Mike D’Antoni resigned as Lakers coach late Wednesday night and the buzz began, coast to coast
Will the Lakers approach Kevin Ollie to replace him?
This is to be expected. An NBA team in search of a coach would be crazy if it didn’t think of Ollie. He’s relatively young, 41, he knows the league inside and out having played 13 years, leaving only four years ago, and he has proven now he can be a head coach, and outmaneuver the best of them.
Kevin Ollie is one of the hottest names in coaching at the moment. So his name will come up again and again, and a new contract at UConn will not change that. There will always be an out.
The short answer to all this: I believe Kevin Ollie will coach UConn next season. But I hate the short answer; I have been doing this too long to be shocked by anything and this is a lot more complicated than a 140-character tweet.
Here are some points to consider …
What we can report: UConn AD Warde Manuel said Thursday, through a spokesman, “there is no update to give” regarding Ollie’s contract talks. No word from Ollie’s side.
What we can assume: Ollie and Manuel have had a conversation or two since the end of the season and each knows where the other stands, and what the general nature of a new contract would be. There just hasn’t been time to drill down on it because Ollie has been all over the country recruiting the last two weeks (which is not a sign of a coach looking to leave, BTW). Last time around, UConn held the cards and Ollie accepted a seven-month “audition” to get the job. He holds all the cards now.
What has been said: At the parade, our Jeff Jacobs asked Ollie directly if anything could shake him to leave UConn. Jake wrote:
The NBA is going to come knocking for Ollie at some point in the near future. Lakers? Oklahoma City if the Thunder stumble in the playoffs? The question was direct to Ollie. Is there anything that will shake him from UConn this year?
“Nothing will shake me,” Ollie said. “I love this place. Like anything else, I evaluate it each and every year. I want the conditions right around my student-athletes, and you just never know where the NCAA is going in years to come. I want to make sure the university is doing everything possible for our student-athletes to succeed. If I don’t see that, maybe there’s an opportunity for me to leave. It’s perfect right now … I don’t plan to leave.”
When he appeared with Gayle King’s on CBS’ morning show on April 16, Ollie was asked if he would answer an NBA call.
“No, not now in my life,” he said. “Like I say, I can’t never –say no. … I’m just worried– worried about my kids here at the University of Connecticut. And I got three guys– four guys is gonna graduate on time. And I want to be there for the graduation. That’s actually, that’s gonna be even better than the national championship. I’m never gonna say never, but I’m having so much fun. It’s my dream job.” Here is the entire transcript.
Ollie did leave himself some wriggle room for the future. He believes more should be done to support college athletes – so he can one day say that is a reason for leaving.
Manuel made clear during the Final Four that he knows the current contract is out-moded and a new, more lucrative deal will have to be made.
Sincerity. All coaches talk about loyalty, how much they love their present job, etc. But with nearly all, you can take that with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s naïve on my part, but I do believe Kevin Ollie is sincere and cares a lot about how he is perceived. He knows what would be said if, after all he has said, he leaves now. And he would hate that.
Opportunity. NBA jobs open every year, but two of the plumb jobs in all of sports are open now – the Lakers and Knicks. And if the Thunder season ends badly and that job opens, it would be a chance to coach Kevin Durant in his prime, and it is well documented how close Ollie and Durant are. These could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that are tough to turn down.
With Durant approaching free agency after next season, either the Thunder, or a team that would want to pursue him, like the Lakers, could consider the Ollie-Durant relationship, increasing Ollie’s appeal and leverage.
Location. A lot has been made of the fact that Ollie is from Los Angeles. It should be noted that he has not lived there for quite some time, has lived or been associated with Connecticut for almost his entire adult life. His family is settled here. The Knicks, if things don’t work out with Steve Kerr, might actually be the “hometown” gig for him. Here is a BR piece mentioning Ollie as a Knicks candidate.
Money. After playing 13 years in the NBA, Ollie presumably has more financial independence than most coaches. He has the luxury of coaching where he will be happiest, if the money is close. If it comes down to a bidding war, the Lakers or Knicks could outbid UConn, yes. But after winning this championship, Ollie could probably stay at UConn for the rest of his career and have the long-term security that goes with that. In the NBA, he could become a coaching nomad.
If Ollie were to leave UConn in 2014, he would have to compensate the university $2.55 million. That would have to be baked into an NBA deal for him to recoup it. Let’s say, when all is said and done, Ollie can make $3 million per year at UConn. What would the Lakers or Knicks offer, $5 million per year? It is significant, but if he is happy at UConn, he can stay there and do very, very well.
The fit: Kevin Ollie has the perfect voice, IMO, for coaching college kids in this day and age. He is demanding, but not demeaning. He is a role model, kids and parents obviously trust him. He is able to project an image of being there for the players, not the players working for him. And he has the NBA credibility for kids to believe he is trying to get them where they want to go. However, this does not mean Ollie would not also be a perfect fit for the NBA, also. He was in that league long enough to know what makes highly-paid, grown men tick, so he would know how to change his approach to coaching an NBA roster. The man knows how to coach people.
The LA Times proposed Ollie as a Lakers candidate during the Final Four. Now that the job is officially open and the search is on, here is their latest take on it.
So there’s a lot to chew on here. Ask yourself, what would you do? It’s not that easy, is it?