Mirjam Swanson: Denied by Dan Hurley, the Lakers' next coach can't be JJ Redick

Mirjam Swanson, The Orange County Register on

Published in Basketball

The Lakers are fishing for a coach. Again.

Shocking, I know, but even with all the trawling they’ve done over the past few years — they’ve caught and released six full-time head coaches since 2011 — there are still other fish in the sea. A few good ones, actually.

I say give the Lakers a little credit on this latest expedition; they cast their line hoping to catch the biggest fish swimming. Thought they had him, thought they’d successfully lured in two-time reigning NCAA champion coach Dan Hurley. He reportedly nibbled at their six-year, $70 million offer, but he didn’t bite.

And so the Lakers came up empty. They wound up with the opposite of a feel-good fishing tale to tell their fans. That everyone was watching only makes the whiff worse.

But what if it’s just as well? Imagine trucking home a 500-pound sea bass only to learn later that no one at home actually likes sea bass. It’s not like you could have just thrown this big boy back in.

So, just keep swimming. Cast another line. Dip back into the pool of reported candidates; New Orleans’ James Borrego and Denver’s David Adelman, Boston’s Sam Cassell and Minnesota’s Micah Nori are still floating out there.

There’s one presumptive candidate who fans better hope the Lakers don’t hook, and he’s the next splashiest hire, the other outside-the-tackle-box pick — JJ Redick.

That high-profile pursuit of Hurley means they can’t hire Redick.

It’s one thing to take a risk. To be adventurous enough to sample something fresh and new, to believe in a guy’s perspective on basketball so much that you’d hire him even though he has no head coaching experience — and no coaching experience at all except for his kid’s youth team.

I mean, I wouldn’t ask a guy to pilot this ship through those waters on his first voyage, but, hey, the Lakers are nothing if not dramatic.

Just if you’re going to roll the dice on a guy like that, you better really feel good about him. And, moreover, you better signal to everyone watching — most importantly those players he’d be piloting — that you really feel good about him.

Because that guy was already going to have a hard time shaking the allegations he’d skipped the line and been brought on as LeBron James’ podcast partner and pet. And now? Now that the organization has broadcast that they don’t really believe in that guy, there’d be no shedding those presumptions.

That ship has sailed, and it’s sprung a leak already.

That leaves, theoretically, current assistant coaches whose names fans know, whose names no one seems to be angling for with much gusto.


But you could angle for any of them.

Like Cassell. He has vast and varied experience, with years-long assistant coaching stints with the Washington Wizards, the Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers before last year joining Joe Mazzulla’s Boston staff that has the Celtics up 2-0 in the NBA Finals.

Cassell spent almost a decade on Doc Rivers’ bench and maybe you don’t think highly of his old boss, but Rivers gave the Clippers’ Tyronn Lue his coaching start, and Lakers fans would love it if Lue hadn’t gotten away.

It feels like no one wants to give Cassell the reins because no one has given Cassell the reins — but watch, the team that finally does will be better for hiring a coach who has developed John Wall, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Maxey, who has a history of playing with and coaching superstars, who knows the league.

And Borrego? He’s no slouch. A Gregg Popovich product, he’s been a head coach and is going to be a head coach again, likely with the Cleveland Cavaliers if not the Lakers.

Adelman? The son of former NBA head coach Rick Adelman, an NBA assistant since 2011, the offensive-minded lead assistant of 2023’s Larry O’Brien-hoisting Denver Nuggets, the team that swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals last season and dismissed them in the first round this year. Who better to help get past the recent postseason nemesis?

And Nori? With injured head coach Chris Finch forced to sit and watch, Nori — an NBA assistant for a quarter-century — handled the bulk of the in-game coaching during much of Minnesota’s Western Conference playoff turn.

More notable: He’s quotable.

Imagine a quippy Ted Lasso-type leading the Lakers?! Entertainment every night: “Our paint defense was like 7/11 — open 24 hours,” Nori said once. Another time: “Just because there’s glass on the highway doesn’t mean there’s a wreck.” How about: “We’ve got to treat (him) like you do the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ on Christmas Morning — you’ve got to find him.”

Nori was talking about the Memphis Grizzlies’ Desmond Bane, but the analogy works for the Lakers’ next head coach too.

They might never marry themselves to a style of play, but if there’s one thing they’re going to do, it’s be pliable when it comes to the whims and wishes of their star players, whomever the stars aboard might be. That is the Lakers’ North Star, navigationally.

The best course of action is to tap a proven assistant for what forecasts to be a transitional period ahead. This is a team that hopes to be anchored by 39-year-old James. A team that doesn’t know for sure what awaits on the horizon or what type of headwinds it will face whenever he does depart.

This is a team whose next coach doesn’t have to make a huge splash to be a suitable catch. It’s a team that needs someone who can help weather the elements.

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