Less than a week ago, Luke Walton became the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Walton was high on the Lakers’ list of coaching candidates from the start, after the Golden State Warriors racked up a 39-4 start under his watch while head coach Steve Kerr recovered from offseason back surgery. That appeared to capture the Lakers’ attention, but it was Walton’s vision that reportedly sold Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss on him becoming the team’s new coach.
Walton will remain on Kerr’s staff until Golden State completes their playoff run, which could last until mid-June if they end up back in the NBA Finals. But it appears he may be doing some additional work when he has the chance, as Walton has reportedly begun his search to construct his coaching staff, a crucial task for any first-time NBA head coach.
A quality coaching staff can go a long way for a team, especially in this case, as the Lakers need one that can help develop their young talent and continue to take steps forward in the rebuilding process.
Some names are already being linked to the job openings, but here are 10 possible candidates that Walton could target to fill out his staff.
1. Brian Shaw
Lakers fans should be plenty familiar with Shaw, as he was a member of the group that won three consecutive titles from 2000 to 2002, before later retiring and joining Phil Jackson’s staff as an assistant coach from 2005 to 2011. Shaw is reportedly the leading candidate to be on the staff, and that comes as no surprise because of his history with Walton. His tenure as head coach of the Denver Nuggets turned out to be a train wreck, lasting less than two full seasons. However, Shaw has been highly regarded as an assistant coach, and his years of coaching experience could provide a ton of value to Walton’s staff.
2. J.B. Bickerstaff
Before I go any further, this is J.B. Bickerstaff, not his father, Bernie, who coached the Lakers to a 4-1 record as an interim in 2012 after Mike Brown was fired. Now that we have that cleared up, Bickerstaff took over as coach of the Houston Rockets after Kevin McHale was let go early on in the season. The Rockets massively underachieved this year, but it is hard to blame Bickerstaff for that. He inherited a roster with talent, but even more chemistry issues. Simply put, that situation was a mess that very few coaches, if any, could have cleaned up. His passion for leading that group was evident, as was his frustration when it did not work out. Bickerstaff and Walton also reportedly have a friendly relationship, although the former could be looking to be the lead assistant on a staff, and if Shaw takes that role, it could result in Bickerstaff landing with one of the other teams that are hoping to get him.
3. Jarron Collins
Collins is also a member of the Warriors staff right now, but as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne has previously pointed out, he is a Los Angeles native. He could potentially return home and take on the challenge of helping rebuild the Lakers, which, if accomplished, could really strengthen his resume and immensely increase his chances at becoming a head coach in the future, if that is a path he wants to explore down the line. But he could also become Kerr’s lead assistant next season, effectively taking Walton’s spot with a championship team. That would be hard for anyone to pass on.
4. Chris DeMarco
This is probably a name that not many recognize, but DeMarco is a player development coach for the Warriors. This season was his first in that position. Before taking on the role, he was a video coordinator/scout for Golden State, helping design opponent scouting reports and other various areas of preparation. DeMarco is just 30 years old, so while he would not add a ton of coaching experience to the staff, he would be another candidate for that staff that could have a ton of upside. The fact that he has continued to work his way up a championship staff at such a young age speaks volumes about his work. Recently on Zach Lowe’s podcast, “The Lowe Post,” ESPN’s Ethan Strauss stated at the 34:00 mark that he assumes DeMarco will follow Walton to Los Angeles (h/t Forum Blue and Gold).
5. Ron Adams
Luring Adams to Los Angeles is probably a long shot for Walton. He has been in the league as an assistant coach since 1992, helping construct some top-notch defensive teams along the way. Adams is known as a defensive guru, and would be a huge get for Walton, but he has a great gig in Golden State on Kerr’s staff. Kerr probably would not let Adams get away, but it would certainly be worth a shot if you’re the Lakers, no matter how slim the chances might be.
6. Derek Fisher
There is an obvious connection between Walton and Fisher, as the two were Laker teammates on two championship teams in 2009 and 2010. Fisher was fired as head coach of the Knicks in the middle of this season, despite the team’s record seeing steady improvement from a year ago. Fisher was also reportedly interested in the Lakers head coaching job when it was available. If he wants to become a head coach again in the future, he might need to take a job as an assistant first to get a little more experience in the coaching ranks. Could that mean a reunion of former teammates? That might be something to watch.
Additionally, Fisher has a connection with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Maybe the Lakers would see that as an opportunity to help their seemingly impossible odds to land the Thunder superstar in free agency this summer, although Fisher’s recent incident with Matt Barnes may hinder Walton’s desire to have him on the staff.
7. David Blatt
Blatt has been linked to some of the current head coaching vacancies in the league, especially in New York. Before Blatt took the Cavaliers job last season, he was heavily rumored to join Kerr’s staff with the Warriors. Would he be willing to try that route with Walton? That is still unclear, but if Blatt does not land a head coaching gig this summer, he will probably be highly sought after from teams wanting him to be an assistant coach. He agreed to a deal with Cleveland last year before LeBron James signed, expecting a rebuild. Also, the Lakers were reportedly planning on interviewing Blatt before Walton blew them away during their meeting, leading them to cancel all other interviews.
8. Jeff Hornacek
Hornacek is basically in the same boat as Blatt. He has been linked to some head coaching opportunities currently available, with the Houston Rockets seeming like the most likely option. But if he is still looking for a job when all of the head coaching vacancies have been filled, he would be a fantastic addition to the staff. In his first season as the Phoenix Suns’ head coach, he helped lead them to a 48-34 record, despite the team being expected to be one of the worst in the league heading into the 2013-14 season. There were also some similarities to their playing style that Walton has said the Lakers will run, so that could help enhance that possibility.
9. Casey Owens
Owens is currently the head coach of the Lakers’ Developmental League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Owens’ group advanced all the way to the D-League Finals this year, losing in the decisive third game. Harrison Faigen covered the D-Fenders for Silver Screen and Roll this season, citing the team’s culture as a vital factor in their success. Owens, who was an assistant alongside Walton on the D-Fenders staff in 2013, instilled a mentality that resonated with his players this season, nearly leading to a league championship. He is highly-regarded by many people within the organization as well. That’s the type of guy you want to help develop your young talent.
10. Thomas Scott
Scott has been on the Lakers coaching staff for the past two seasons as an assistant under his father, Byron. Now, I understand that it may be a bit awkward to keep Thomas on the staff after parting ways with his father as head coach, and he might not be willing to stay in his current role, either. But while there was noticeable tension between some of the players and Byron Scott this season, Thomas Scott appeared to be well-liked by them, especially Jordan Clarkson. His role the past two seasons has mainly been about player development, so keeping some consistency there for the young players could be intriguing. Scott also was an assistant coach on that 2013-14 D-Fenders staff with Owens and Walton, so it would not be surprising if the latter wants him to stay put.
I would include former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel on this list, but I would be absolutely stunned if he does not find another job as a head coach right away. Vogel’s removal from Indiana was surprising, seeing as they were one win away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs out East. Many people believe he is an elite head coach in the NBA, so obviously he should be targeted for anyone’s staff, but it would be shocking if he is not a head coach again next season.
We will find out in due time who will join Walton in Los Angeles. The search is supposedly already underway. While most of the attention is focused on the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery, assembling a quality staff will play an important part of the Lakers’ future.