Los Angeles Lakers: Is Tom Thibodeau really the answer?

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Bulls Fire Tom Thibodeau


Tom Thibodeau was unceremoniously dumped by the Chicago Bulls last week and rumors have already connected him to numerous head coaching jobs. While both the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans have filled their vacant top spots, a team that already has a head coach in place might be interested in the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year.

While Byron Scott appears locked in as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he looks like a placeholder, not a long-term solution. The Lakers were actually interested in Thibodeau last year and many thought he would wind up in Los Angeles. The front office then settled on Scott, who is fresh off guiding a depleted Lakers team to a franchise-worst record of 21-61.

The Lakers appear committed to Scott for the 2015-16 season despite his struggles, but making a change now could be the right move. Scott hasn't led a team to the playoffs in his last four years as a head coach, while Thibodeau took the Bulls to the postseason in each of his five campaigns in Chicago. The Lakers don't currently look anything like a championship team, but they do appear to have a bright future.

As of now the Lakers boast All-Rookie first-team guard Jordan Clarkson, a fully-healthy Julius Randle, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and tons of space under the salary cap. With a few smart moves by general manager Mitch Kupchak, those elements could add up to a quick turnaround in Los Angeles. For that to happen, the team would need the right head coach. Thibodeau's defense-first mentality could be the kind of change in philosophy that would help Los Angeles stand out in a crowded Western Conference.

As some have pointed out since his firing, Thibodeau has actually been one of the best head coaches in NBA history at maximizing the talent at his disposal. Yes, one of thebest in NBA history. Thibodeau's Bulls teams won an average of 7.5 more games per season than statistical models predicted. That's 36 wins added in just five seasons, which is insane. To give you an idea how amazing that is, Phil Jackson's teams won 2.3 more games per season over his coaching career and Gregg Popovich's squads have averaged 4.3 more wins per season during his tenure.

That's not to say Thibodeau is perfect, because he certainly isn't. His teams did fade in the postseason, likely because key players racked up so many minutes during the regular season. His substitution patterns were a constant issue, he clashed with Bulls management repeatedly and Chicago's offensive sets left a lot to be desired. That said, Thibodeau managed to keep the Bulls winning even after Derrick Rose's career took a severe nosedive thanks to his constant injury issues.

He only got one full season out of Rose (2010-11) yet somehow managed to win the Central Division in 2012, and finish second in each of the past three seasons. He developed Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler into All-Stars and also made the Bulls the NBA's most feared defensive team despite missing his franchise player for most of his time in town.

Scott simply isn't the coach Thibodeau is. His career winning percentage is .429, and while he led two teams to Eastern Conference titles (the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003), he's not a top-tier head coach. He hasn't taken a team to a division title since 2008 and he hasn't had a squad win more than 24 games since 2009. As I said, he seems like a placeholder, not the guy who will lead the Lakers back to glory.

I know Byron Scott is not the answer for the Lakers moving forward, but that doesn't mean Thibodeau is the guy either. The 57-year-old native of New Britain, Connecticut has a long track record of success as an assistant and was outstanding with the Bulls. But could he fit in with the management structure already in place in Los Angeles? That, more than his coaching ability, is the key.

When Thibodeau finds his next job he needs to remember that winning isn't the only thing that matters as a coach in the NBA. You have to work with those above you to create a cohesive franchise that operates smoothly from top to bottom. I hope he's learned that lesson. While the Bulls never truly accepted him and eventually tried to humiliate him on his way out, Thibodeau did himself no favors. That needs to change.

Lakers management clearly likes Thibodeau and appreciates what he brings to the table as a head coach. If he proves he can work within the franchise's power structure, he could wind up being a home run in Los Angeles. But that is a huge "if."

It may take a year for it to happen, but Tom Thibodeau could be the next great Lakers head coach if he shows he has learned important lessons from his stint in Chicago.

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