Of the many candidates interviewed for the Lakers head coach opening, Adrian Griffin stands out as one of the names people know least about.
Older fans may remember his playing career in the 2000s when he played for five teams from 1999 until 2008, starting in Boston. Immediately after his playing career ended, Griffin shifted into a coaching role and has been on the sidelines since the 2008-09 season with stops in Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando, Oklahoma City and, his current location, Toronto.
Griffin has served as an assistant coach with the Raptors since 2018, helping the franchise win a title in 2019. He’s continued elevating his position to the point of receiving that interview from the Lakers.
But despite spending over a decade on the sideline, little is known about him publicly. So, I turned to our friends at Raptors HQ where JD Quirante answered some questions to help us get to know Griffin a little bit better.
What are his best qualities as a head coach?
Quirante: Defense. He was brought in not just as the lead assistant, but also as the defensive coordinator. You don’t spend all those years under Tom Thibodeau and Scott Skiles and not be a defensive-minded coach.
He’s a modern-day player’s coach. I think the days of former player-turned coach hired to be a motivator have jumped the shark. It’s not enough to be just known as “he was one of us before” to the players and knowing when and what buttons to push. I think based on his history, he’s a great connector, and he puts a lot of emphasis on building relationships with his players and earning their trust, thus the buy-in (Editor’s note: Rob Pelinka noted this as a priority in the team’s coaching search). He’s worked with a lot of players, from marquee and hard to deal with players like Jimmy Butler to the fringe roster players and they all had great things to say about him.
My favorite Griffin game was when he took over after Nurse was tossed late in the third quarter against the Pistons. The Raptors were shorthanded — no OG Anunoby or Fred Van Vleet — and they were getting their asses kicked. They were down 18 and the Raps looked discombobulated and I was ready to call it a game. They had a game the next day and were on their third game in four nights. Griffin was just sitting non-descript up until that point.
So Nurse gets tossed, and Griffin got up and basically went playoff Nick Nurse mode. He got the guys to focus, got them to step up their defensive intensity and asked them to keep pushing the pace even on dead legs. He rode Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa to the ground, but got them playing Raps basketball and nearly pulled off the comeback. If you didn’t know that Nurse got tossed, you would’ve thought Nurse was there the whole time as that comeback attempt is on par with the stubborn “never say die” comeback attempts that we’re used to seeing from a Nick Nurse team.
What are some of his weaknesses?
Quirante: We really haven’t seen Griffin coach a lot of games, but from what I remember from the handful of games that he’s coached, he’s put a lot of emphasis on defense and pace. He’s basically executed Nurse’s gameplan for the most part, so if anything, the biggest question mark is whether he’s got enough in the bag offensively as a coach. He’s also been part of teams that had a clunky/predictable offense, so I’m curious to see what he’s like as a full-time head coach.
Anything else you think we should know about him as a coach?
Quirante: I think there are a couple of ideal scenarios for Griffin to step in as a head coach. One is on a rebuilding team like Mark Daigneault at OKC where he can grow with the team and the team can afford to give him more rope. The other is a team like the Grizzlies from three years ago where you have a young team that wants to have a taste of competitive basketball.
However, I’m interested to see how things will play out if Griffin ends up with the Lakers. I think he’s a good hedge. If the Lakers decide to blow it up after next season, he’s an ideal coach for a rebuild. For the upcoming season, the Lakers need a defensive identity, and I have no doubt that he’ll get the buy-in from the players to go hard on defense as long as the management surrounds their Big 3 with the right personnel.
With Lebron on the fold, there’ll be less pressure for him to overhaul the offense. But if there’s a coach that can reach out to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook and get them all on the same page, I think Griffin is one of them. I think he can build a relationship with them and earn their trust, and perhaps get them to play together.
Some very interesting insight on Griffin that makes it a bit more clear why the Lakers are targeting him with an interview early on in their process. Big thanks to JD Quirante, who you can follow on Twitter @JDKeyRants.