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Who will the Los Angeles Lakers hire as their next head coach?

Monday 15 April 2019 14:04, UK

Will Luke Walton be coaching LeBron James next season?
Image: The Lakers and LeBron James are looking for a new head coach after Luke Walton was fired

Having parted ways with Luke Walton, the Los Angeles Lakers are searching for a new head coach. We've taken a look at the leading contenders for the role.

They may not be competing in the playoffs, but the Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the most talked-about franchises in the NBA.

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Magic Johnson's resignation as head of basketball operations last Tuesday and Luke Walton's firing as head coach on Friday have left the Lakers needing to fill two hugely significant positions.

While it seems counter-intuitive, given that a president of basketball operations would be heavily involved in the hiring of a coach, it's the latter role that looks as though it may be filled first.

There has been speculation that the team's star player, LeBron James, will have a significant say in the appointment, or at the very least that the organisation will seek to put in place a coach the three-time NBA champion has a relationship with.

Rich Paul and Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka speak before the game between New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakerson February 27, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California.
Image: Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is heading the search for a new head coach

Having survived the end-of-season flurry of activity at the Staples Center, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka would appear to be in control of the search for a new coach - here's who he might be looking at.

Monty Williams

One of the contenders the Lakers are reported to have lined up an interview with is former New Orleans Pelicans head coach, Monty Williams.

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Williams spent five seasons as head coach in New Orleans, compiling a 173-221 regular season record and 2-8 showing in the playoffs, which ultimately saw him let go in 2015. He quickly returned to work, but this time as an assistant on the Oklahoma City Thunder, before the tragic death of his wife in a car crash saw him take some time out of the game.

Monty Williams is a target for the Lakers
Image: Monty Williams is a target for the Lakers

After a brief spell working in the San Antonio Spurs front office, Williams returned to the bench as an associate head coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. The fact he remains in this role makes interviewing him more complicated than some of the other candidates, with the Sixers in playoff action against the Brooklyn Nets.

However, Pelinka will deem the inevitable trip east worthwhile, with Williams highly respected by many influential figures around the league, and perhaps most importantly, by James.

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It had initially appeared as though the Lakers might face competition from the Sacramento Kings, but with their Western Conference rival closing in on giving Walton an immediate return to coaching, it seems the path to hiring Williams is clear.

Tyronn Lue

Head coach Tyron Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers yells to his players during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 21, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Image: Tyronn Lue is a free agent after being sacked by the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this season

Perhaps the most obvious choice, the coach who helped James earn the Cleveland Cavaliers a title in 2016, Tyronn Lue, is a free agent.

Having replaced David Blatt as the Cavaliers threatened to unravel midway through the 2015-16 season, Lue steadied the ship before guiding Cleveland to an historic game-seven victory over the Golden State Warriors.

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Defeats to the Warriors followed in two more consecutive finals appearances, before James bolted for Los Angeles. An 0-6 start to the Lakers' first season without James saw Lue fired, but with the team facing a total rebuild, there was a sense he may not have been too upset to be relieved of his duties.

Tyronn Lue celebrates winning the 2016 NBA Finals with LeBron James
Image: Tyronn Lue celebrates winning the 2016 NBA Finals with LeBron James

In addition to his championship pedigree and bond with James, Lue is a former Laker, who spent the first three seasons of his NBA career in Los Angeles.

The only question that hangs over Lue is whether he is keen to return to one of, if not the most, high-pressured jobs in the NBA, having struggled with anxiety during his final full season in Cleveland. The 41-year-old took a two-week leave of absence that he later revealed had been caused by anxiety.

Coaching the game's most famous (active) player at the most famous franchise will mean the stakes are even higher than they were in Cleveland.

Juwan Howard

Juwan Howard on bench during his tenure as assistant coach for the Miami Heat
Image: Juwan Howard on the bench during his tenure as assistant coach for the Miami Heat

A former teammate of James as they won back-to-back championships together at the Miami Heat, Juwan Howard has emerged as a contender.

Howard is certainly the least experienced of the contenders, with all his coaching career having come as an assistant on the Miami Heat, a role he moved into at the end of his playing career in 2013.

It remains to be seen whether Pelinka and the Lakers will entrust a rookie coach with the responsibility of transforming a Lakers squad that underachieved in their first season with James.

Juwan Howard #5 of the Miami Heat celebrates with LeBron James #6 late in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.
Image: Juwan Howard won back-to-back NBA titles with James at the Miami Heat

As well as his relationship with James, Howard also holds a special bond with Pelinka. The pair played college basketball together at Michigan in the early 1990s.

The Cavaliers, who are also without a head coach, having parted ways with Larry Drew, are also reported to be lining up Howard for an interview.

Jason Kidd

Head Coach Jason Kidd of the Milwaukee Bucks directs team during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 29, 2017 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Image: Jason Kidd has head coaching experience with the Brooklyn Nets and MIlwaukee Bucks

The most glamorous name on this list of candidates, but perhaps the least likely to land the job, is 10-time All-Star Jason Kidd.

Despite the 12-year age difference between Kidd and James, the former's longevity meant the two crossed over and in fact played together on the 2008 USA Olympic team.

Kidd serves as James' mentor as they won gold in Beijing together, and the pair have maintained a strong relationship since.

While his playing career and relationship with James are in favour, the facts of Kidd's coaching career to this point are quite simply not.

 Jason Kidd of the Milwaukee Bucks and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk before the game on October 20, 2017 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Image: Jason Kidd and James forged a strong relationship during their time playing together for Team USA

Kidd did well in his first job, with the Brooklyn Nets, overcoming a poor start to guide them to a first-round 2014 playoff victory over the Toronto Raptors, which caught the attention of the Milwaukee Bucks, who hired him that summer.

However, despite some initial success in Milwaukee, Kidd was unable to help the team progress and was let go midway through last season.

Kidd's record with the Bucks has been made to look worse by their incredible success this campaign under Mike Budenholzer, who guided them to the best record in the NBA and has established them as a genuine title contender.

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