Head coaching in the NBA is becoming the most unsafe job in sports.
Even in the NFL, which normally includes more frequent roster changes and impatient owners compared to basketball, is keeping head coaching positions intact. Unless you’re deplorable for a number of years with different personnel to work with. Then, it becomes a “you problem.”
The Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the two teams in the NBA that’s been a nightmare to cover, all while being an hilarious joy. Ironically enough, the other has been the New York Knicks, ran by a President of Basketball Operations that’s extremely close to the Buss Family.
Coaching the Lakers — since Phil Jackson‘s departure — has been a cup of tea nobody wants to pour. Mike Brown, hired after the 2011 Playoff disaster, had one surprising season by coaching Los Angeles to a three seed in the back-breaking Western Conference. Then, he was fired faster than any coach in my lifetime — just five games into the 2012-13 season when the Dwight Howard experiment went awry.
Mike D’Antoni was the other culprit that sent the Lakers south. Actually, that can be attributed to Jim Buss, who hired a guy that doesn’t take a ton of pride in defense. The roster the Lakers have been forced to deal with for the past two seasons has been entertaining. Unfortunately, entertaining doesn’t always refer to winning.
Two coaches, two departures in the last two seasons.
It’s time to test out a new face, one that shares similar philosophies to the superstar Los Angeles has for two more seasons (at least).
Enter, Derek Fisher.
Finishing up his season with a bitter loss in the Conference Finals, Fisher is about to turn 40 years old, with his playing time coming to an end. Accepting his bench role with pride in Oklahoma City, Fisher was the only veteran leader the Thunder had on hand before Caron Butler came along later in the year. Kevin Durant has praised Fisher throughout the 19-year veteran’s tenure with the team. Upon receiving his MVP trophy, Durant discussed how each and every time he wanted to hit the gym and grind at work late in the night, Fisher was the one he’d call.
Still to this day, Fisher wants to learn the game of basketball. In playing on different teams, with varying schemes and talents, he hopes to learn just a bit more than he knew the day before.
Fisher’s classiness has topped the league since he entered in 1996, and he’s been among the top five in terms of hardest working individuals. His career numbers aren’t going to mirror those of LeBron James, with averages of just 8.3 points, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 rebounds per game with 40 percent shooting. However, it’s his leadership that’s made him a joy for anyone to work next to.
Nobody is more aware of this than his best friend, Kobe Bryant.
They entered the league together in 1996, and have won more titles together than any other duo left in the game. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have won three titles together (with Duncan having four total). Bryant and Fisher’s five rings are more than just accolades you put on a shelf. They all carry a journey, and more importantly, reasons why the two can work together as a head coach-superstar tandem.
During his exit interview, Fisher was exposed to questions regarding a coaching future with Bryant.
“I hadn’t thought about that much,” Fisher said. “But when you’re brothers, you’re brothers, regardless of what capacity it’s in. If something like that were to happen, we’re brothers so we’ll figure it out.”
Think about it.
Bryant just signed a 2-year, $48.5 million deal in the fall — one that he got thrashed for. Unless he signs another one-year deal when this contract expires, his time in Los Angeles will come to a close, and it will be time for the Lakers to move on. Fisher and Bryant could work together for two years, and it would be the coach Bryant would love to end his career under.
Yes, Fisher would be a first-year coach similar to Jason Kidd. Yes, he would have to start from scratch with a roster that’s unclear at this point. With only five guys under contract and Nick Young not even guaranteeing he’ll opt to stay, management would have to do Fisher a few favors first.
The Lakers have no front court talent worthy of an All-Star team, and it would undeniably be a rough year for any coach that takes the job. Kevin Love is still on the table, but Minnesota’s Flip Saunders is content with making him suffer through one more year of torture without a playoff appearance.
One man Bryant hopes the team re-signs is Pau Gasol, and you’re going to tell me a name such as Derek Fisher wouldn’t intrigue the Spaniard to return? Memphis is sounding like the perfect destination for Gasol heading into free agency, but having played with Fisher from 2008-2012 would entice him to come back because he’ll know he’ll be used to right way.
D’Antoni didn’t know how to utilize a 7-foot big of Gasol’s caliber that loved the proper mix of post play and mid-range shooting. For the most part of 2012-13, he wanted Gasol along the perimeter, and it caused friction.
Fisher is a realist, and he’s not anything compared to the 60+ year old guys hellbent on doing things one way, and sticking to old-fashioned methods.
It would be a harder test for him than it was for Kidd, who already had 35 combined All-Star appearances in his starting lineup when he took the Brooklyn Nets job.
At the surface, Fisher is a better motivator than Kidd, but their basketball minds are probably parallel. Kidd gets credit as one of the top four point guards in history, and has a better feel of what it’s like to be great at his position.
Coaching is a different matter. It’s about experiences, adjustments, and getting guys on the same page.
If the pieces are there and Los Angeles is able to get a solid unit with Bryant, a post player, a reliable point guard, and consistent shooters, the triangle offense is an option Fisher could implement. Remember, Phil Jackson is also going to be chasing Fisher down, so it’ll likely come to Fisher having his own version of LeBron’s “Decision.” It sure has that same feel with all these head coaching vacancies opening up. The triangle offense is a tricky myth that nobody has been able to master in the NBA other than Jackson and Tex Winter, and Bryant is still very fond of it. The premise of the offense Los Angeles ran with Fisher four years ago can be found here.
Throw another perspective on the discussion.
In the Western Conference, it takes an arm and a leg to reach the Playoffs. Even with Bryant back in the mode we know he’s aiming for (27 or 28 points per game and ripping teams’ hearts out late in games), the Lakers will still struggle to reach the 40-44 win plateau. In order to be in the postseason in the West, you need a complete core nowadays. Back in 2010, you may be able to scrape by from having a superstar scorer with a bunch of role players, but we’re now in an era where everyone’s shooting for the “Big 3″ landscape.
If you’re going to ride the wave with Bryant as your guy and you’re still unsure of what the roster will look like, go with Fisher. He’s been there before, and has learned from the best coach in NBA history, therefore the lack of coaching experience is somewhat mild.
“Coaching allows for you to positively impact other people’s lives,” Fisher said about the possibilities.
Bryant wants to win, but he also wants some consistency in who he listens to on a daily basis. There’s been two guys since Phil, and neither were Bryant’s ideal guy. Everyone’s doubting Steve Kerr as a first time coach, but his introductory press conference stole the show. It’s all about how you handle yourself, and that statement just screams in Fisher’s direction.
The Buss Family — Jim, in particular — isn’t so dead set on keeping the coaching position close to home. If they were, Jackson would have been hired over D’Antoni.
What should be encouraged, however, is that they do keep it within the Laker tradition, and go with either Fisher or Byron Scott. It’s a franchise that keeps it’s pride.
As long as Bryant is their guy, you have to form the team around a winning culture. That starts with a winning voice at the helm.
What voice is better than Derek Fisher’s?