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Column: He might be a longshot, but Doc Rivers still Lakers’ best shot for coach

Coach Doc Rivers claps his hands along the sideline as he encourages his players.
Coach Doc Rivers is reportedly under contract with the 76ers for three more seasons, so if the Lakers were to try to hire him as coach they’d owe Philadelphia compensation.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

So, the Lakers floated their three leading candidates for coach to the media this week as a sort of trial balloon.

Terry Stotts! Kenny Atkinson! Darvin Ham!

Pssssssst.

The news fell flatter than a Russell Westbrook jump shot. The options quickly lost all air, the shriveled remains floating harmlessly into the cluttered mess that is the Lakers’ summer landscape.

Seriously? That’s all you’ve got? It’s considered a soft coaching market, and the Lakers are considered a hard sell, but still … that’s it?

Terry Stotts? Wonderful man, great tactician, but across 13 NBA seasons in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Portland, his teams advanced as far as the conference finals only once.

Lakers coaching candidate update: Former coaches Terry Stotts and Kenny Atkinson as well as longtime assistant Darvin Ham will interview again.

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If you’re going to hire Stotts, then you never should have fired Frank Vogel.

Kenny Atkinson? Energetic dude, currently on the staff at reborn Golden State, but his specialty is developing kids, as he did with the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie during four mostly miserable seasons in Brooklyn.

If you’re going to hire Atkinson, then you should have hired him before LeBron James and Anthony Davis showed up.

Darvin Ham? He’s the only one of the three candidates who played in the league, and he’s been a respected assistant with the Lakers, Hawks and Bucks, but he’s never been an NBA head coach.

If you’re going to hire him, well … the last time they hired someone with no NBA head coaching experience, his name was Luke Walton, and how did that work out?

Granted, Stotts could resurrect the offense like he did in Portland, and Atkinson could inject some life into the veteran culture, and Ham could be the next Willie Green, a fellow former role player who was terrific this season in his head-coaching debut in New Orleans.

But generally, this list feels … meh.

Which tells me the Lakers could still be angling for someone who isn’t on it.

Yeah, I’m going to double-down on Doc.

A month ago, it was written in this space that Doc Rivers was the Lakers’ best choice, and despite all that has happened with him and his Philadelphia 76ers during that time, he is still the best choice.

You might not like him, maybe you revile him, but Doc Rivers is the right coach to replace Frank Vogel, writes L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke.

Here’s hoping maybe some on the Lakers are quietly thinking the same thing. Here’s hoping news of their three leading candidates was leaked and confirmed as a sort of a smokescreen for their real intentions, which are to work behind the scenes to help Rivers and the Sixers end a union that is going nowhere.

Maybe not. Maybe by the end of this week they’ll be scheduling a news conference to introduce the grateful Stotts, the honored Atkinson or the humbled Ham.

Yet, so long as there’s a shot at acquiring Rivers, they should take that shot.

Yes, he has three more years left on his Sixers contract. Yes, last week Rivers sat next to team President Daryl Morey and listened to him tell reporters that Doc isn’t going anywhere.

“I just think he’s a great coach,” Morey said. “I love working with him. I feel like I’m learning from him … and we’re gonna see where this journey takes us … but we feel very good about where it’s gonna take us, and it’s gonna be where we have a very good chance to win the title.”

A vote of confidence, perhaps. But Morey didn’t hire Rivers, and some say Morey is still enamored with his longtime favorite coach Mike D’Antoni, and surely Morey wasn’t pleased that a team with Joel Embiid and James Harden couldn’t advance past the second round of the playoffs.

What if Morey made that statement as an opening move in an attempt to squeeze more compensation from the Lakers in exchange for Rivers? There is no way the Lakers should give up any of their precious future draft picks for the coach, but, heck, there’s always money.

If both sides really want this to happen, it should happen. Though it seems like a long shot, it still could happen, because here’s guessing Rivers wants it to happen.

In the past he’s always expressed his fondness for Los Angeles, and once nearly left the Clippers for the Lakers, and right now he is the perfect coach for this imperfect situation.

Doc Rivers shakes hands with Mayor Eric Garcetti during an event at Fairfax High to launch a program to recruit mentors.
Doc Rivers greets Mayor Eric Garcetti while coach of the Clippers during an event at Fairfax High to launch a volunteer program to recruit mentors.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

They’re not built to win a championship, not so long as the aging James is paired with the brittle Davis, so they need a coach who can simply keep this tempestuous group calm and competitive and relevant until the next era begins.

Rivers deftly handled the Clippers during the Donald Sterling debacle, so Rivers can do that.

They need someone who can keep the path smooth for James as he breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record next season and perhaps retires the following year.

Rivers won an NBA championship with three free-spirited veteran superstars in Boston, so Rivers can do that.

They also need someone who can somehow salvage the career of Russell Westbrook if the embattled player isn’t traded, somebody who can keep Westbrook’s attention longer than preseason practice, something which Vogel failed to do.

Rivers has dealt with the difficult Chris Paul and the mercurial Blake Griffin and the inconsistent DeAndre Jordan — all at once — so Rivers can do that.

As much as anything, with turmoil tugging on the franchise from every corner, the Lakers need a likable and respected personality who understands their place in this community and can serve as a trusted voice and welcome face who can shape and deliver their message.

Rivers wouldn’t just win the initial news conference, he would win every news conference.

If Rivers wasn’t already under contract, here’s guessing he would be the Lakers coach by now. He still can be. The Lakers are known for doing amazing things to make seemingly unreachable acquisitions. This one would be worth the work.

As if this important decision were a game show, Lakers fans were presented this week with three potential head coaching options.

The Lakers should pick door No. 4.


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