May 25, 2024

Who could Lakers target as next head coach? Redick, Budenholzer, Lue among top options

The Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham on Friday, league sources confirmed to The Athletic.

The Lakers conducted a multi-day postmortem on their season after being eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs by the Denver Nuggets Monday night. Members of the Lakers organization, including vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, held exit interviews with players on Wednesday, league sources told The Athletic.

After re-evaluating their season and consulting with their players, the Lakers ultimately decided to go in a different direction at the coaching position to try to maximize the championship window of the LeBron JamesAnthony Davis partnership.

As The Athletic reported Monday evening, Ham’s job was in serious peril. Multiple team and league sources indicated he was unlikely to return given the Lakers’ eighth-place finish in the regular season (they earned the No. 7 seed through the Play-In tournament) and first-round exit to the same Nuggets team that swept them in last season’s Western Conference finals. During Ham’s two-year tenure, the Lakers went 90-74 in the regular season and 9-12 in the postseason.

The Lakers hired Ham in May 2022 after he started his NBA coaching career with the franchise as an assistant from 2011 to 2013 under Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D’Antoni. He signed a four-year contract in the range of $5 million per season, so the team would assume the remainder of his contract.

The Lakers’ head coaching vacancy immediately becomes the top open position on the coaching market.

There is a natural inclination to target a replacement who possesses the qualities the previous head coach lacked. For the Lakers, that means finding someone who can command and hold the respect of the locker room, optimize lineups and the rotation, hold himself accountable publicly, and manage timeouts and challenges properly.

Three candidates have emerged as early options, according to multiple team sources:

LA Clippers coach Tyronn Lue would immediately become another candidate if he parts ways with the Clippers after their potential first-round exit. Charles Lee, a Boston Celtics assistant coach who worked under Budenholzer with the Bucks and Hawks, is also an option, league sources told The Athletic. 

Budenholzer, 54, won a championship as the Bucks head coach in 2021. He was an assistant coach under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for 17 years, where he won four additional championships, before earning a head-coaching opportunity with the Atlanta Hawks in 2013. Budenholzer coached the Hawks from 2013 to 2018 and the Bucks from 2018 through 2023. His career coaching record is 484-317.

Budenholzer’s teams have tended to be better defensively than offensively — his teams have ranked in the top five in defensive rating in five of his 10 seasons — though his most recent Bucks teams were elite on both ends. The two-time Coach of the Year was a mentor to Ham, who coached under Budenholzer with the Hawks and Bucks from 2013 through 2022. One common criticism of Budenholzer has been adjusting too slowly in the playoffs, a similar critique of Ham in his two Lakers seasons.

If Lue becomes available, the Lakers would have strong interest. The 47-year-old, who has one year left on his contract with the Clippers, won a championship coaching James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. He’s also lost in the NBA Finals twice and made the Western Conference finals with the LA Clippers in 2021. He’s a former Laker, having won two championships as a player in 2000 and 2001. His teams have ranked in the top five in offensive rating in five of his seven full seasons.

Lue was the Lakers’ top option during their 2019 coaching search, which ultimately landed them Frank Vogel. Lue told ESPN he Lakers offered him a pay decrease and wanted to determine his coaching staff, which made him feel underappreciated. It’s unclear how or if that history might factor into his interest. He’ll certainly have support from James, who has made it known he still thinks highly of Lue’s coaching.

You said it’s the James Harden Clippers? Nah,” James said on Jan. 7. “It’s the T-Lue Clippers. I know T-Lue very well. It don’t take T-Lue long to make sure s— get right. It took him five games and they’ve been cooking since.”

Redick, 39, has become one of the hottest coaching candidates on the market, in part because of his successful podcast, “The Old Man and the Three.” The former 15-year NBA veteran, who retired in 2021, has no professional coaching experience. But he’s considered a sharp basketball mind who’ll naturally transition to coaching given his intelligence, competitiveness and communication skills.

Redick is also the co-host of the “Mind the Game” podcast with James, where the two break down the game’s strategy and execution in depth. Redick is also a candidate for the Charlotte Hornets’ coaching opening, as The Athletic reported.

Atkinson, 56, took over as head coach of the Nets in 2016 before parting ways with the franchise just before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. He’s been an assistant coach for 11 years (the New York Knicks from 2008-12, the Atlanta Hawks from 2013-16, the Clippers under Lue from 2020-21 and, most recently, the Golden State Warriors from 2021 to now). He’s widely regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the league and has drawn interest from multiple teams in recent years.

The Lakers will canvass the market for more coaching prospects — they are expected to have interest in over an half-dozen coaches candidates — and begin their interviews in the coming days.

The search will set off what promises to be a monumental offseason for the franchise, with LeBron James’ future remaining the most significant unknown variable.

(Top photo: Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images)