The Lakers appear ready to make a decision about their coaching position soon, with Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts the finalists for the job that became vacant when Frank Vogel was fired at the end of the season. But how the final round of interviews is scheduled, sources say the athlete that Ham seems to have made the strongest impression so far.
In the last phase of the procedure, it is now decided who will secure the job. In the final group, Stotts is known for his strong X’s and O’s, making the postseason in eight of Portland’s nine seasons, while Atkinson has been described as a sharp and tireless worker.
As for the Lakers’ preferences, sources say team officials have prioritized a coach who can command respect and authority from the locker room and who has a strong presence and voice to manage the diverse roles and relationships in the roster. These qualities bode well for Ham’s candidacy. During his assistant coaching stints with the Lakers, Hawks and Bucks, Ham was known for his no-nonsense style and ability to resonate with his players – attributes which sources say have also excelled in his communications with the Lakers to date.
Ham, who played in eight NBA seasons from 1996 to 2008, is the only former NBA player among the three finalists. Even before he reached the NBA, however, Ham’s reputation as a force of nature was cemented when he broke his backboard while dunking during his 1996 NCAA tournament run with Texas Tech. Ham, Stotts and Atkinson are also potential candidates for the Charlotte Hornets vacancy. According to sources, Ham is also a serious contender for the Hornets.
All three finalists will soon meet with senior Lakers officials – including owner Jeanie Buss – in Los Angeles for the next in-person phase, sources said. So far, Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, director of basketball affairs Kurt Rambis, vice president of research and development Joey Buss, and assistant general manager Jesse Buss have conducted the first phase of the coaching interviews.
The Lakers interviewed a total of six candidates, including Bucks assistant Charles Lee, Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Lee and Griffin were not ruled out as options as part of the process, sources said.
“In terms of what this team needs right now, of course we feel like we have a strong voice with superstars on our team that can inspire players to play at the highest level of competition every night,” Pelinka said of the coaching Search April 11th. “I think that’s going to be one of the resounding qualities that we’re looking for, to hold everyone from the top player on our team to the 15th man to some degree accountable, and that’s going to be one of the many qualities that today stand out.”
But after all the recent discussions about influential voices in Laker Land, Jeanie Buss has been known to lean on Phil Jackson and Magic Johnson as she tries to correct the course of a 2021-22 season that has been such a debacle was, it is fair to ask who is making the decision here. A source with direct knowledge of the process shared the following insight on that front The athlete:
• Pelinka chairs the committee that will ultimately make the decision. Jeanie Buss, who has yet to be involved in the process, is not a member of the committee and plans to waive its recommendation. Phil Jackson and Johnson are also not part of the committee.
They’re just Lakers officials — none of them are named LeBron James. While it’s well known that James would have been thrilled at the prospect of Mark Jackson getting the nod here, that obviously won’t be the case.
For context, it’s worth rewinding to the Lakers’ last coaching search three years ago. After narrowing down their list to Monty Williams, Ty Lue and Juwan Howard, they finally ended up with Frank Vogel for a variety of well-documented reasons. In these recent interviews, Pelinka was joined by Jeanie Buss, Kurt and Linda Rambis, COO Tim Harris, Joey Buss and Jesse Buss.
• Considering the many unflattering storylines that have surrounded the Lakers in recent years, from the chaotic departure of Magic in April 2019 to Jerry West thinks it’s a “shit show” in December 2020 on the “I wasn’t told” bird shot that was so poorly executed, Jeanie Buss is determined to allay any finalists concerns about the organization at this final stage. Their message, the source said, would focus on an organizational commitment to provide both the resources and internal support needed to inspire team success.
• The Russell-Westbrook factor continues to play a major role here. The candidates were asked to discuss how they would use a roster that included Westbrook, which Lakers officials anticipate will be part of their program next season. Westbrook has a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season.
The prospect of Westbrook being fired or sent home (like Houston’s John Wall last season) if he is not traded is not seen as a viable option and all signs point to he will play. With that in mind, the Lakers are focused on hiring a coach capable of handling such sensitive situations.
— The athlete‘s Bill Oram contributed to this report.
(Photo: Jim Dedmon / USA Today)