Yesterday it was reported that while Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams is very much still in the mix for the Los Angeles Lakers as their next potential head coach, the Phoenix Suns were also getting closer to offering him their own open head coaching job. Today, it would appear that is a done deal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Monty Williams is finalizing a deal to become Phoenix’s coach, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 3, 2019
The Suns quickly confirmed that move on Twitter:
The Suns have agreed to terms with Monty Williams to become the 20th head coach in franchise history! pic.twitter.com/Wm7tU8agIX— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 3, 2019
Well, that eliminates one possible candidate for the Lakers in their head coaching search, but during an appearance on SportsCenter on Thursday, Wojnarowski said that regardless of what Williams did, LeBron James still wanted the Lakers to go after his former head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue (emphasis mine):
“There’s a sense that an offer from Phoenix is imminent, which is something the Lakers may have to react to here sooner than later. Ty Lue remains the preferred choice of LeBron James, and that is certainly a factor in the decision-making process.”
The Lakers have interviewed Lue and Williams twice each now, but it’s not clear what they plan to do next, as they reportedly did not offer either head coach a job or give them a timetable on when they will make their final decision. Now that Williams is heading to Phoenix, it’s not clear if the Lakers will look at more candidates or move in on Lue before another team does.
However, there would now seem to be forces driving them to expedite such a choice, both in the form of the Suns closing in on Williams, and James (apparently) letting it be known that his personal choice would be Lue, something that falls in line with the normal way he attempts to influence his organizations while those around him somewhat paradoxically claim that he doesn’t want to influence them.
The biggest part of this, though, at least in the wake of whispers from various plugged-in members of the media that the Lakers want to appear like a “Buss-ran” organization, is that James’ preference for Lue is a factor in their decision-making process. That brings to light a level of collaboration with James and his camp that it was completely clear existed since Magic Johnson stepped down as president of basketball operations.
Now, the Lakers do have to be wary in the face of reports that other star players and their agents would see the hiring of Lue as a signal that James was running the show, and view L.A. adversely as a result. That is undoubtedly a valid concern if it’s really the way those parties would evaluate such a move, and the only reason at this point that the Lakers shouldn’t prefer Lue, who now seems more like the clear-cut best choice than ever for his proven ability to get the most out of James, 2019-friendly offensive principles and willingness to subvert any ego to go after the most impressive staff of assistant coaches possible, truly taking advantage of the Lakers’ big-market resources in ways no coach since Mike Brown has.
Finding a balance between those basketball realities and the possible perception that Lue’s hiring could create is something the Lakers will have to be — and almost assuredly already are — deliberating on over the days and weeks before they make their final decision. They need to backchannel as much as they can to figure out how people around the league would actually view them hiring Lue, and weigh that against the basketball benefits he’d bring by being the most likely to fully optimize James over the final 2-3 years of his Lakers tenure. If that’s how they approach this, their final decision will reveal a lot about what they found out, as well as how much they value the opinion of their star player on personnel decisions moving forward.