The Lakers are down to three finalists for their open head coaching job.
Days after a report by NBA insider Shams Charania listing Darvin Ham, Kenny Atkinson and Terry Stotts as the three finalists targeted by the Lakers hierarchy, a report came out that former Fab Five star and current Michigan coach Juwan Howard rebuffed a Lakers approach. My instinct is these three are it….for now.
Who are these three “finalists” quotes intended, and what are the reasons for and against putting them in the first chair on the Laker bench?
The details: Ham is 48 years old, the youngest of the three. He’s 6-foot-7, went to Texas Tech and had a journeyman NBA career playing for the Bucks, Pistons, Hawks, Wizards, Nuggets and Pacers.
When he was with the Hawks, he played for Stotts in 2002. He won an NBA title in 2004 when the Pistons beat the Lakers (the Rip Hamilton series). He served as a Player Development coach with the Lakers for two seasons: 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, then has been an assistant coach with the Hawks and Bucks.
The good: Ham is the only one of the three with a hard connection to the Lakers, having worked under Mike Brown. You don’t play for six teams in the NBA as a nondescript 6-foot-7 forward without a strong work ethic. His youth is a plus. The Lakers could use someone who knows today’s NBA and has the energy to deal with the media and an 82-game regular season.
The bad: He’s never been an NBA head coach before. On a star-studded veteran team that the Lakers have, it could lead to some friction. The minute a strategy goes wrong, you can just see Russell Westbrook saying ‘this guy has no clue.’ Players with talent must be coaxed to play hard even when they don’t want to. Ham has never had to deal with that kind of pressure.
The details: Atkinson turns 55 next week. He played collegiately at Richmond, the definition of a scrappy guard. He went undrafted but had a long career in Europe. He got his NBA coaching stare with Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks in 2008, then joined the Hawks staff (coaching with Stotts) in 2012 under Mike Budenholzer.
He became the Brooklyn Nets coach in 2016 and is the longest-tenured Brooklyn Nets coach at four seasons. The Nets were horrible his first two years, played their hearts out, and made the playoffs in his third year. Then signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They both got hurt. Atkinson was dismissed four days before COVID shut down the league. He’s now an assistant with Golden State.
The good: Atkinson had nothing to work with in Brooklyn those first two years. He had aging Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. Yet the job he did with the team in his third year was widely hailed. He made chicken salad.
The bad: The language at the time of Atkinson’s dismissal was “mutually agreed to part ways.” The scuttlebutt at the time was Irving and Durant wanted him out. It’s a Players league, and if Atkinson can’t get along with stars, he will have trouble in LA.
The details: The oldest finalist at 64, Stotts was drafted by the Rockets but never played in the NBA. He’s got a long and successful coaching resume. He started with the SuperSonics (RIP) under George Karl, then followed Karl to the Bucks.
He became interim head coach for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2002-2003 season, and the team went 28-54 the next year. He got the boot. Then he was head coach a year and a half with Milwaukee, never had a winning record. He went to Portland and gets the TrailBlazers in the playoffs eight straight years, reaching the conference finals once before stepping down last June.
The good: Of the three, he’s got the best credentials. There isn’t a road swing in the NBA he doesn’t know, or an official. He’s respected.
The bad: It’s kind of like Stotts is just good at a lot of things and not great at any one thing. His TrailBlazer teams always lived and died with the three-point shot and never really improved on defense. They were what they were. Right now, the Lakers would probably kill for eight straight playoff berths, but Stotts doesn’t have an NBA title.