The recent resignation of Coach D'Antoni was greeted with almost universal cheers from the Lakers faithful. Whether the debacle of the last two years was solely D'Antoni's fault or other factors were at play is debatable, but no matter where you stand on that, there are not many lamenting his departure.
But in the face of the unrestrained joy that struck Lakers Nation yesterday, there is also a harder truth and reality that must be faced before we launch parades as though we just won a title or will shortly be winning one. The same front office that hired him will be hiring his replacement.
And a closer look at the FO's coaching hires over the last few years reveals nothing less than Team Chaos rather than any signs of stability reflected by good choices. There is one immutable fact when it comes to hiring a good coach, when you do, he tends to stay. Systems are installed and learned, cultures inculcated and eventually success follows. And conversely, in almost all sports, in all cases, teams that have a coaching carousel, who play coaching musical chairs to the tune of really fast music, are teams that have a history of failure. Teams with good, long tenured coaches have stability and success, teams that don't court endless frustration and failure.
Unfortunately for us, a closer examination of Laker's history points to the latter, not the former. Let's take a look at Lakers coaching history since Phil left the first time in 2004, a round ten years ago.
The first hire was Rudy Tomjonovich the erstwhile Houston championship coach. He didn't last a year. Rudy retired stating he was burned out, that he didn't have the stomach for the job anymore.
Frank Hamblin took over for Rudy but was not retained after the season ended.
After Hamblin, Phil made his storied return from 2005 to 2011. Not a difficult hire for the Lakers to make.
After Phil left the second time, the next person to get the Lakers hot seat was Mike Brown, who lasted less than two years before being fired. Next up was Bernie Bikerstaff who went 5-4 before being replaced by Coach D'Antoni. And now we have the end of the D'Antoni era because the Lakers didn't have enough faith in him to enact his option year.
When examining this coaching skein, the Lakers resemble one of those failed teams in so many sports in disarray than a solid, confident, well run organization that makes the correct decision. Our next coaching hire will be our seventh head coach in ten years. And that is with Phil occupying that spot for six of those years! And since Phil Jackson left, this will be our fourth head coach in four years.
This is not a pattern of teams that are successful. This is the long time trend of teams, in all sports, that just don't understand how to get that coach in place that builds stability and success over years. You know the names of those teams as well as I do. A new coach every few years, because a bad choice was made, new systems installed more failure, then a new coach. And on and on it goes with them. And lately, we have been one of those teams.
So as we celebrate the end of the D'Antoni regime, remember this: D'Antoni didn't hire himself. Neither did Tomjonvich, Hamblen, Brown, or Bickerstaff. It was the FO that put these guys all in the big chair, all in the last four years, for one reason or another, and then came to the decision that they didn't belong there.
And here is something even more frightening. If you go back to 1982, yes 1982, only two coaches hired by the Los Angeles Lakers front office have given them acceptable success to keep their jobs: Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. And Phil Jackson was an obvious hire. It is not like the Lakers discovered him. So if you just look at stone cold risk decisions by the Lakers, based on their evaluations, only Riley proved the right choice. How long a time is this? How old were you in 1982? And if you go back that far, then you add in seven more failed Lakers' coaches this front office had picked. This is the list: Mike Dunleavy, two years; Randy Pfund, two years; Bill Bertka, one year; Magic Johnson; one year; Del Harris; 6 years (the one outlier); Bill Bertka again; one year; Kurt Rambis; one year. This equals a success rate percentage of .143. Yep. .143. It is a stark and ominous reality that besides hall of fame coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson we have had nothing but failure in finding coaches that show enough to keep the job. And that is with an all-time great like Kobe Bryant here.
So as we move on from D'Antoni, as the antipathy felt for him erupts in cheers and high fives, remember the same FO that hired him will hire his replacement. And really that is where the true trouble starts. And if we are going to reverse this trend of a coaching carousel and hire someone we like in two, three four years, the Lakers will have do a whole lot better in their vetting process than they have in the past.