There have been a lot of conflicting narratives about Monty Williams agreeing to become the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns, and the Los Angeles Lakers moving towards hiring Tyronn Lue as a result.
So what’s the truth? Well, according to the perpetually plugged-in Marc Stein of The New York Times, the two other popular takeaways — that Williams chose Phoenix over L.A., and that the Lakers have to settle for their back-up option in Lue — aren’t true. In the latest edition of his newsletter, he reported that neither takeaway tell the whole story, and that Lue was always the Lakers’ first choice (for the most part):
The reality is that neither of those perceptions are accurate. Believe them if you wish, but this is a better representation of what actually happened:
Lue was not the unanimous favorite to replace Walton among the Lakers’ many decision-makers in the wake of Magic Johnson’s abrupt April 9 resignation. He was indeed favored over Williams, but there were some nagging fears among a minority of the team’s power brokers — as mentioned here previously — that hiring LeBron’s former Cleveland Cavaliers coach would be giving James too much control in Lakerland.
The last part of that further backs up previous reporting that the Lakers are sensitive about the idea that James is running the show. Because of that, some apparently decided that if they wanted to hire Lue, but had to do so in a way that wouldn’t make it look like James was pulling the strings:
Lue’s supporters within the organization ultimately deduced that there was only one way Lue could rise to the level of unanimous choice to succeed Walton — by waiting until Williams was no longer available.
Hence the relatively slow pace, spanning a full month, of the Lakers’ search for Walton’s successor.
If that’s true — and given Stein’s unimpeachable track record, there is no reason to doubt it is — this actually explains a lot. Why the coaching search took so long, and why Lue was so quickly touted as the guy who would get the job after Williams went to Phoenix.
But while the Lakers may have ended up in the right place, the way they got here offers some potential reasons for concern. If the Lakers are worried that making it look like James has too much power is going to scare away free agents — something that has been reported as a possibility — then that’s a legitimate reason to be this intent in showing that he’s not in charge. But if this is a matter of ego, or of wanting to show that they have the power for the sake of showing it, then it isn’t exactly ideal.
The good news is that James’ camp seems to be pushing the same narrative when it comes to Lue’s imminent hiring, meaning that the former conclusion may be accurate, and that both sides are working in concert to reduce the perception of James’ power, with the shared goal of making the organization more attractive to prospective free agent running mates.
Only time will tell which takeaway is true for sure though, and those are mostly concerns for another day anyway. For now, no matter how flawed the process may or may not be, the Lakers arrived at the right destination. If they did so for the right reasons, then that good process may continue to see results over other decisions this summer. But if they just want to get into a pissing contest with James’ camp to show their authority, then this may not be great. For now there is no way to know for sure which it is, but fans should probably be hoping it’s the former, more collaborative narrative-building scenario, or this could get ugly fast if the offseason doesn’t go as planned.