Barely two days into the Lakers offseason, and the coaching rumors are quickly piling up. The newest addition to the list was Mark Jackson, current ESPN analyst and former Warriors head coach. Reportedly a preferred choice of LeBron James, Jackson is an... interesting candidate for certain.
He isn’t the only candidate though, and a number of other perhaps off-the-radar names have surfaced over the last day as well.
Elsewhere around the team, a lot of the Lakers’ offseason plans will hinge on LeBron’s future, and whether he’ll be open to committing to the franchise longer-term. While he and general manager Rob Pelinka seem open to it, a report on Tuesday suggested that might not be the case. And a Lakers rumors roundup wouldn’t be complete without a Russell Westbrook anecdote from the season that was.
Here’s a look at some of the latest rumors and reports swirling around the team.
Some more context on that LeBron James/Mark Jackson rumor
One of the more surprising names linked to the Lakers opening was Jackson. It was more of an indirect link, as Sam Amick of The Athletic wrote that LeBron James would be “enthused” by the idea of Jackson being his next head coach.
The former Warriors head coach has long been out of the NBA, which isn’t really surprising when considering that his tenure in Golden State is remembered mostly for what happened after he left: The massive success of the franchise right after he departed.
But James being interested is sure to get Jackson back in the news cycle at the very least, and Amick (and host Dan Patrick) offered some additional context to his report in an episode of “The Dan Patrick Show” on Tuesday morning.
Dan Patrick: “I did reach out to Mark Jackson, about 15 minutes ago, and I said ‘Lakers?’ And then Mark said ‘my phone hasn’t been ringing.’ And that was it. A non-denial, denial.”
Sam Amick: “There is an understandable desire from his (LeBron’s) side and his camp, they’re very sensitive to the idea that he’s pulling the strings with the Lakers, and I think they make some really good points, so on the Mark Jackson front, I tried to write it as accurately and delicately as possible. He (LeBron) would give a big thumbs up if they hired Mark Jackson. That’s not me saying that he’s internally pushing for Mark and saying ‘Mark Jackson or else,’ because LeBron knows that the second that he does that, it becomes a story. And we all know that he did push for the Westbrook trade, and now that’s partly on his unofficial GM resume.
“Mark has a ton of superstar support in this league, and so the longer that he doesn’t have a head coaching job, I think this kind of noise will only get louder. But in terms of LeBron and AD, and the makeup of this locker room, the way it was relayed to me is that they would react well to someone like Mark who could command the room and come in with the respect of the stars and role players alike, and that LeBron is not alone (in his endorsement). There’s quite a few guys that think that would be a good fit.”
Amick clarifying the report is important and gives some necessary details, even if it also includes a hint of backtracking. The main takeaway from the clarification appears to be that LeBron won’t be actively pushing for the move, he’d just be happy about it. But as Amick mentions, James not openly agitating for it makes sense, given how the last move he pushed strongly for — the Russell Westbrook trade — blew up in his and the Lakers’ collective face.
Other coaches the Lakers will consider
Jackson is among the list of rather high-profile names linked to the Lakers, a list that also includes Nick Nurse, Doc Rivers and Juwan Howard. But the Lakers aren’t only reportedly going to swing for the fences with their hire. According to Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times, there are a number of more secondary candidates the team may consider as well.
The most intriguing coaching names they likely will consider are Utah’s Quin Snyder, Toronto’s Nick Nurse, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers and Michigan’s Juwan Howard, but all of those coaches are under contract.
Steve Clifford, the former coach with the Orlando Magic, Terry Stotts, the former Portland Trail Blazers coach, and Darvin Ham, an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, are names that have been mentioned among league insiders.
That’s a number of candidates with varying qualifications and connections to the Lakers.
Darvin Ham has been a longtime assistant on the precipice of landing a head coaching job. He served as an assistant coach on the Lakers from 2011 until 2013 under Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. In 2017, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN listed Ham as one of the five top coaching prospects to watch. Arnovitz explained some of Ham’s strengths in the piece. It’s worth a read in its entirety, but this part seemed especially notable in the wake of what Pelinka said the team is looking for:
Ham plays an enormous role with the Hawks and does it without a lot of rah-rah battle cries. He understands the difference between pride and passion, ego and intelligence, and can tell a player — be it a vet like Dwight Howard or a young guy like Dennis Schroder — the truth even if it isn’t what he wants to hear. He knows that you prepare a reliable vet if he’s going to be the whipping boy in a film session, but that you probably don’t do the same for a rookie, because you want to see how he’s going to react.
Terry Stotts was the longtime Trail Blazers head coach from 2012 until 2021. He’s been an NBA coach of some capacity since 1992. While he does not have a connection to the Lakers, he does have a connection to Damian Lillard, who the Lakers have certainly been interested in.
Clifford is the one with the likely most well-known connections to the Lakers, serving as an assistant for the Lakers in the 2012-13 season. He was the head coach of the Hornets/Bobcats for five seasons, and was most recently head coach of the Orlando Magic from 2018 until 2021.
LeBron James may not extend with the Lakers
One bit of good news from exit interviews on Monday was that it seemed awfully likely that LeBron James would be signing some type of extension with the Lakers later this offseason. But in the same piece where he reported James’ interest in Jackson, Amick also had this to say about James’ future.
So with all that in mind, what comes next in James’ Lakers life?
Based on my conversations with people who have a strong sense of such things, it’s clear James is considering playing out this contract rather than signing a two-year extension this summer. If flexibility and freedom are the goals here, James (who is owed $44.4 million next season) could go back to the year-by-year approach he perfected in his second Cleveland stop.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if James began keeping the pressure on the Lakers front office as he did with the Cavaliers by routinely signing one-year deals with a player option for the second year. But those aren’t necessarily the indications he’s given so far — at least publicly — so perhaps how the Lakers handle the offseason coming up could determine his mindset.
The Frank Vogel vs. Russell Westbrook drama continues
To wrap things up, why not yet another Vogel vs. Westbrook anecdote? This one comes to us from Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register, about the half-truths told by Westbrook during his exit interview.
Westbrook can’t even see who his real allies are – and his claims that Vogel had it out for him are straightforward evidence of his distortion. Multiple sources told Southern California News Group that many people within the Lakers thought Westbrook should take a greatly reduced role, including off the bench. Vogel flatly refused.
In team meetings, Vogel would reiterate the stance that he also said several times publicly: If the Lakers were going to get out of their funk, Westbrook hitting a groove would be a key part of it. So Westbrook continued to start. Four times Vogel did wind up pulling Westbrook in a fourth quarter or overtime, which grated at the guard: “I was having to try to prove myself to him and my capabilities and what I’ve been able to do for this game”
At his exit interview, Vogel was among the many, many people Westbrook took aim at along with fans and teammates in what certainly sounded like a man setting bridges aflame on his way out of town.