Sports

Snubbed by their first choice, the Los Angeles Lakers must resume their head coaching search

LOS ANGELES — (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers must continue their latest coaching search with the basketball world already knowing their first choice turned them down.

The Lakers have endured their share of embarrassments in recent years, but a snub by a college coach — even the best in the game — is among the roughest setbacks yet.

Dan Hurley met with the Lakers last week and then rejected their very public courtship Monday. The coach probably emerged from his dalliance with the leverage to finish a lucrative new contract at UConn.

But what's next for the Lakers, a franchise with 17 championships, a world-renowned brand, two of the sport's top players and no head coach?

They must resume a search that has stretched well into its second month since Darvin Ham's firing May 3 and has yet to produce a slam-dunk choice. Nearly every leaked discussion of the Lakers' search included three top candidates — each of whom would have arrived on the West Coast with question marks.

Although Hurley is one of the most respected names in the sport after the Huskies' success over the past two years, he's never worked in the NBA. Former player J.J. Redick has never coached at all, and James Borrego has been an NBA head coach for 4 1/2 seasons without ever making the playoffs.

Redick and Borrego are still candidates to run the Lakers, which would seem to be one of the most desirable jobs in sports — but the charitable interpretation of this current search is that owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka are struggling to find the right fit for their vision.

Many fans are wondering whether Buss and Pelinka have a vision at all, what with the Lakers' years of roster upheaval and mediocre supporting casts around LeBron James. They're also wondering whether each passing week increases the chance that the 39-year-old James will turn down his $51.4 million contract option later this month and become a free agent.

The Lakers last won a championship when James and Anthony Davis raised the trophy in the Florida bubble four years ago, and they've tried to maximize their chances in the remaining years of James' career by changing coaches and/or jettisoning multiple players after nearly every failed season.

This hire might be their final chance to get the right coaching staff for James — and Hurley's rejection clearly hurts.

Hiring Redick would be a major risk, albeit with a significant potential upside. It's unclear whether Redick would even want to disrupt his burgeoning career in media for the stress of a head coaching job.

Borrego represents management experience and coaching pedigree, but he has yet to distinguish himself in a top job — and he's also a candidate for Cleveland's vacancy.

The Lakers are expected to talk to other candidates in the days ahead, perhaps widening their search to include names not even currently in the discussion. But they probably can't even default to arguably the most experienced, most successful veteran NBA head coach currently on the free-agent market.

That's because Frank Vogel won a ring with the Lakers in October 2020 and got fired exactly 18 months later.

Vogel wasn't even the Lakers' first choice in 2019: According to multiple reports, the Lakers nearly hired Tyronn Lue before the deal fell apart over money and the front office's desire to have a say on his staff. Lue ended up with the Clippers, where he remains. That negotiation has remained an embarrassment for the Lakers even after their fallback choice won a championship.

After firing Vogel in 2022 when Pelinka's veteran-laden, injury-plagued roster missed the playoffs with a humiliating 33-49 record, the Lakers went through another six-week search before settling on Ham. The once-and-future Milwaukee Bucks assistant clearly didn't impress the front office or his players enough to keep his job even after two winning seasons, two playoff berths and a Western Conference finals appearance.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA

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