There’s only a couple coaches in the league that teach the triangle. Bernie Bickerstaff will stick with some of what Mike has implement and some of his own stuff. I don’t think you’ll see the triangle tonight or Sunday night.”
What about after that?
Said Kupchak: “It depends on the coach.”
The Lakers hired Brown May, 2011 following Jackson’s retirement, walking away impressed from his job interview with his meticulous work ethic, defensive background and ability to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 272-138 record, 2009 NBA Coach of the Year, an NBA Finals appearance and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances before getting fired after the 2009-10 season.
But Kupchak said the Lakers’ 1-4 record and a lack of consistency prompted him, owner Jerry Buss and executive Jim Buss to discuss Brown’s firing Thursday afternoon through Friday morning. Kupchak also conceded the Lakers’ 0-8 preseason record and the flameout in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals contributed to the firing. Still, Kupchak said Brown “earned a free pass” in his first season because of the lockout shortened year, the nixed Chris Paul trade, the loss of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol “feeling scarred for the whole year” over persisting trade rumors.
The Lakers weren’t as patient this time around.
Other mitigating circumstances contributed to the Lakers’ poor start. Injuries to Bryant (right foot), Nash (fracture in left leg) and Howard (surgically repaired back) limited the starting lineup to only one preseason appearance and two regular-season games. The Lakers publicly acknowledged a learning curve in the revamped offense that included elements of the Princeton system, resulting in faring 14th overall in points per game (97.2). The Lakers’ defense, Brown’s biggest strength,
“It’s hard to say and sit here and predict how this season would’ve turned out if he had a full season,” Kupchak said. “It could’ve turned out just fine. But we were not willing to take that chance.”
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