With the Lakers worst-ever season in Los Angeles ending this week, it's time to look ahead. As much as we like to complain about moves that have been made in the past, it's impossible to undo them. For better or worse, we have to accept to that Jim Buss is running basketball operations and move forward.
So what should the Lakers do next? I have some suggestions:
1) Fire Mike D'Antoni
I don't normally advocate for a man to lose his job, but this move has to be made. Yes, Mike D'Antoni has been incredibly unlucky this season, as nearly every Laker has been injured for a large stretch of games. But just because he has a tough job doesn't mean he has done a good job.
This is a team that gave up on its coach months ago. I don't see any fight in them. There's no effort on defense, and rather than buying into a team concept, it seems like every player is trying to pad their stats for their next contract.
D'Antoni has gotten poor reviews on his communication skills. Pau Gasol has openly feuded with him. Chris Kaman claimed the coach hadn't talked to him for weeks. D'Antoni's system requires strong point guard play, and the Lakers were cursed with all of their point guards missing significant time. But D'Antoni never adjusted to fit his healthy personnel, and big men like Kaman and Jordan Hill saw barely any playing time.
D'Antoni has also lost the faith of the fans. While it's unfair to compare him to Phil Jackson, he does represent the organization's ill-fated decision not to hire Jackson. It's time to turn the page on this mistake.
2) Hire a young and up-and-coming coach
There are plenty of older experienced coaches who are currently out of work. The Lakers could consider a recognizable name like George Karl, Stan Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Nate McMillian, Lionel Hollins, or others. But if the Lakers are going to move forward, then I think they need to hire someone new who can bring energy and an innovative game plan.
One name to consider is UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, who just won a national title and played 13 years in the NBA. But there's other up-and-coming coaches who deserve jobs like Patrick Ewing of the Bobcats, David Fizdale from the Heat, Chip Engelland of the Spurs, and Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State.
Remember that no one knew who Pat Riley was in 1981 when the Lakers hired him to be their head coach. In 1990, the Lakers hired a completely unknown 36-year old Milwaukee Bucks assistant named Mike Dunleavy, and he proved to be a good head coach.
Some of the league's most successful current head coaches include Eric Spoelstra, Scott Brooks, Frank Vogel, and Tom Thibodeau, all whom were low-profile hires. The Lakers don't need to make a big splash. They just need to hire a good coach who can get the most out of their players.
3) Make Jim Buss talk
Jim Buss has become a punching bag for the media over the past few years. I've certainly taken plenty of shots at him. Heck, even Magic Johnson takes shots at him. But if Buss wants the fans to feel confident in his leadership, then he's going to have to engage the public and state his plan for the organization.
It's true that Jerry Buss rarely spoke to the media. But Jerry Buss won a title in his first season, and he delegated basketball operations to basketball people. No one ever questioned him.
While Jeanie Buss has been doing media rounds for the past few weeks, it's Jim who is viewed by fans and potential free agents as the man calling the shots. He needs to stand up to those who are bashing him. His silence is hurting the organization's brand. If he's going to be a leader, then he can't retreat in the background.
Responding to questions about Kobe Bryant's 2-year $48 million contract, signed while the star was injured, Buss said Kobe deserved "a farewell tour." She tearfully noted that Magic Johnson never had a farewell tour, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did.
Farewell tours are nice and all, but they're not worth half your cap space for a guy who might never be an All-Star again. Farewell tours don't mean wins. Yes, Kareem had one, but he was still an effective player at the end of his career. Today's NBA is more competitive than ever, and managing the salary cap and luxury tax are crucial to success.
I hate to say it, but basketball is a business. And if the Lakers make decisions based on emotion, then they're going to lose.
5) Believe in analytics
I've been writing for years about how the Lakers have lagged behind the rest of the league in analytics. It's time for the Lakers to do something about that. Nearly half of NBA organizations have some analytics person in-house. The Lakers need to find the smartest minds who can write an algorithm and notice trends that no one else sees.
Why is this so important? The Lakers are about to enter an offseason with a large amount of cap space, and no obvious plan for how to use it. A list of the top free agents this offseason can be viewed here. Realistically, the Lakers don't have a shot at anyone in the Top-8. After that, every player on that list has significant questions.
Should the Lakers pay a high price for Lance Stephenson? Is Kyle Lowry worth an investment? These are difficult questions to answer. Using advanced computer analytics will give the Lakers more information and help them figure out what to do.
6) Hire the best scouts available
Investing a little in scouting can go a long way. During the 2011 NBA Lockout, the Lakers fired most of their scouts and it hurt their reputation around the league. But the Lakers are entering an era where they'll have to be creative in order to succeed.
While, I'm a big proponent of analytics, I also believe that it's equally necessary to have terrific scouts. The San Antonio Spurs have thrived by drafting great prospects that everyone else passed over. They've found players overseas that no one else noticed. The Lakers need to be finding these players too.
They should be offering generous contracts to some of the most respected and intelligent player evaluators out there.
7) Pay Steve Nash for one more year
Steve Nash is owed $9.7 million in the final year of his contract next season. There's been speculation that the Lakers could waive him, and spread his salary out over three seasons. But down the road, every little bit of cap space will be important for the Lakers. They're best off just dealing with the Nash contract for one more season, in an off-season where no high-priced quality free agents are available anyways.
8) Keep Xavier Henry
Some Laker fans want to keep Nick Young, but he can't defend. Others think Jodie Meeks should be re-signed, but his game has limitations. The one Laker I'd like to see return is Xavier Henry.
It's true that Henry didn't have a great season, as he missed almost half the year with injuries. But Henry is the one Laker who seemed to have some upside. His ceiling is the highest of any current player on the roster. Because of his injuries, Henry will be lucky to make the minimum anywhere, so the Lakers may as well bring him back cheaply, and see if he can realize some of his potential.
9) Explore Kobe trade options
This may sound like heresy, but here's a legitimate question: What is more likely... Kobe Bryant returns to elite form at age 36 or Kobe Bryant's injuries continue to bother him and render him a less than effective player? The odds favor the latter.
In truth, there's probably not a decent trade out there for Kobe, so the Lakers may have to keep him. The Knicks and Phil Jackson would be interested, and Amare Stoudemire's expiring contract makes a deal possible. But the Knicks have virtually no draft picks or quality young players that would interest the Lakers. Charlotte might also be an interesting trade partner, as they have a Detroit Pistons draft pick to peddle and Michael Jordan could probably convince Kobe he's better off playing with Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker than in LA. But the Bobcats (soon-to-be Hornets) don't have the salaries to send back.
Regardless, there's always possibilities with three-team deals and other outside-the-box scenarios, so the Lakers should explore all options.