The Los Angeles Lakers may have turned over a good chunk of their roster after winning the 2020 championship, but the coaching staff has remained largely intact since Anthony Davis arrived. Frank Vogel has been the head coach for the past two years and he’s kept the same six assistants by his side ever since: Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Phil Handy, Miles Simon, Mike Penberthy and Quinton Crawford. Such staff continuity is a rare thing among contenders. Losing teams tend to poach assistants from winners. After two years, it seems as though that might be happening to the Lakers.
Jason Kidd is expected to become the next head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, ending a two-year stint as Vogel’s lead assistant and creating something of a vacuum on his staff. That vacuum could easily grow. Kidd will have to assemble a staff of his own in Dallas, and there is a chance that he tries to bring some of his Los Angeles coworkers with him.
How the Lakers would respond to that, we can’t say for certain. While the NBA allows only three assistants to sit court-side during games, there is no set minimum or maximum size for an NBA staff. The Lakers could have expanded their staff before losing Kidd. They could choose not to do anything in response. But Kidd is an extremely prominent member of the coaching staff in L.A., and typically, a team with the financial resources would choose to replace such an important staffer with someone of similar stature. The Lakers might not have been inclined to do so had Kidd departed following the 2020 championship, but after losing in the first round, a bit of new blood could do this staff some good.
So what might the Lakers look for in a possible assistant coaching hire? Offensive expertise would be a nice starting point. The Lakers ranked a sorely disappointing 24th on that end of the floor last season. They were better when they won the title in 2020, but that was based largely on their success in transition. The 2019-20 team ranked 17th in half-court points per play, according to Cleaning the Glass. A prior relationship with the incumbent stars would help as well. Kidd famously had the respect of LeBron James, who reportedly viewed him as an intellectual equal. Any new coach joining this staff must be able to command similar respect.
There are dozens of qualified assistants around the league that fit those criteria, but their contractual availability is typically difficult to gauge. For now, let’s focus on those who are not only seemingly available, but those who have firmly established track record. Here are five somewhat prominent coaches that make sense as possible replacements for Kidd on Vogel’s bench.
1. Alvin Gentry
We’re cheating a little bit by starting with a coach that probably isn’t available no matter how badly Lakers fans want him to be. Alvin Gentry is currently Luke Walton’s associate head coach in Sacramento. If his goal is to once again become an NBA head coach, the Kings make a good deal of sense for him. Walton has seemingly been on the hot seat since Monte McNair was hired as the team’s general manager last offseason. If he is removed during the season, Gentry is the obvious interim candidate. Nate McMillan took a similar job in Atlanta and has since led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals after taking over for Lloyd Pierce.
So why is Gentry even listed here? His history with Davis warrants a mention. Gentry coached the Pelicans for Davis’ final four seasons in New Orleans, and while the duo never made an extended playoff run, he did help Davis achieve tremendous individual success. He has also had multiple coaching stints in Los Angeles, albeit with the Clippers. Penberthy, the Lakers’ current shooting coach, worked under Gentry in New Orleans, so there is a preexisting connection on the staff.
This one is probably a pipe dream. Gentry is one of the NBA’s best offensive minds and he has a wealth of experience maximizing Davis, but he currently works for another team and there is no indication that he plans to pursue other jobs. He’s the perfect fit, but for the time being, he appears unavailable.
2. Fred Vinson
Now here’s a Pelicans coach that might actually be attainable … depending on what New Orleans does next. The Pelicans are looking for a replacement for Stan Van Gundy. Vinson is reportedly a candidate to fill that vacancy. Even if he doesn’t get the job, it should be noted that Vinson has worked for three different head coaches in New Orleans. He might choose to remain with the Pelicans under a new boss, and they would likely be thrilled if he wanted to do so. But typically, when a team changes head coaches, it either fires the former coach’s staff outright or allows assistants to explore other opportunities. If Vinson is at all available, the Lakers should jump at the chance to add him.
After all, they’ve seen firsthand what he can do for their own players. Lonzo Ball shot 31.5 percent from behind the arc as a Laker. He’s up to 37.6 percent in two years as a Pelican. Brandon Ingram improved from 32.9 percent to 38.6 percent. Vinson is widely considered one of the best shooting coaches in all of basketball, and his work with two players that the Lakers struggled to develop is proof of that. That he is getting serious consideration for the top job in New Orleans suggests that he brings far more to the table than just shooting mastery, and apprenticeships under Monty Williams and Alvin Gentry have likely taught him quite a bit about coaching overall offensive basketball.
