Lue was arguably the most accomplished candidate of the four people the Lakers interviewed for the job, a group that included Basketball Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard and Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams. Of those candidates, only Lue and Williams got second interviews.
For quite some time, Lue and Williams were viewed as the frontrunners to land the job, but Lue didn’t emerge as the clear favorite until Williams accepted a job with the Phoenix Suns just this past week. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN during the latest episode of “The Woj Pod,” that’s because the Lakers really liked Williams, and were even prepared to offer him the job before he reached a deal with Phoenix:
“While LeBron, I do know he would prefer him (Lue) as head coach, I know this: He didn’t tell the Lakers ‘You have to do it.’ Because they were ready to move toward Monty Williams, and I think the Lakers never really took seriously the possibility he was going to take that Suns job, and he did, and I know it surprised them.
This report from Woj directly conflicts the one Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times put out on Friday, which said Lue was always the Lakers’ “top choice.” While there’s no knowing for certain which one is true, it’s worth noting that the Lakers had every incentive to leak something like that after Williams ultimately picked Phoenix over them.
That’s not to say Williams didn’t have any interest in the job, but the allure of coaching the Lakers doesn’t sound like it meant that much more to him than any other job:
“I think Williams came in a little more circumspect. He wanted to understand, with Phoenix and the Lakers, he wanted answers about ... where the power is, where the influence is, who’s really making decisions ... I think Monty looked it as just a little more, ‘I’m going to take the Lakers name off and say: What do I see here?’”
In comparison, Lue reportedly sold Lakers controlling owner and team president Jeanie Buss on how much it would mean for him to coach the team he won two championships with as a player. Usually that tips the scales in a candidate’s favor for this particular organization, but it sounds like they may have liked Williams a little more even in spite of that.
So if Williams turned down Los Angeles to sign with Phoenix, does that mean the Suns are a more attractive organization right now? Not necessarily.
You see, Williams is going to be returning to the sidelines as a head coach for the first time since the 2014-15 season, so it’s possible that he felt the situation in Los Angeles with LeBron James was too much to take on at once. The Suns, on the other hand, are still in the rudimentary stages of their rebuild, so Williams’ has a little more room to fail — and by extension, likely more job security.
Meanwhile, Lue was presented with an opportunity to reunite with LeBron James, who he coached to an NBA championship just three years ago, on a team and in a city that is familiar to him. Remember: Lue spent some time with Clippers head coach Doc River this past season in an informal role.
Did the Lakers get the guy they wanted? Maybe not, but it’s hard to argue that they didn’t get the best guy for the job. Hopefully both Williams and Lue can enjoy success in their first seasons with their respective teams next season, but it’s safe to say the Lakers will be hoping Lue is significantly more successful.