With just one week left in the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are expected to make a decision regarding the future of head coach Luke Walton later this month. Walton still has one guaranteed season left on his deal with the Lakers, but barring a last-minute change of heart by the front office or an endorsement from team president Jeanie Buss — after it has previously been reported she won’t interfere — all signs are pointing to Walton being relieved of his duties as head coach.
If Walton is fired, the Lakers reportedly already have a few names in mind, including Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd and Tyronn Lue. However, according to BetOnline — an online betting service and oddsmaker — none of those big names are favored to land the job. Surprisingly, the person with the best odds to start next season as the Lakers’ head coach is current Miami Heat assistant Juwan Howard:
Hired by the Heat almost immediately after he retired in 2013, Howard got his coaching career started in player development. Almost six years later, Howard is still working in player development and also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Heat have a had a top-10 ranked defense in each of the last three seasons, and are currently ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating.
Howard may seem like an unorthodox candidate for an organization that has historically hired former players like Pat Riley, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott and most recently Luke Walton, but while he never suited up for the Lakers during his 19-year career, he has a handful of ties to the organization in its current iteration.
Howard played college basketball at the University of Michigan, and was part of the historic “Fab Five” alongside Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson in 1992. Also on that roster at the time was Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Howard also played alongside LeBron James during the latter’s first three years in Miami, where he won two championships.
Howard wouldn’t exactly be a big name hire for the Lakers, but his background in player development would make him an ideal head coaching candidate for a team filled with second and third-year players. His history of playing alongside superstar players like James, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Dwyane Wade also leads one to believe he has an idea of how to manage egos, and his success as a defensive coordinator would also be a boon for a team that crumbled on that end after a hot start this season.
Howard’s ties to the Lakers might get him in the door, but his resume makes him a legitimate candidate for the head coaching job if Walton is fired.