If the Los Angeles Lakers could hire anyone in the NBA to be their next president of basketball operations, they would choose Pat Riley. He satisfies every possible criterion for the job. He is perhaps the greatest free agent recruiter in NBA history and has a strong history in the draft. He is a member of the Lakers family having spent both his playing career and the early part of his coaching career with the team. He even knows LeBron James from their time together with the Miami Heat, though their relationship grew strained after he left. He is the perfect choice to succeed the player he once coached, Magic Johnson.
But he’s not coming. He said so in no uncertain terms to Shandel Richardson of The Athletic. He will remain with the Miami Heat for the rest of his career in professional basketball.
“I mean, I’m not going to comment on another team’s misfortune while they’re going through some adversity right now,” Riley said at his annual end-of-the-season press conference at AmericanAirlines Arena. “There’s no doubt that I have a history with that team. I was there for 20 years and I have a lot of friends still in the organization. I had a good conversation with Magic after he stepped down and I’m sure they’ll work it out. I’m not going to be part of that. That’s not what I want to do.”
The story of Riley returning to the Lakers three decades after his relationship with the team fell apart would have been a nice story, and having an executive of his stature run the team might have actually allowed them to right the ship, but in truth, this was probably for the best. The Lakers have a lesson to learn about what makes a franchise successful, and hiring Riley, no matter how sparkling his track record is, would have been more of the same.
The Lakers hire within the family. That’s what led to Johnson, Rob Pelinka and Luke Walton. Jeanie Buss simply refuses to bring in high-level basketball staffers who don’t have ties to the Lakers. That insulation has stifled the franchise and prevented it from being exposed to other basketball philosophies. Riley may be the best former Laker out there, but he is still a former Laker, and hiring him would have justified that approach in the eyes of Buss.
If the Lakers are going to not only dig their way out of their current hole, but actually build a sustainably successful franchise, they are going to have to do it by accepting that they are no different than any other franchise. They cannot act as if the Lakers have some sort of patent on success, and that only their former players and coaches could possibly lead the team moving forward. They need to hire someone with no ties to the team to prove that those ties are completely unnecessary in winning basketball games. Lakers exceptionalism is dead. No matter how exceptional Riley is, the life he would have given that idea would have destroyed the Lakers for decades to come. “>247Sports