Lakers head coach search: Who will they hire?

Frank Vogel is out.

Now, less than 24 hours since their season ended in splashing disappointment, the Los Angeles Lakers offseason starts in overdrive. Next on the case: figuring out what to do with Russell Westbrook and finding a new head coach – not necessarily in that order.

The Lakers job is one of the largest and most researched in all sports. Will they seek out an established veteran or an up-and-comer to lead LeBron James’ twilight year? Candidates of both kinds already got buzz on Monday.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Nick Nurse is among the Lakers’ top goalscorers. And why should he not be? The 54-year-old was promoted to the leadership job in Toronto in 2018 after years as an assistant. He immediately rewarded the decision by helping deliver an NBA championship in his first season.

Granted, the off-season acquisition of Kawhi Leonard was the primary catalyst for Toronto’s title, but Nurse delivered in his first season on his way to becoming one of the most respected names in the game. A valued strategist, Nurse was credited with opening up to the Raptors offense before taking over as head coach. His bonafides, who lead a team built around a superstar, are established.

The question here is not whether the Lakers are interested in Nurse. That’s if he’s interested in leaving a good thing in Toronto for the Lakers. And if so, are the Raptors willing to partner with two seasons left on their contract with Nurse?

Quin Sinner would be a major candidate in Los Angeles if he is interested in leaving Utah. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)

Quin Snyder, head coach of the Utah Jazz

Snyder has been linked with the Lakers since it became clear that Vogel was on his way out. The longtime Utah Jazz coach, meanwhile, is busy preparing for his sixth consecutive season. Utah has been an eternal challenger in the West under Snyder, but lack of playoff success has sparked speculation that it may be time for a change in Salt Lake City if the Jazz do not make it to the finals this season.

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Jazz is not unhappy with Snyder. Per Stein, they have extended an extension offer, which he has not yet signed. He reportedly still has time left on his current deal, but the details are not clear and Snyder is not interested in tackling them. If he’s ready for a change, is he so interested in the Lakers? Or does the San Antonio Spurs after Gregg Popovich have more appeal? When Pop decides to put things on, of course.

Juwan Howard, University of Michigan head coach

Here’s an exciting name. Howard, 49, already has what could rightly be described as a dream job as coaching a power program on his alma mater. The Fab Five Center is fresh on its second trip in a row to Sweet 16 in three years of coaching in Michigan. He was the AP Coach of the Year in 2021. He landed a top-five recruiting class last season and has another top-10 class on the way next season.

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard shouts during the first half of a college basketball game against Villanova in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 24, 2022 in San Antonio.  (AP Photo / Eric Gay)

Would Juwan Howard leave Michigan for the NBA? Is the Lakers interested in that case? (AP Photo / Eric Gay)

Would he really leave such a good thing for the NBA? The opportunity to coach LeBron and the Lakers could be the kind of job that lures him away. Per Charania, he is in the mix for the job. He interviewed the Lakers in 2019, before coming to Michigan. He spent 19 seasons playing in the NBA, including winning two championships with James in Miami, and was the Heat Assistant coach from 2013-19. It is not that the leap from college would be a shock to his system.

David Fizdale, Los Angeles Lakers assistant

While the Lakers fired Vogel, they allegedly did not fire his staff on Monday. This includes Chief Assistant David Fizdale. The 18-year-old NBA assistant and head coach has a relationship with James that goes back to his days on Erik Spoelstra’s staff at the Miami Heat.

Fizdale had instant success in his first NBA coaching stay, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to an unexpected playoff game in 2017. But he was fired 19 games in his second season amid a 7-12 start and disagreement with star center Marc Gasol.

Fizdale joined the Knicks as head coach in 2018 before being similarly fired early in his second season there in the middle of a 4-18 start. His early resignation from both jobs led to outcry in league circles, including from James in 2017.

James is a fan of Fizdale’s and won two titles with the Heat, who drove an attack Fizdale helped develop. No one would be surprised if Fizdale ends up taking the reins in Los Angeles.

Steve Clifford, free agent

This is not a sexy name, but a stable name. As a longtime NBA head coach and assistant, Clifford helped elevate the Charlotte Hornets / Bobcats and Orlando Magic to levels of respectability not always seen in these parts. In eight NBA seasons as head coach, the Clifford Hornets and Magic led to two playoff spots each.

A defensive-minded coach, Clifford could conceivably help the Lakers re-establish the identity that led them to an NBA championship in 2020. He has not coached since parting ways with the Magic in 2021, amid their recent rebuilding of the player list. Is there mutual interest?

Of course, the list does not stop there. Other names including 76ers head coach Doc Rivers and assistant Sam Cassell, veteran coaches Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, and recently fired King’s interim head coach Alvin Gentry could also emerge as candidates.

Whoever lands the job will do so under tremendous pressure. The patience to lose in LeBron’s final year is short.

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