The Los Angeles Lakers conducted their first interview for the vacant head coaching position on Tuesday, when general manager Rob Pelinka flew to Philadelphia to meet with 76ers assistant Monty Williams.
According to Adrian Wojnarowksi of ESPN, Williams has emerged as a top candidate for the job and it’s easy to see why. Williams is a former player with over a decade of experience as a head coach and he’s even spent some time in an NBA front office. He’s also built a rapport with some of the biggest names in the league, including, but not limited to, disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis and impending free agents Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.
Going into an offseason where the Lakers will be looking to pair James with another All-Star player, Williams’ relationships and his ability to manage elite talent should give him a nice boost over the rest of the rumored candidates, which includes former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue and Miami Heat assistant Juwan Howard.
However, as many things as Williams has working in his favor, he’s not the ideal coaching candidate for this Lakers team.
Upon arrival, Williams will be tasked with leading LeBron James and the Lakers to their first playoff berth in seven years. If he fails to meet those lofty expectations, there’s a good chance he’ll be looking for another coaching job next summer.
Williams successfully coached his teams to the playoffs twice during his time in New Orleans, but they never finished higher than the seventh seed in the Western Conference and never won a playoff series. That’s a stark contrast to Lue, who coached James and the Cavaliers to three consecutive in NBA Finals appearances in the three seasons* he was in Cleveland.
*Lue was let go six games into the 2018-19 season, which would have technically been his fourth season with the Cavs.
Granted, Williams didn’t have the talent Lue had, nor did he coach in the Eastern Conference, but the fact of the matter is that Lue has shown he knows how to win with James and Williams hasn’t had the chance to. More than anything else, winning a championship with James is what the Lakers are hoping to accomplish within the next two years, and Lue is their safest bet to get there.
That’s not to say Williams can’t coach James to a championship, but the Lakers aren’t in a position to find out whether or not Williams has grown as a head coach over the last four years with an aging James on their roster. While Williams is undoubtedly an experienced head coach, he’s not necessarily a proven one, at least compared to Lue and even Howard, who was an assistant when Miami lost in the NBA Finals in 2014.
Still, Williams has one thing going for him that Lue and Howard don’t: He’s never been the head coach of a LeBron James NBA team.
On the surface, that might sound a little silly because of how much weight James’ opinion has held with his respective teams in the past, but there’s reason to believe that the Lakers’ next head coach won’t have ties to the four-time league MVP.
During the “Woj & Lowe Playoff Special” last week, Zach Lowe of ESPN said that players and their agents have made it known that they don’t want the Lakers’ next head coach or president of basketball operations to have ties to James. This view isn’t unique to the people outside of the organization, either.
On Tuesday, Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that there are individuals within the Lakers organization that expressed concerns that hiring Lue would give James too much power.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard whispers of the power struggle between Lakers management and James. In fact, things got so bad between Jeanie Buss and James’ camp during the Anthony Davis trade saga that the Lakers reportedly considered trading James.
If James makes it known that he wants to be coached by Lue and the Lakers go forth with hiring Williams instead, it would send a message to James and his camp, and not necessarily a good one. It would also put Williams in a really awkward position between his bosses and his star player before he even gets to hold his first practice.
Williams might check all of the boxes for the Lakers, but if he doesn’t have the backing of James, the chances of him succeeding in Los Angeles are slim-to-none. Take Luke Walton, for example.
Going into the season, the belief was that Walton had the support of the front office and, most fiercely, Buss, the team’s controlling owner and president. However, after a slow start to the season, Walton quickly fell out of favor with Johnson and James, who never seemed to be fully on board with Walton to begin with.
That lack of synergy between the team’s front office, head coach and star player is ultimately the reason the Lakers lost their president of basketball operations and head coach within days of each other. That’s not an ideal position to be in going into a critical offseason for the franchise.
There’s a good chance that Williams and James mesh well together rather quickly, seeing as he’s gotten along well with every other superstar in the league, and there’s even a possibility that the Lakers soften their stance on Lue and Howard’s ties to James, but these are all things that need to be figured out before they decide on their next head coach.
If they don’t, they might have to settle with hiring someone James’ camp supports. While it might create a rift in the front office, having someone that James trusts at the helm gives the Lakers their best shot at a championship.
The Lakers have to move forward expeditiously with their head coaching search with key dates fast approaching, starting with the NBA Draft Lottery on May 14, but given how important this summer is, they can’t afford to skip steps or force decisions based on petty squabbles. That process starts with finding a coach that can lead Los Angeles back to relevancy.