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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Coach selection, and the Lakers' future, is in owners' hands

Jerry Buss and Jerry West had a Midas touch in the day. Now Jim Buss, likely in consultation with his father and with GM Mitch Kupchak, might have the final say on key decision.

May 19, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Lakers owner Jerry Buss has given day-to-day control of the team to his son Jim, right, who might have the final say in hiring a coach to replace Phil Jackson.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss has given day-to-day control of the team to his son… (Los Angeles Times )

Regime change in Lakerdom …

If there's more going on than finding Phil Jackson's successor — which should go better after having gone through it before — the Lakers formally started their coaching search Tuesday when General Manager Mitch Kupchak met with Jerry and Jim Buss.

Actually, at this crossroads, whoever runs the team, be it all three … or Jim and Mitch … or just Jim … means more than the coach, but they still need one.

First, of course, they had to figure out the candidates.

Since they're not issuing updates, we had to figure it out, hopefully, by ourselves.

Out: Byron Scott, Nate McMillan, Doc Rivers.

Leading candidates: Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy.

Others: Brian Shaw, Chuck Person.

Both Lakers assistants got interviews — but were told something that led them to interview for other jobs, with the team's permission.

And in a blockbuster, The Times just learned there's a new candidate: Pat Riley.

(Not really. I made it up to see if any ESPN guys will claim it as a scoop in two days.)

The Lakers were once the managerial gold standard, with Jerry Buss' vision and Jerry West as in-house legend and basketball boss of bosses.

Now Buss defers largely to his son Jim, who, let's hope, checks with West's protege, Kupchak.

Not surprisingly, given Jim's inclinations — remember bringing Rudy Tomjanovich out of retirement as the game's highest-paid coach in 2004? — this started as a star search.

Unfortunately, as soon as word got out, the stars got big extension offers and re-upped where they were.

As a league official said of Lonnie Cooper, the agent representing Rivers and McMillan:

"Lonnie Cooper has a cottage industry going with coaches the Lakers wanted."

McMillan, whom Portland had left dangling as his contract ran out, suddenly got a two-year, $10-million extension in March.

Rivers, expected to take a year off, suddenly signed a five-year, $35-million extension with Boston.

Scott, of course, is on a four-year, $18.5-million deal in Cleveland, although the Lakers kept pining for him until they realized the Cavaliers won't be letting him leave.

Not that the greatest NBA coach ever could be expected to turn around the Lakers, not after they just went down in flames with Jackson, certainly one of the greatest.

The owner(s) have to make a whole set of decisions that will determine the Lakers' future, hopefully with the advice of the basketball people:

• With a roster geared to running the triangle offense, do they keep it, abandon it or transition out of it?

• If they leave the triangle, which doesn't require a traditional point guard, who's the point guard?

• Do they make a major move or wait for Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and/or Deron Williams in 2012?

• Do they adopt a salary-cap strategy geared to the end of Kobe Bryant's contract in 2014, when B-B-B-Blake Griffin could be on the market?

At this point, it's hard to tell just what Jerry has told Jim about relying on his professionals.

It wasn't something Jim arrived knowing in the '90s, when he told Sports Illustrated's Franz Lidz:

"Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult.

"If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts."

If Jim then knew more about the opinions of people in bars than the real process, by 2005 he would play a meaningful role in drafting Andrew Bynum.

It was the way to go if greatness was the goal — Jerry Buss' No. 1 virtue as owner — but it was as daring as it was wise.

Looking beyond Jackson's return on a three-year coaching deal, they took a 7-foot high school kid over, quote, safe picks Sean May and Fran Vazquez, who wouldn't change any equations, if they made it.

May bombed and Vazquez never left Spain.

Dark horse that Bynum was with his Andrew-Who? prep career and annual injuries, the Lakers hit it big.

In any case, they're a long way from Showtime, the Jerrys and the old notion of Laker Family.

Having just turned a $25-million to $50-million profit, they stripped down for the NBA lockout, laying off most of the team's scouts, the entire training staff except Gary Vitti, the video guys and Rudy Garciduenas, their equipment manager for 28 years.

So much for the Lakers' hearts. Now to see about their minds.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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