Lakers are embarrassed now, but they can recover after Hurley’s rejection


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Let’s get this out of the way: the Los Angeles Lakers are a little embarrassed.

They got turned down very publicly by their crush and that carries pain whether you’re a junior high student or a multibillion-dollar international megabrand.

But the Lakers have been here before. Dan Hurley passing on their head coaching job to remain at the University of Connecticut shouldn’t be a catastrophe for Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka & Co. It should be a reality check.

In 2019, the Lakers were turned down by both Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams, and it later became apparent that both felt the Lakers had lowballed them with their contract offers.

“I just didn’t think I was treated fairly,” Lue later told ESPN. “And I wasn’t just going to accept any offer just to get a job.”

A year after spurning the Lakers, Lue became the head coach of the crosstown LA Clippers, and two weeks ago he signed a contract extension worth approximately $14 million per season. Williams chose a five-year deal with the Suns over the Lakers back in 2019, and is now making more than $13 million a year as the coach of the Detroit Pistons.

Both figures are higher than what the Lakers reportedly offered their first choice, Hurley, this time around. Monday afternoon league executives were evaluating the Lakers’ offer to Hurley — six years and $70 million per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — and debating whether it was truly a good offer or could be considered another lowball.

It would have been a huge salary for a first-time NBA head coach and one that might be impossible for Connecticut to match. But some believed if peeling Hurley and his high-energy, culture-setting, creative style out of a golden collegiate situation was truly the Lakers’ moonshot move this offseason, not offering him a top-five coaching salary was, in effect, another lowball.

There was widespread wonder in the league when the news broke last week as to whether the Lakers interest was real. In the end, that ended up swinging the other way and now the question is whether Hurley’s interest was ever real. Not a position the Lakers were looking to be in.

So things are bleak for the Lakers right now. But they’ve been bleaker — and not that long ago.

Back in 2019, Frank Vogel was introduced with everyone knowing he was no better than the Lakers’ third choice. Former team president and franchise legend Magic Johnson had recently blasted Pelinka on national television for “backstabbing” him. At that moment in time, the Lakers had missed the playoffs six consecutive years.

After settling for Vogel, the Lakers recovered by trading for Anthony Davis, then catching fire in the Orlando bubble to win the 17th championship in franchise history.

The Lakers, now, are in a better situation with their roster than they were in that problematic spring of 2019, but they’re dealing with the same issue. In the abstract, the concept of being the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers seems extremely attractive. Great market, a magnet for players and a tremendous brand.

However, the job itself is extremely challenging at the moment.

The Lakers have finished better than seventh in the Western Conference standings just once in the past 12 seasons (when they won the title in 2019-20). Their franchise player, LeBron James, turns 40 in December. They have no salary-cap space unless James were to leave in free agency (he has until June 29 to make a decision on his $51.4 million player option). They have limited trade assets.

They play in a super-competitive conference where the teams behind them are upwardly mobile and aggressive and most of the teams in front of them are going to continue to be good — or get even better — in the immediate future. And they have a massive and highly demanding fanbase and are under a constant microscope by the national media because they drive massive audience engagement across the world.

Vogel won a title in 2020. Darvin Ham reached the Western Conference finals in 2023. Neither lasted longer than three seasons. No Lakers coach has since Phil Jackson.

These are some of the factors Hurley undoubtedly was weighing before making his choice over the weekend. It’s hard to even quantify what would be considered a “successful” season for the Lakers in 2024-25 without knowing what changes are made to the roster. Avoiding the play-in tournament, frankly, would be a reasonable if challenging goal.

It’s natural to wonder where exactly the Lakers are now in their coaching search. Getting turned down by a college coach isn’t the end of the world, but the Lakers’ process has left them in a tight window, five weeks after Ham was fired. There are only 16 days left before the 2024 NBA draft, where the Lakers will effectively begin their free agency because they’re expected to be active in trade talks. The official start of free agency comes just four days later.

The only candidate known to visit Los Angeles other than Hurley is New Orleans associate head coach James Borrego. He is currently a finalist for the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching job and is expected to interview in Cleveland early in the week with Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson also scheduled for a visit, according to sources.

J.J. Redick’s name has been attached to the Lakers job since Ham’s firing. Redick has been disciplined in not directly discussing the Lakers’ job in numerous media appearances in recent weeks even as rumors swirled around him. But his contact with the team had been minimal, sources said, leading up to the Lakers aggressive pursuit of Hurley.

The Lakers may feel some pressure to land another big name after Hurley turned them down and Redick, despite his lack of experience, would qualify. But in 2019 when he was turned down several times, Pelinka went with the stable Vogel and was rewarded, albeit in the short term.

Going for Hurley was a stunner and aggressive but it also told a deeper story: the Lakers weren’t in love with the other available candidates. They may keep looking outside the box, perhaps even for another college coach now that their willingness to enter that market has become transparent. There may be another employed coach out there who finds the offer Hurley turned down more attractive than Hurley did, especially in the current NCAA environment.

It may be tempting for some who resent the famous Laker exceptionalism to have some fun at their expense as they deal with this challenge of their own making. But history tells that the Lakers are rarely desperate and, even when things don’t work out, there tend to be more options at their disposal than are always apparent. This happened with Vogel, who turned out to be the right coach at the right time. It could happen again, maybe even with Redick.

Pelinka is in a tough spot but not an impossible one. His work on the roster this summer, at least in the short term, may end up being more important than this coaching hire.

At least once the egg is off the team’s face.

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