Storyline: Los Angeles Lakers coach

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The intensity and specificity of the reports around a potential successor have invited speculation that the Lakers have informally started their search while Walton is still on the job — something Walton said he has not concerned himself with. “I just view it as outside noise unless someone from within tells me that that happened,” Walton told The Athletic. “Unless someone from within our group is telling me that, I just view it like all the other things we’ve gone through as a team this year. Those are things that I don’t have the time to worry about. I’ve got more important things to do like getting the team better and doing my job.”

Q: On hiring Walton so quickly: Kupchak: We didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know Luke. As a player, we drafted Luke, signed him to two or three contracts. We traded him to Cleveland, which, to this day he hasn’t forgiven us for (laughs). When he came back, he worked with us for our D-League team (the Los Angeles D-Fenders) for one year. We didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know him. We know him as a person. Jim (Buss) and I spent six or seven hours basically talking basketball. We had a lot of questions. “What kind of offense? What kind of defense? How do you see our team playing? What do you think of our players? What do we need?” A lot of “What if?” scenarios. And he was well thought out. He was prepared. He had an offensive and defensive playbook. He actually had another pamphlet that he handed out with his picture on the front of it and his name underneath: Luke Walton. I looked at it and said, “Really, Luke?” And he said, “This is something my agent made me do.” (laughs)

On hiring Luke Walton and deciding not to retain Byron Scott: Kupchak: It didn’t go wrong with Byron, and there’s no one thing you can point to. The expression: “decision to go in another direction,” is overused. But I decline to go into great detail. Byron did a wonderful job under very adverse circumstances the last two years. I know he wasn’t expecting not to coach our team next year. I know he was hoping that he would coach. But that’s the business, and when I spoke to Byron, we kind of both looked at each other and said, “We’ve both been around long enough to know that this happens.” I thank Byron publicly, and hopefully he’ll be a part of the Lakers for a long, long time in any way possible.

2016 guard Christian Vital verbally committed to Connecticut on Friday, he informed Scout. “I’m staying in the Northeast,” Vital said with excitement. Vital, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Oakdale (Conn.) St. Thomas More, picked Kevin Ollie and the Huskies over Louisville. “Basically [Kevin Ollie], he’s texted me before 9:00 every day this week,” Vital said. “Just letting me know about he Lakers situation and that he loves me and he’s staying at UConn. That really means something to me, to have that kind of relationship with the head coach, knowing he has a million things to do.”

“I’ve been on some of the most special teams in the history of basketball,” said Bill Walton, who won two championships with UCLA (1972-73), one championship with the Portland Trail Blazers (1977) and one championship with the Boston Celtics (1986). “I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum too. So I know. It’s so fragile and it’s so tenuous. It’s like any young person chasing their dream in the world of entrepreneurship, start ups and everything. Don’t change jobs for money. Leave a job because it’s a bad job. If you have a good job and you’re in a great situation as Luke is, you got Steve Kerr, you got all these beautiful players and California and the Bay Area. That’s fantastic. With all that being said….”

Jackson could explain to Dolan that Rambis may not look like the most attractive candidate, but that Jackson will work closely with Rambis and will be more involved in the day-to-day operation of the club. Plus, Blatt would be Rambis’ top assistant with head coaching experience. A person close to Blatt believes that scenario is plausible, although Blatt is still holding out hope that he gets a head coaching job. He has been mentioned as a candidate with the Lakers.

Yet sources stressed to ESPN.com that San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina is also getting strong consideration. Messina had a decorated coaching career in Europe before serving as a Lakers consultant in 2011-12. Not only is he a known entity to Lakers officials, but he also has spent the past two seasons alongside Hall of Fame-bound San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. The Lakers, sources say, are seeking a coach who can change their on-court fortunes, connect with their many young players and help their free-agent recruiting efforts. Team officials, however, have made it clear that they are not prepared to grant full personnel control to whomever they hire. That policy applied in Los Angeles even when Phil Jackson was on the bench.

Ollie has three years left on his contract with UConn after signing a five-year extension in 2014. But with former Huskies athletic director Warde Manuel leaving for the University of Michigan earlier this season, Ollie has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for another team without incurring fees from a buyout, according to sources familiar with the deal. A source added, however, those terms would not go into effect until March, though the costs are believed to be relatively nominal.

Luke Walton Lakers' No. 1 option?

There’s an easy explanation: The Lakers are in lockstep on whom they want. Luke Walton is an obvious choice; the former Lakers forward has strong ties to the franchise and is fresh off the most successful fill-in head coaching stint in NBA history. Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie has been on the NBA’s radar for a few years. Spurs assistant Ettore Messina has for even longer. Jeff Van Gundy has a proven track record and the disciplined system the Lakers badly need.

On the search for a new head coach: Kupchak: It’s not something that we want to drag out. There are a lot of different arenas that we can look to to find a coach, without mentioning those different possibilities. That opens up, clearly, assistants, existing head coaches, and we’ve got a list. We’re trying to narrow the list down. We’ll contact some people and hopefully we’ll have some phone conversations, maybe some in-person interviews, and go from there. I don’t think it’s gonna drag out, but you don’t know.

By all appearances, the search for Scott’s replacement will be run by Jeanie’s brother, Jim, and Kupchak. It’s a critical hire, as the window during which Jim Buss promised to restore the Lakers to championship contention is set to close after the 2016-17 season. Jeanie Buss has alluded to her brother’s self-imposed timeline on several occasions, saying Jim would resign if the Lakers failed to make it beyond the second round of the playoffs by next season.

They also needed someone to indoctrinate members of the next generation of Laker stars — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — into the daily grind of NBA life. Bryant wasn’t emotionally available for that, there were no other strong veteran presences in the locker room, so Scott needed to play the bad guy, and he did it often and well. He was ripped repeatedly by fans and media for benching and publicly scolding the kids, right up until Russell was busted for videotaping private conversations with Nick Young in a record-setting act of immaturity.
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August 18, 2019 | 7:41 pm EDT Update