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Looking back at Pop’s opposing head coaches- Lakers edition

Phil Jackson has spent the most time in Hollywood since Pop joined the Spurs

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

As mentioned previously, an article entitled “Pop’s Incredible Longevity” revealed that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has coached against 307 different NBA coaches during his twenty-eight year tenure at the helm.

Since the firing of Bob Hill in 1996, Pop has consistently coached the Spurs, give or take an ejection or two. Tonight (and Friday) the Spurs face off against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Del Harris (1994-1999) was Pop’s first opponent in Tinseltown. Harris increased wins in L.A. every year he was head coach.

In his third season the Lakers added Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, beginning the next era of Showtime. Despite the success, Harris was fired after a 6–6 start to the lockout-shortened 1998–99 season.

Kurt Rambis took over and lost 81-108 to Pop in his only game against the Spurs that season. Rambis would face Pop again during his time in Minnesota. He never beat Pop during those abysmal seasons either.

Phil “kiss my asterisk” Jackson is well known to Spurs fans for his dismissal of the 1999 NBA Championship. Bitter or not, Phil took over where Del Harris left off with Kobe and Shaq and led the Lakers to 5 50+ games winning season and three NBA titles (and one embarrassing loss in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons). The Zen Master left the Lakers after speculation of issues between he and Kobe Bryant. Shaq also parted ways, leading to discussions that the Lakers pandered to Bryant. Jackson returned from 2005 to 2011, bringing the Lakers two more titles.

Rudy Tomjanovich served as Jackson’s replacement during his gap year, but left midseason due to health issues related to his bladder cancer. Assistant coach Frank Hamblen took over the remainder of the season. The 34-48 record was the worst the Lakers had endured in a decade and the first time the Lakers would miss the postseason during Pop’s time in San Antonio.

Pop’s former assistant Mike Brown was named the Lakers head coach in 2005. He only made it five games into his second season before fired and replaced by assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

Bickerstaff has the highest winning percentage of any Lakers head coach at .800. Granted, he only coached five games after Mike Brown was fired on November 9, 2012. His 4-1 record has only one blemish — a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on November 13th.

Bickerstaff was replaced by Mike D’Antoni, who had already faced off with Pop in Denver, Phoenix, and New York. D’Antoni faced an injury-riddled second season (both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash missed most of the season) and Mr. Pringles resigned. But don’t fret, he’ll pop back up on Houston as a long-time I-10 rival.

Byron Scott picked up where D’Antoni left off having a 21-61 start in the 2014-15 season. His next season was even worse. Kobe’s farewell season ended 17-65. Scott’s two-season 38–126 record is the worst of any of the coaches who had led the franchise for at least two seasons.

Former Lakers’ forward Luke Walton got his first head coaching position in the NBA with the team that drafted him just over a decade before. He and the Lakers struggled in the transition from legend Kobe Bryant. Walton and the Lakers missed the postseason in all three of his seasons and he and the organization agreed to mutually part ways.

Frank Vogel, who had already competed with Pop during his years in Indiana and Orlando, came in with Anthony Davis to help LeBron James bring glory back to the purple and gold. They did so during the pandemic bubble. he was fired the next season for not repeating (or even making the postseason) despite injuries to both James and Davis.

Darvin Ham, the current Lakers coach, is in his second season. The Lakers’ stars are aging, but never count LeBron James out. He and the Lakers just earned the first In-Tournament Championship Cup. They come in smelling fresh meat and will look to hit hard and fast.

Twelve coaches have graced the Laker hardwood since Pop took over with the Spurs, and eleven of those seasons belonged to Phil Jackson. That’s another eleven coaches (twelve if you count Bill Berkta’s one-game stint on February 25, 1999) over seventeen seasons. For a top tier franchise with one of the greatest legacies in NBA history, they seem to flail around a lot when no one named Kobe or Magic is on the team.


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