After several interviews and research, the Los Angeles Lakers have narrowed their coaching search to three candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham and Terry Stotts.
ESPN on Sunday reported that Michigan coach Juwan Howard, a former NBA player and assistant, declined an opportunity to discuss the Lakers’ job. USA TODAY Sports previously reported that Howard was on the Lakers’ radar shortly after they dismissed Frank Vogel.
Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke suggested the release of the three finalists was a trial balloon to see how fans felt about the coaches.
The Lakers should not be an organization checking which way the wind blows among the fanbase for a certain candidate. They should be focused on finding the right person for the job.
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A look at the Lakers’ head coaching finalists:
Atkinson, who turns 55 on June 2, was head coach of the Brooklyn Nets for nearly four seasons with mixed results, a tenure that began as a rebuilding project. He increased the number of victories in his first three seasons from 20 to 28 to 42 and a playoff appearance. Then, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the team, and Atkinson and the Nets parted ways after 62 games in 2019-20.
There’s no doubting his basketball acumen and player development prowess. He’s a respected NBA coach, spending last season on Ty Lue’s bench with the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s an assistant for Steve Kerr with Golden State this season.
Around the league, Atkinson is known for his attention to detail, strategy, offensive acumen, and development and execution of player development programs. Of course, LeBron James and Anthony Davis won’t need the player development program as much but other Lakers, especially younger players, would benefit. And they would certainly benefit from his offense and attention to detail, which James appreciates.
“Very clever. Very analytically driven,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told The Athletic last summer. “We’ve had a lot of basketball conversations over the years and I’ve always been impressed with the way he sees and feels the game. In a way, it’s different from me.”
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Ham, 48, has been a high-level assistant coach for several seasons, spending the past nine seasons on Mike Budenholzer’s staffs in Atlanta and then Milwaukee, including six consecutive seasons as the lead assistant.
Ham, who won a title as a player with Detroit in 2004 and the Bucks as an assistant last season, brings the coveted cachet of being a former player which is important to many of today’s players.
He also has experience with stars, coaching Giannis Antetokounmpo for the past four seasons. While Ham would be a first-time head coach, he has head coaching experience in the G League where several coaches, including Nick Nurse, Chris Finch, Quin Snyder and Taylor Jenkins, have grown and learned how to run a team.
Budenholzer’s coaching tree has produced other NBA head coaches: Snyder, Jenkins and Atkinson, and Bucks assistant Charles Lee also is a candidate to become a head coach.
“They are the key to, I think, the coaching that our players get, the coaching that happens,” Budenholzer once said. “They do the lion's share of the film, the prep, the work, the player development, how the players grow and how the players will be ready to play. The assistant coaches are phenomenal, what they do in games. They're special. I'm a big believer in your coaching staff and how important they are.”
Stotts, 64, brings a strong resume to the process: 13 NBA seasons, a 517-486 overall record and eight consecutive playoff appearances with Portland from 2014-2021.
Stotts, too, has experience coaching stars, helping Damian Lillard flourish from rookie to six-time All-NBA guard.
In a market that doesn’t often get big-name free agents, Stotts developed and improved players and put together three seasons with at least 50 victories and four other seasons with at least 40 victories in his nine seasons with the Trail Blazers. He was a consistent winner in a tough market for almost a decade.
Stotts’ offensive tactics could also help a Lakers team that struggled at the end. The Blazers had a top-eight offense six times in Stotts' tenure, including a No. 2 offense once and No. 3 offense twice.
Stotts is known for adapting to the roster he has instead of trying to force a system that doesn't fit with personnel.
There is also the idea that if the Lakers keep Russell Westbrook, Stotts can find a way to make him more productive, similar to the way he helped Carmelo Anthony extend his career in Portland. A couple of seasons ago, when Westbrook’s next team hadn’t been decided, Stotts told associates in Portland that he would welcome the chance to coach Westbrook, a person with knowledge of the exchange told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the conversation.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA news on Lakers' coaching search: It's down to three candidates