The Los Angeles Lakers vacated their coaching position on Sunday evening, and by Wednesday morning, two names have consistently floated to the top of the list: Luke Walton and Ettore Messina.
Walton is an assistant with the world champions Golden State Warriors and led the Northern California team to a 39-4 start and twice won NBA Western Conference Coach of the Month honors as interim coach during the 2015-16 season. Also, the 36-year-old played with the Lakers under Phil Jackson and won two titles in the process. Walton is one of the hottest coaches on the market and would be considered a positive move to a young coach that can relate with LA's young roster.
Steve Kerr said Mitch Kupchak got permission to talk to Luke Walton after series. — Diamond Leung (@diamond83) April 28, 2016
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The Lakers' outgoing coach, Byron Scott, received his harshest public criticism for his old school approach and inability to relate to LA's young players. Scott also heard a great deal of criticism for the offense on display and his overall basketball principles.
Messina, who is currently the lead assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, is a 56-year-old veteran tactician that has coached in Italy, Russia and Spain. For the 2011-12 season, the current Italian national team coach also served as a special consultant for the Lakers, so the front office should have an understanding of the coach's knowledge, basketball principles and personality. Under Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have been the model franchise in terms of managing players and playing team basketball. If Messina can import that style to the Lakers, LA would gladly take him on without blinking twice.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the Lakers have received permission from San Antonio to interview Messina. USA Today also reported that Messina is believed to also be considering the Sacramento Kings’ coaching vacancy.
Other candidates emerging on the Lakers' short list include University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy. While Ollie's stock hit its high when he won the National Championship with the Huskies in 2014, his strong personal relationship with Kevin Durant, which developed during his final season as a player in the Oklahoma City Thunder, makes the 43-year-old a tasty target. Durant expects to be the biggest free agent in the coming summer. The Lakers expect to lobby hard for the 27-year-old’s services, and having Ollie on the pitch committee wouldn't hurt the Lakers' chances of landing the 2014 Most Valuable Player.
Van Gundy is a veteran coach, who is currently working as an analyst with ESPN and ABC. Previous attempts to pull the 54-year-old away from the microphone have proved to be futile. However, Van Gundy would be a stable and sound solution to the Lakers' problem. Van Gundy serves as an assistant under Pat Riley in New York and took over when Riley left for Miami.
The Lakers have not set any timeline on filling the opening, but naming a coach would go a long way to establishing a vision for the future of the team and restoring a sense of order and structure to a franchise that is coming off three of the four worst seasons in its history.