If Mike Brown Can’t Handle the Load, Who’s Next in Los Angeles?

There isn’t anyone in the Lakers organization who will be under more pressure this upcoming season than head coach Mike Brown. While last year’s team thrived defensively, at least early in the season, it was Brown’s inconsistent rotations and predictability on the offensive end that had fans throwing up their hands and cursing at their televisions in disgust.

Nobody should be surprised that Brown will be back for another season. Part of that is because of the short training camp and the odd strike-shortened season that left very little time for practices. But more than anything, it’s because Brown was in the first year of a three-year deal worth $18 million that also contains a team option for a fourth year. There was no way the Lakers would pay Brown $12 million to not coach the team. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t pay him $6 million to walk away.

In reality, this current Lakers squad has a two-year window. They can’t afford to take a step backward or even equal last season’s results. In other words, anything short of a Western Conference Finals appearance that has the Lakers losing in fewer than six games will probably mean that Brown will be replaced.

If there is one ongoing story line we can count on this year, it will be that every loss will be followed by calls for Mike Brown’s head. I don’t see any scenario where Brown is fired mid-season. Jim Buss has even mentioned that the team would have to see what Brown can do over the course of 82 games. So it’s not even worth wasting either your time or breath on fighting for an in-season coaching change.

But if Brown is replaced next season, who’s available? Assuming Dwight Howard re-signs with the team, we can count out the Van Gundys. Stan doesn’t want to relive the torture of the last couple seasons with Dwight and Jeff has always come to his big brother’s defense.

Here are five possible replacements:

Phil Jackson

Obviously the first name that Lakers fans will pine for. Given the team’s small window, could Jackson be re-energized enough by missing consecutive seasons that he’d be willing to give it a one-year go with this roster? My guess is he would. Minus one ill-fitted season with Gary Payton, when has Jackson ever had a point guard the quality of a Steve Nash? Never. While reports of friction between Jim Buss and Jackson are probably substantial, I think all would be forgiven with what could be the team’s best chance of catching the Celtics while Dr. Buss is still alive.

**I hate that I wrote that last sentence but it speaks more to how difficult it is to build a contender than it does to Dr. Buss’ health. I hope he lives to be at least 120.

Brian Shaw

For the second consecutive summer, Brian Shaw didn’t get a head coaching job. And like Phil Jackson, Shaw and the Lakers parted ways on pretty ugly terms. But I don’t think the damage was irreparable, especially if Kobe and Pau are the ones pining for Shaw’s return.

Tom Thibodeau

Might sound like a long-shot but Thibodeau is heading into the upcoming season as a lame duck. For some odd reason, the Chicago Bulls have yet to lock up a coach who led his team to the top-seed in the Eastern Conference in his first two seasons as a head coach. Let that resonate for a second. There will be plenty of teams lining up for Thibodeau should he finish out this upcoming season without an extension and the Lakers could outbid any of them.

Mike Krzyzewski

This isn’t a joke. Coach K nearly took the Lakers head coaching job back in 2004. That was before he led Team USA to back-to-back gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. Perhaps the combination of having had experience coaching pros and a potential NCAA investigation might have the Hall of Fame coach looking to finally make the jump.

Mike Budenholzer

Perhaps the biggest longshot on the list, Budenholzer has been an assistant coach to Gregg Popovich since 1996. Why Budenholzer hasn’t received a head-coaching shot yet is anyone’s guess. He’s originally from Arizona but attended Pomona College where he was recruited by, but never played for Popovich.

For the moment Brown’s job is still safe. As mentioned above, there’s very little chance that a change is made this season, no matter the venom from fans that is sure to be spewed if the team struggles. Still, all of these names could become more and more prevalent should the team have trouble in 2013.

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