Former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and Bucks assistant Darvin Ham are the finalists for the Lakers’ head coach position.
By Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor
Firing Frank Vogel after his second down year with the team, the Lakers’ search to find a head coach suitable for LeBron James and Co. has zeroed in on three final candidates: Terry Stotts, Kenny Atkinson and Darvin Ham.
The City of Angels’ winningest franchise failed to make the playoffs despite being ranked third in ESPN’s power rankings before the season. Winning nine of the last 34 after hovering around .500 near the all-star break, the Lakers realized their formula for success did not work, and fired their head coach following the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign.
Vogel spent three years with the Lakers, leading the crew to a 2020 championship in the bubble. Taking the helm after the Anthony Davis trade, the future looked promising for Vogel and the Lakers. Sailing was smooth through season one, but because most players were on expiring contracts, the Lakers were forced to restructure.
Bringing in players like Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell in an effort to repeat as NBA champions, the Lakers underperformed in the first round and fell to the Phoenix Suns in six games. Trading players and picks for Russell Westbrook while letting sixth man Alex Caruso walk in favor of keeping then-rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, the purple and gold missed the postseason entirely.
About a month later, with Vogel gone and the NBA finals looming, the Lakers’ search for a replacement has led them to three choices.
Stotts has been coaching since the 1994-95 season, becoming a head coach in 2003 with the Atlanta Hawks. As an assistant, Stotts was a member of the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, and the 1996 runners up, the Seattle Supersonics. He had four unsuccessful seasons at the helm of the Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks in the early 21st century before assisting until the Portland Trail Blazers hired him in 2012-13. Stotts led the team to eight straight playoff appearances but advanced past the second round only once in that span.
Earning multiple Western Conference Coach of the Month honors with the Blazers, but, unable to find the defensive formula in Portland, Stotts was fired in 2021 after the Blazers decided to switch things up.
Atkinson has been coaching since 2008-09, making the conference finals with the Hawks as an assistant before taking the reins of a rebuilding Brooklyn Nets team in 2016. After the Nets fired him in 2020, Atkinson served as an assistant on the Los Angeles Clippers team that made the Western Conference Finals last season and is currently behind Steve Kerr on the possibly championship-bound Golden State Warriors.
With less experience and playoff success than Stotts, Atkinson has coached rebuilding teams before and has not had a chance to lead a team full of veterans. In Brooklyn, Atkinson’s focus was on cultivating young talent and giving many players a chance on the court.
Ham, unlike Stotts and Atkinson, found a place in the league as a player. Signed by the Denver Nuggets in 1996, Ham played for six teams in nine years, including the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons. Ham joined the Lakers as an assistant in 2011, moving on to Atlanta in 2014 before settling with the Bucks and winning last year’s championship.
Due to his experience on the court – and in his Lakers coaching stint – Ham commanded respect in the locker room of his prior teams and was able to build rapport with the players. He provides a strong voice to the table, hoping his relatability to James and his teammates will make up for his lack of experience as head coach.
Trying to fill the void early in the offseason, the Lakers are attempting to ensure the new coach has time to gel with James and company, as well as find the balance to handling the star talent and personalities.