Vinson spent several years as a minor-league player in Southern California. His coaching career began with the Clippers in 2008, and like Gentry, and he has a relationship with Davis dating back to their time together in New Orleans. It’s an excellent fit on paper, but until his situation with the Pelicans is resolved, all the Lakers can do is wait.
3. Terry Stotts
Terry Stotts is an accomplished head coach, and as such, he’s a candidate for multiple remaining jobs around the NBA. If he doesn’t get one, he’s proven willing in the past to take a job as an assistant under a top head coach as a sort of resume builder. After getting fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007, Stotts became Rick Carlisle’s offensive coordinator in Dallas. He won a championship there and parlayed that success into the Portland job.
He went on to lose that job primarily because of his team’s defensive weaknesses. That wouldn’t be a problem for the Lakers, who just had the No. 1 ranked defense in basketball. Stotts would be joining the team for his offensive expertise. The Blazers have finished third or better on offense in each of the past three seasons. Portland had very different personnel, and Stotts would need to adjust from two high-usage guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to a bigger offense built around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
They should suit his principles just fine. High pick-and-roll is fairly universal, and the Lakers could certainly use more of the movement he brought to Portland. The Blazers ranked second in the NBA in 3-point attempts last season, and the Lakers need to place a great emphasis on spacing moving forward. There’s a reason Stotts lasted nine years with the Blazers. He’s a well-respected coach and offensive mind, and he’d slide easily into Kidd’s slot on the bench if the Lakers pursued him.
4. Nate Bjorkgren
Plenty of things went wrong for Nate Bjorkgren in his first and only season as head coach of the Pacers, but offense wasn’t one of them. Bjorkgren got only four games out of T.J. Warren and 35 out of Caris LeVert, but he still managed to improve Indiana’s offense from 19th in its last season under McMillan to 14th in 2020-21. Virtually every statistical marker Bjorkgren hit last season is something the Lakers should be striving for. The Pacers rose from 30th to 17th in 3-point attempts last season. They made the second-most passes and their players traveled the most distance during games, pointing to a system filled with off-ball movement. Indiana didn’t have an elite offense because it didn’t have elite offensive personnel. The principles were largely sound.
But there’s more to coaching than just tactics. Bjorkgren reportedly struggled to build relationships with his best players, and the Lakers are a veteran team with championship experience. Fit matters, and if Bjorkgren can’t adjust to a pre-existing culture, then he simply won’t be able to connect with players that have already won a title. His hyper-aggressive defensive strategies didn’t win him any points with the Pacers either, though in fairness, he likely wouldn’t be hired by the Lakers to coach defense.
Bjorkgren has not yet taken another NBA job, but it’s worth pointing out that he will be an assistant under Nick Nurse for Team Canada at the Olympics. Nurse was his old boss in Toronto and spoke out in his favor after reports of his issues in Indiana came to light. His likeliest destination is probably Toronto, but if he wants a change of scenery, the Lakers could do far worse in an assistant coach.
5. David Fizdale
We’ve covered coaches thus far primarily based on what they can bring to the Lakers offensively. David Fizdale might be able to help in that regard, though his track record on that front isn’t as extensive as the other coaches named above. His real value would come in another, less quantifiable area: his relationship with LeBron James.
When Fizdale got fired by the Memphis Grizzlies, James publicly questioned the decision. The two spent four years together with the Miami Heat and experienced quite a bit of success together. Fizdale has been out of coaching since getting fired by the New York Knicks, but Kidd’s ascension in Dallas is proof of what a stint under Vogel can do for a coach’s career. If Fizdale wants another chance at a top job, joining the Lakers would probably appeal to him.
Catering to James doesn’t exactly need to be a Laker priority. He’s under contract for two more seasons and has a contending roster around him. There’s no immediate danger of him growing frustrated in Los Angeles, but the relationship he shared with Kidd mattered. Comfort is important to stars, and James respected Kidd as one of the few basketball minds alive that could match his own. Replacing him with someone James knows and trusts might not fix preexisting issues, but it would at least help ensure that new ones don’t arise in Kidd’s absence.