Apparently Lakers Head Coaching Vacancy Isn’t Worth $70 million

Is LeBron James’s constant meddling making candidates uneasy?

Dan Hurley turned down tens of millions of dollars to coach Los Angeles Lakers. AP

The Los Angeles Lakers’ search for a head coach is unraveling into a calamity after Dan Hurley elected to remain at the University of Connecticut for half the $70 million the storied franchise reportedly offered him to jump to the NBA.

Once considered a dream job in one of the country’s most desirable cities, coaching the Lakers apparently is no longer as appealing, and their search for a head coach is dissolving into a hunt for sloppy seconds.

Mr. Hurley on Monday rejected a reported six-year, $70 million deal from the Lakers to stay at UConn, where the Huskies will attempt to win a men’s national basketball championship for the third straight season. Mr. Hurley’s decision comes despite spending the weekend at Los Angeles being wined and dined by a team desperate for him to bring his talents to Hollywood and coach the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, LeBron James.

In the end, there wasn’t enough money or incentive to get Mr. Hurley to leave Storrs, Connecticut, even though his current contract is worth $32 million. “Our MVP Coach is staying in CT,” the state’s governor, Ned Lamont, posted. “Now let’s get ready for a #3peat.” 

It leaves the Lakers with egg on their faces.

Before their interest in Mr. Hurley surfaced last week, the Lakers supposedly coveted JJ Redick, the former Duke star turned broadcaster, who co-hosts a podcast with Mr. James. Now if Mr. Redick is offered the job, he’ll know he wasn’t the organization’s first choice.

It’s the same with the other candidates mentioned, including James Borrego, a former head coach of the Charlotte Hornets and currently an assistant with the New Orleans Pelicans. Mr Borrego reportedly conducted two in-person interviews with the Lakers, while Mr. Redick has yet to interview, according to ESPN. Another name being floated is a former Villanova head coach, Jay Wright.

Eventually, someone will be the Lakers’ head coach, but the fact a college coach rejected them shows how far the Lakers have fallen since the glamour days of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. There have been seven head coaches since Mr. Jackson left the Lakers after the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel coached the team to an NBA title during the Covid-19 Bubble season, but the rest of the coaches have come and gone like a revolving door, which doesn’t help in landing someone with the security Mr. Hurley owns at UConn.

Coach Darvin Ham’s treatment could also affect the Lakers’ search for a head coach. The organization fired him on May 3 with two years remaining on his contract after going 99-86 including postseason play. The Lakers also won the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament last December.

Mr. Ham was fired after the Lakers were beaten by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs this year after reaching the Western Conference Finals last year.

“The organization will remain unwavering in its commitment to deliver championship-caliber basketball to Lakers fans around the world,” the Lakers general manager, Rob Pelinka, said at the time of the firing.  Five weeks later, the Lakers are still searching.

Rampant speculation Mr. James was behind the firing also brings into question who is running the Lakers. Mr. James has a reputation of not being happy with coaches dating back to his days in Cleveland, when David Blatt was fired in 2016 with a 30-11 record midway through his second season after leading the Cavs to the Eastern Conference Finals the prior season. His .731 winning percentage was the highest for any NBA coach to be fired.

Anyone taking the Lakers job must deal with Mr. James’s leverage over the franchise and understand it could undermine a coach’s authority. It could be a major reason Mr. Hurley decided to stay at UConn. His fiery, tough-love coaching approach also might not work in the pros, where egos and contracts are paramount.

Mr. Hurley also isn’t leaving much money on the table. He signed a six-year, $32 million contract last June after winning his first title, and will get a bump for winning a second and remaining as the head coach. He is 148-58 in six seasons at UConn and 68-11 over the last two championship seasons.

The Lakers, meanwhile, need to have someone in place in time to prepare for the NBA Draft, scheduled for June 26-27 at Barclays Center.

The New York Sun

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