The next Lakers coach must meet the changing expectations of the job

by Rick Boucher
FOX Sports NBA Writer

The Los Angeles Lakers Waste no time tackling the easiest off-season task on their to-do list – fire coach Frank Vogel – but don’t hold your breath until they cross out the hardest: find his replacement.

A list of candidates has already been put out and prospects have been published regarding their chances of being Vogel’s successor. The FOX Bet roster includes: Utah Jazz coach Quinn Snyder, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Sam Cassel, ESPN anchor Mark Jackson, former Lakers coach Mike Dantoni, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Norris, 76ers coach Doc Rivers, Michigan coach Joan Howard and even retired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Who will be the next Lakers coach?

Who will be the next Lakers coach?

Skip Bayless skip the Lakers’ top training candidates and realistic choices about who will top the purple and gold rankings.

It’s hard to imagine a more eclectic roster, from a young college coach (Howard) to a retired college legend (Krzyzewski) to someone already fired by the Lakers once (D’Antoni) to coaches currently employed by better teams (Snyder, Nurse, Rivers) to An NBA assistant with no coaching experience (Casell) for someone who hasn’t coached in seven years (Jackson).

Why a list that looks nothing more than a spitting exercise? Because the Lakers seek only a coach who can be the binding force between a group of former superstars, a mysteriously organized front office and a large and demanding fan base in one of the nation’s most competitive media markets.

Many current and former coaches say the biggest challenge to NBA coaching nowadays has nothing to do with the system the coach runs or the strategy he uses. It’s about how – as in how he treats the front office, star player, team owner, and yes, the media and fan base. A coach’s approach to handling X and O and rotating play can influence all of those relationships, but this is secondary to the coach’s ability to communicate the reasoning behind these choices to everyone.

Examples of NBA coaches who excel at building relationships with stars and communicating their vision include Monty Williams in Phoenix, Jason Kidd in Dallas, and Taylor Jenkins in Memphis.

Asked if there was a clear choice for the Lakers to follow, one of GM’s rivals said emphatically: “A clear cut? No.” Then he stated the reasons: “Property. [GM] Rob Pelinka. LeBron James. Charm [Johnson]. expectations.”

GM added that being a head coach is easily “the hardest thing to do in the sport. You’re always in the middle of the storm between the owners, players and management.” How is the job different now than it was 10 years ago, for example? “They have to master the gift of communication,” he said. “They have to spend more time managing people than managing games.”

Pelinka agrees with that assessment, based on his observations of the most important quality an incoming Lakers coach should have. “Obviously, with superstars on our squad, we want a strong voice that is able to inspire players to play at the highest level of competition every night… accountability.”

But that’s only one part of the equation. The relationship between the coach, front office and ownership is just as important. In the case of the Lakers, it appears that Vogel needs to not only cultivate a relationship with Pelinka but also with Kurt Rambis and his wife Linda, who have been identified as the closest confidants of team governor Jeanie Buss. Reports have made Rambis sit in pre-match meetings with the coaching staff and make suggestions at different times this season.

How good is the Lakers coaching job now?

How good is the Lakers coaching job now?

Emmanuel Aku thinks the Lakers coach position is the “best job in basketball” because of LeBron James.

George Carle, who was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, said the dynamics between head coaches and both management and ownership have changed dramatically in recent years.

“The coaches’ influence has been deteriorating for more than a decade, maybe longer,” said Karl, who has racked up a record 1,175-824 playoffs and 22 playoffs over 28 seasons, most recently in 2016 with the Sacramento Kings.

“For 15 of the last 17 years, I’ve had what I want. I can say no to any trade, and I’ve been involved in all discussions. In some cases, I’ve had a direct relationship with the owner. I don’t even know if there are 10 coaches in the league who have that now. Player development has moved from head coach leadership to the front office Head coach staff are now hired by the front office in many cases Every contract I have signed a clause that management can veto one of my [staff] Options, but she never said management could pick coaches for me.

“Being a team captain has to have some substance. More teams today are saying, ‘We control the coach, we direct the coach.’ That’s a compromise. You’re asking someone to run a team without the necessary support.”

It’s not clear if Vogel had any input into making up his coaching staff, but he didn’t hire anyone from his former staff in Indiana or Orlando, and reports indicated that management chose Kidd as his best assistant when Vogel first took over. Vogel has also received a fair amount of speculation about how he will manage the team. Fans and some media outlets have expressed their displeasure with his tactics – his use of backup powerhouse DeAndre Jordan or his refusal to take Russell Westbrook off the bench as examples.

But a former head coach, fired despite his winning record and playoffs, when asked to list the primary skills of an NBA coach today, didn’t name a single one that had anything to do with strategy or in-game decisions.

“Social media, load management, player strength,” he said, pointing out the areas or issues the coach has to deal with. “These are the most obvious changes in my many years of coaching. And when I refer to social media, I don’t mean a head coach using social media to benefit himself. I mean navigating all the things that affect the locker room – reaction to shaky performance on court, and family matters, etc.”

The influence of social media multiplies exponentially when it comes to the Lakers. They lead the league with nearly 22 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. Then there’s LeBron, who not only has 180 million followers across all platforms – more than the league itself – but is remarkably active, posting commentaries on everything from global issues to media criticism to team performance. Take a look at Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who has also alternately praised and criticized the team on air and his five million Twitter followers, and you have the potential for an online brush fire choking the locker room atmosphere at any moment.

Magic Johnson blames LeBron for Lakers’ poor season

Magic Johnson blames LeBron for Lakers' poor season

Colin Cord shares his thoughts on Magic Johnson’s comments that LeBron James had a major influence on the Lakers’ roster choices during the break.

Whether load management will be as much of an issue next season as it has been this year — whether nine players aged 33 or older are on the L.A. roster for some or all of the season — is hard to tell with only three players currently on contract. James and striker/Anthony Davis being two of the three confirms that will be a significant factor, given that James turns 38 in December and Davis has struggled to stay healthy for most of his career.

Dealing with the increased “player power” may be the biggest challenge of them all.

“Ten years ago, a coach could have been tough with a player,” the GM Eastern Conference said. “Today, coaches need to exercise tact when speaking with players. The tone, the words chosen, who else is in the room – these are all considerations now.”

This message has been delivered. An Eastern Conference assistant who hopes to interview for a coach position this summer said that of all the qualities a NBA coach can have today, “the ability to connect with players” and having “little ego” is vital.

So the Lakers are looking for someone who can demand without raising their voice, confident without acting superior, and consistent with continued resilience and awareness of social media without being swayed by it.

Oh, and winning a championship would be great, too.

Rick Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with the onset of young Parkinson’s disease, and “Yao: A Life in Two Worlds,” the story from NBA Center Yao Ming. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher”. Follow him on Twitter @Rick Boucher.

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