Return the cake, reverse the Allen Iverson meme, and cancel the reunion tour. Tyronn Lue will not be the next coach of the Lakers, nor will he be LeBron James’s coach for a second time—at least not next season. On Wednesday, the former Cavaliers head coach—who went to three NBA Finals, and won one of them, with LeBron in Cleveland—reportedly passed on the Lakers’ offer to be the team’s head coach.
As if things couldn’t become more hellish for the Lakers. After missing the playoffs in LeBron’s first year and seeing president of basketball operations Magic Johnson resign on the final day of the season (without telling owner Jeanie Buss first!), they have now botched their head coaching search, too. As part of Lue’s terms to take the job, he reportedly wanted to hire a staff of his choosing. But the Lakers had other ideas. They wanted Lue to bring on Jason Kidd as a top assistant because he “made a strong impression with management in his head coaching interview and had a productive history [with the] Bucks developing young talent,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Why would Lue want to have a coach on his staff who has been known to angle for better jobs and bigger titles? Also, if Kidd impressed the Lakers that much, why didn’t they just hire him as head coach? (Hold that frightening thought.) Wednesday afternoon reports from the Los Angeles Times went on to note that both the Lakers and Lue each said that they had been the ones to leave the negotiating table. Talk about controlling the narrative.
Then the smoking gun emerged: Lue and his representatives apparently wanted a five-year deal, and the Lakers were only willing to offer a three-year deal worth $18 million. That means that Lue’s contract would have likely run out at the same time as LeBron’s. All of these issues—the money and contract-length discrepancy, the inability to have control over his own staff, and the fact that Lue’s leverage due to his relationship with LeBron still wasn’t enough to get the Lakers to cave—eventually led Lue to say, “No thanks.”
So, what does the coaching search look like now? The Lakers are reportedly expanding their search to include three veteran coaches: Lionel Hollins, Frank Vogel (who was reportedly going to join Lue’s staff as an assistant), and Mike Woodson. They’re also reviewing a couple of candidates they’ve interviewed at least once already: Juwan Howard (LeBron’s former teammate in Miami) and yep, Kidd. Hollins hasn’t coached in the league since he was fired by the Nets following the 2015-16 season. Woodson resigned from his position as a Clippers assistant in May of last year, and Vogel was fired by the Magic in 2018. These aren’t exactly top-tier candidates. Kidd, of course, was fired by the Bucks last year, and under Mike Budenholzer’s tutelage Milwaukee has suddenly become an NBA Finals contender. But LeBron apparently holds Kidd in high regard. Howard has no head coaching experience, but, like Lue, he has a connection to LeBron. Then there’s Mike Brown, who is currently serving as a Warriors assistant and could also be an option given that he coached LeBron in Cleveland.
Clearly, the common thread between most of these options is a relationship with LeBron. Even if he has reportedly removed himself from the coaching process, his presence looms over all of this. The Lakers messed up in Year 1 of his deal, and making the right hire was supposed to be a positive step toward not repeating their failures in Year 2. They seemingly had their guy in Lue, then lost him didn’t because they didn’t want to pay him.
If Laker fans were not worried about the front office’s direction before, this latest development is more or less a perfect distillation of the troubling insulation and arrogance the franchise has shown in recent years. Rob Pelinka has taken power, LeBron was brutally honest about how blindsided he was by Magic’s resignation, and now, Kurt Rambis has become a “powerful voice in basketball operations” as well as in this coaching search. That level of dysfunction may scare other candidates and could even have an effect on the team’s ability to attract free agents. Who wants to willingly put themselves in the eye of the storm?
Lue, who is familiar with the stress a LeBron-led team can put on a coach, was by far the best candidate, and he was willing to take on that burden again—for a price. But the Lakers didn’t want to meet it and now they have to find a backup plan: a coach that both wants to be there and won’t clash with LeBron. Good luck with that.