LOS ANGELES – As little as Mike D'Antoni wanted to coach Kobe Bryant in the end, Bryant wanted to play for D'Antoni even less. They had barely communicated for months, steering clear until a permanent parting on Wednesday night. They would've been miserable together, would've inevitably imploded the Los Angeles Lakers locker room.
D'Antoni is a great offensive mind, but his difficulties with Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Bryant have played a part in the unraveling of his coaching career. Lakers management had a willingness to bring him back next season, but refused to make a commitment beyond 2015.
The Lakers have lost talent, lost stability, lost what separates winning and losing franchises. Bryant won't pick the next coach, the way he had no input into Mike Brown and little into D'Antoni. Bryant will wish for Tom Thibodeau to free himself from Chicago. He loves Jeff Van Gundy, and shares management's affinity for Euro legend Ettore Messina, who spent a season on Mike Brown's staff.
Bryant has long admired Byron Scott, but there's a different ex-Lakers guard who could go much further to regenerate the franchise's culture and hold the insight into getting the most out of Bryant's final two seasons: Derek Fisher.
Once the Oklahoma City Thunder's season ends, Fisher will have a willingness to listen to coaching, front office and broadcasting possibilities. As for the Lakers' coaching job, it holds tremendous appeal to him, sources with knowledge of his thinking told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday night. For now, the Thunder's 3-2 deficit to Memphis holds his full focus, but there's no rush for the Lakers to hire a coach now.
The Lakers need to make themselves a destination again. Free agency has major importance in 2015 and '16 for the Lakers, and they'll need to be positioned to make a run at Kevin Durant.
Superstars want desperately to consider the Lakers in free agency, but they won't go anywhere based only on geography and banners. They'll need to see an infrastructure of talent, management structure and coaching. Durant will want a culture, and Fisher could've grown into the job by '16 to sell him on the Lakers' brand.
It is risky to hire a coach with no experience, but the right minds and right coaching staffs can make it work. Fisher will command respect and he'll be synonymous with a championship heritage that Lakers fans crave as a face of the franchise. Fisher is close to the end with the Thunder, and he'll be the rare non-star to choose his next direction: management, coaching or television.
He's smart enough to figure them all out, but coaching the Lakers would be the most tempting of all for Fisher. History with Bryant in the short term – and history with Durant in the long term – are legitimate benefits in pursuit of this job. The Lakers won't be reconstructed overnight, but through the draft and trades and ultimately free agency. There are good candidate cases to be made elsewhere in the Lakers' search process, but the most intriguing could be the most unconventional: out of the Thunder backcourt and onto the Lakers bench.
Derek Fisher is nearing the end, and willing to listen. This is a call the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak must make, a conversation with Fisher they owe it to the franchise to have sooner than later.