Now that the dust has settled and the masses have calmed down (for the most part), much of the focus on the disappointment of the Lakers four game series loss to the Mavericks has shifted to intrigue in the search for the next head coach for the Purple and Gold.
There has been much speculation over potential candidates to replace Phil Jackson next season, ranging from battle tested veteran head coaches like Jeff Van Gundy, to men with no head coaching experience at any level like current Lakers assistant Brian Shaw.
But which way should the Lakers go?
An argument can be made for both scenarios. Proponents of current assistant, Brian Shaw, say that its an advantage that he already has received an endorsement from veteran players like Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Since Shaw grew up as both a player and coach in the triangle offense, he would make an easy and seamless transition to the Lakers head coaching position.
Then there is the argument on the other side, with the belief that the Lakers need to make a hire from the outside. Many are of the opinion that the four game sweep of the Lakers at the hands of the Mavericks is a glaring indicator that a change needs to made and that promoting Brian Shaw would simply be sticking with the status quo.
The Lakers are clearly still one of the most talented (if not THE most talented) teams in the NBA, and will be one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship again next season, regardless of who their head coach is. But after being on top of the mountain for so long, sometimes you need to be reminded what that journey to the top was like.
That’s not to say that the Lakers have to hit rock bottom before they win a championship again, but they do need a fresh voice, fresh ideas, and fresh motivation. Brian Shaw is spoken very highly of around NBA coaching circles and may very well be an excellent head coach someday, but for a veteran team like the Lakers, with a number strong personalities, they need a veteran coach that will come in and command respect and preach accountability. No coach fits that mold better than Jerry Sloan.
A no-nonsense, tough, hard-nosed, hall of fame head coach who is regarded by many to be one of the best coaches in basketball history.
Laker fans need no reminder of how dominant Sloan’s Utah Jazz teams were, as they fell victim to that vaunted Stockton-Malone pick and roll that still has Shaq waking up in a cold sweat from time to time. Sloan has one of the more impressive coaching records for someone who has never won a championship as he posted a .603 winning percentage (1121-803) in his 23 seasons as head coach of the Utah Jazz.
He would be a coach that would immediately garner the respect of Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and the rest of the veterans in that locker room (Fisher played for Sloan in Utah in the 2006-07 season).
Would there be any question that this Laker team would be the most talented team he ever coached?
Don’t get me wrong, Stockton and Malone were great, but none of their third options over the years (Jeff Hornacek, Byron Russel, Donyell Marshall) could even compare to a healthy Andrew Bynum or even Lamar Odom.
Sloan would provide the infusion of toughness that many Laker fans so often cry out for. He may not have always had the most talented teams in the league, but you knew that when you were playing the Jazz that you were in for a dogfight every single night.
One could argue that that was something the Lakers did not do at times throughout this past season, and there is no better example of that then the lasting image we have of the Lakers as they walked off the court after the massacre that was the 122-86 loss in Dallas on May 8th. One of the major criticisms of the Lakers over the last few years has been their lack of focus on the defensive end. It may sound cliché, but it rings true: if you dont play hard and play smart on defense, you dont play for Jerry Sloan.
Contrarian’s may say that the Jazz’s defensive statistics have dipped the last few years. Which is true, but it is only because the defensive talent on his roster began to wane.
Look at the roster a few years ago with solid (if not GOOD) defensive players like Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring and Jarron Collins. Now compare that to this season with the likes of Al Jefferson, Gordon Hayward, and CJ Miles – hardly defensive stalwarts.
With the length of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom coupled with the natural defensive abilities of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest, the Lakers SHOULD be the best defensive team in the NBA, and it really shouldn’t be close.
Can we stop with the “this team is old” argument? All of their core players are in their early 30’s, they’re not old, they’re either in the prime or in the latter stages of their prime which is still very good. You can be the greatest defensive coach in the history of sports but if you have a team full of Mehmet Okur’s out there you’re not going to stop anybody.
No disrespect to Brian Shaw, Chuck Person or any other young head coaching candidates that the Lakers brass might consider, but Jerry Sloan is the obvious choice.
Fly out to Indiana, and have a face to face meeting with him. He’s as competitive now as he was as a player with the Chicago Bulls. We know that it has to eat at him that he was never able to get over the hump and actually win an NBA championship.
Now is his opportunity. The ingredients have already been purchased. All Sloan needs to do is toss them in the bowl, stir them together and pop it in the oven, and then voila!
With Sloan at the helm, by late June of next year Laker fans may very well see the streets of downtown Los Angeles littered with purple and gold confetti once again.