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It’s been more than six weeks since the Lakers fired coach Frank Vogel, and the picture for hiring his replacement is probably murkier than anyone involved would’ve hoped.
Three candidates — Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts — will have a second round of interviews in the near future.
Rival executives polled in Chicago during the NBA’s draft combine wondered if the Lakers have come to grips with the biggest challenge they face — replacing a championship-winning coach with someone better is a difficult task.
Those executives said hiring a coach is among their toughest jobs in basketball operations, and after seven teams hired coaches before last season, it’s considered a softer market this summer.
During the season, it was speculated Utah coach Quin Snyder, a former Lakers assistant, could be a top option and that the Lakers had interest in Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who interviewed for the job in 2019. It turned out Snyder wasn’t interested, and people with knowledge of the situation in April said Howard was staying at Michigan to coach his two sons.
Depending on how you view the roster, the next coach will be someone equipped to win with LeBron James in the twilight of his career, someone who resonates with Russell Westbrook or who fully unlocks Anthony Davis’ most-valuable-player potential. Or if you view this as a longer-term process, finding the right coach to help bridge eras of Lakers basketball could be most important.
While the team’s stated timetable still gives them a month to make a decision — Rob Pelinka, the Lakers' general manger and vice president of basketball operations, said ideally they would have a coach by the June 23 draft — Atkinson, Stotts and Ham also are reported to be candidates for the opening in Charlotte.
While the Lakers figure out whether to add to their pool — perhaps a big name such as Philadelphia's Doc Rivers — this is what fans should know about the candidates who advanced to a second round of interviews:
Experience: 2008-10—assistant, Albuquerque Thunderbirds; 2010-11—coach, New Mexico Thunderbirds; 2011-13—assistant, Lakers; 2013-18—assistant, Atlanta Hawks; 2018-22—assistant, Bucks.
Key connections: Coached for Lakers under Mike Brown, played for Stotts in Atlanta.
The argument for: Ham’s long been considered a future coach in NBA circles. He's known for communication skills and an ability to reach players. Won a championship with the Bucks in 2021. Playing career should help him relate. Has real momentum.
The argument against: Has never been a coach in the NBA. Spent last decade with one coach, limiting exposure to different styles.
Former Trail Blazers coach
Experience: 1990-91—assistant, Albany Patroons (CBA); 1991-92—assistant, Fort Wayne Fury (CBA); 1992-98—assistant, Seattle SuperSonics; 1998-2002—assistant, Bucks; 2002-04—assistant/coach, Atlanta Hawks; 2004-05—assistant, Warriors; 2005-07—coach, Bucks; 2008-12—assistant, Dallas Mavericks; 2012-21—coach, Trail Blazers.
Key connections: Coached Carmelo Anthony in Portland, faced Lakers in 2020 playoffs.
The argument for: Regarded as an excellent Xs and O's coach on offense. Led Portland to the Western Conference finals. Easygoing and experienced, would be a seamless fit. While he’d be a fit with anyone else the Lakers might hire, sources say he doesn’t want a lead assistant job.
The argument against: Would be his fourth coaching job without any titles. Not a strong defensive reputation; struggled at times with in-game adjustments. Would he resonate with the Lakers’ stars?
Experience: 2004-06—assistant, Paris Basket Racing; 2006-12—assistant, New York Knicks; 2012-16—assistant, Hawks; 2016-20—coach, Brooklyn Nets; 2020-21—assistant, Clippers; 2021-22—assistant, Warriors.
Key connections: Worked for former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni in New York, spent last two seasons with Pacific Division rivals as an assistant.
The argument for: His work in player development is thought to be top notch. Spent last two seasons working for Tyronn Lue and Steve Kerr, and his current team is making a deep playoff run. Maybe a surprise to be at this stage, but it’s a testament to his strengths.
The argument against: Fit concerns with an older Lakers core, considering his strength is in development, and his high level of intensity.
And here's a look at one wild card:
Experience: 1999-2003—coach, Orlando Magic; 2004-13—coach, Boston Celtics, 2013-20, coach, Clippers; 2020-22—coach, Philadelphia 76ers.
Key connections: Worked as a player and coach in Los Angeles for the Clippers. Faced Lakers in two NBA Finals, winning one.
The argument for: One of the winningest coaches in history. NBA champion. Has spent parts of five decades involved with NBA as a player and coach. Has experience coaching some of the biggest stars. Would demand autonomy.
The argument against: On a team already overcrowded with stars, is kind of a star in his own right. Has been stubborn at times. Has lost three 3-1 series leads in playoffs, including two with the Clippers. Could be costly to pry away from 76ers.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.