How would you like to be a rookie coach succeeding Pat Riley? That was the unenviable task facing Dunleavy, who had been a solid NBA player before working in an investment firm. Riley was like a rock star. His successor was someone who played in seven games over two seasons as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks just to help out the club. Two years as an assistant hardly seems the necessary preparation for the league's most coveted coaching job, yet he did Riley proud by piloting the Lakers to 58 regular-season victories and a spot in the NBA Finals.
The "Showtime" Lakers were a thing of the past. Icons Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper had retired and in their place were guys such as Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, Terry Teagle and Larry Drew. Still, the Lakers were dangerous with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green. Acquiring Sam Perkins through free agency made them a legitimate contender, and although though the team failed to win the Pacific Division for the first time in 10 years, it gelled at the right time, knocking off the favored Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
Perkins' three-pointer with 14 seconds left won the first game for the Lakers, but the Bulls swept the next four to win the Finals. Magic Johnson made the stunning announcement that he was HIV-positive and retired before the start of the 1992-93 season, and without him running the floor, the Lakers finished a mediocre 43-39, losing in the first round of the playoffs. Dunleavy had implemented a slow-down, half-court style that many of the players found difficult to adjust to -- particularly the veterans who were used to fast-breaking at every opportunity under Riley. Dunleavy seemed to know his days were numbered, because he decided to become the Bucks' coach and vice president of basketball operations before the 1992-93 season.
Dunleavy was named coach of the year with Portland in 1999, but the Blazers blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Phil Jackson-coached Lakers. He was fired by Portland at the end of the 2000-01 season. Dunleavy returned to Los Angeles in 2003 to coach the Clippers and led them to the second round of the playoffs in 2006 - -their first playoff berth since 1997 and the first time the team had won a playoff series since 1977, when the franchise was still in Buffalo. He was relieved of his duties in February 2010 but retained his position as general manager until being fired March 9.
Dunleavy's tenure with the Lakers can be summed up in three words: short but respectable.