The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most successful franchise in the history of the NBA. They’ve won 17 NBA titles and won the Western Conference 19 times, spreading that success surprisingly evenly over seven decades.
Since they were founded in 1947, they have only had one stretch where they were absent from the Conference Finals for more than six years. That one stretch went from 2010 to 2019 and covered the tail end of the Kobe Bryant era and the burgeoning of the turbulent LeBron James epoch (which may be coming to a surprisingly premature end).
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that on a list of the five worst coaching hires for the Lakers—a franchise that has hired legendary coaches like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley and John Kundla—three of them were prowling the Lakers sideline during that dreadful decade.
Such a paucity of mediocrity made it pretty simple to determine who were the five worst coaching hires in Lakers history: of all the Lakers coaches who coached a full season at least, only five failed to reach a Conference Final, and four of them are on this list. The one who doesn’t fall into that category, funnily enough, was one of the franchise’s most beloved figures…
The worst coaching hires in Lakers history:
5. Jerry West (1976-1979)
Jerry West is an all-time Laker and an all-time NBA player. He’s the logo for god’s sake. He has also proven himself to be an elite talent evaluator and front-office man, winning Executive of the Year twice. However, the one job he never could quite get a handle on was that of the head coach.
While his portrayal in the HBO series “Winning Time” was clearly exacerbated, it was no secret that West’s temper could flare up quite easily, which made it difficult both to keep his poise during games and to build bonds with the players he was trying to coach.
Building your own skills is one thing, and recognizing talent is another, but coaching and molding a group of men into a seamless unit is a whole other ball game. West had only retired as a player two years before becoming head coach, and in three years on the bench, he went 145-101 in the regular season.
He made the playoffs three times, but he won just two playoff series and posted an 8-14 playoff record overall. His departure from the bench led directly to the events that resulted in the birth of the Showtime era, so while he was one of the worst coaching hires, his departure from the bench was arguably the most important one in Lakers’ history.