NBA Confidential: Is the Lakers head coaching job attractive?

It has been more than three weeks since the Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham, and by all accounts, it could be another three weeks before they hire his replacement.

The reported list of current candidates — J.J. Redick, Micah Nori, James Borrego, Sam Cassell and David Adelman — doesn’t exactly conjure visions of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, legends who prowled the sidelines and won multiple titles for the purple and gold. A couple of reported candidates — Mike Budenholzer and Charles Lee — jumped to accept less venerable offers elsewhere — Phoenix and Charlotte, respectively.

All of which raises a question put to GMs, executives and scouts by FOX Sports: Is the Lakers’ head coaching job still a premier one?

The answers essentially boil down to this: The perks and advantages of the position still top the charts, but the conditions of the job dull the allure and prompt coaches to sign on elsewhere if given the chance. 

“High on prestige,” said a Western Conference scout. “S— in every other way.”

Not every respondent was quite that harsh. An Eastern Conference executive gave it more benefits than simply the name recognition that comes with coaching one of the most iconic brands in the league in a city that caters to stars.

“The Lakers’ job ranks at the top because of the traditional level of talent you get to coach, a ton of nationally televised games every year, the favorable whistles your team gets, the favorable schedule you play, and you will always get another job because ‘You were head coach of the Lakers,'” he said. “There’s also some comfort in knowing you’re going to get fired and, while the blame will fall on you from the Lakers’ ownership and front-office perspective, it won’t be assigned to you by the rest of the league.”

The favorable schedule is a reference to the fact that a second team — the LA Clippers — resides in the same city, which reduces travel. Also, the Lakers frequently have had the fewest back-to-back games on their schedule. They only had a dozen in both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, including two in ’21-22 that were played entirely in Los Angeles. They were also first or second in nationally televised games in each of the last three seasons, exposure that is naturally attractive to free agents.

But the Western Conference scout ticked off a list of challenges, beginning with the fact that Jeanie Buss ranks in the bottom six of NBA owners by personal wealth, a disadvantage heightened by having the wealthiest owner in sports — the Clippers’ Steve Ballmer — in the same market. He also described a front office rife with competing interests.

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“The team is resource-poor, in that ownership is not very rich by NBA standards,” the scout said. “Two factions vie for franchise influence: the Magic crew vs. the Kobe crew. Superstar sensibilities run the franchise. Too many agendas have to be serviced. Community pressure is unrealistic and unrelenting. It’s an old team with player personnel interference from its superstars. And the team is just not good enough.”

The reference to the “Magic crew vs. the Kobe crew” is the impression around the league that there are two forces within the front office competing for Buss’ ear. On one hand, there is team president Rob Pelinka (Bryant’s former agent), and former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who coached Bryant and still supposedly is a resource for Buss. On the other is Kurt and Linda Rambis (Kurt having played with Lakers legend Magic Johnson and Linda having befriended Jeanie), and Magic Johnson himself, who Jeanie also supposedly still views as an unofficial advisor.

There’s also the reported influence of the Klutch Agency, run by high-profile agent Rich Paul, which represents the Lakers’ two biggest stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

As a result, the perception is that there is no clear chain of command, leaving a head coach wondering to whom he really answers. This might explain why Budenholzer and Lee weren’t willing to wait to see if they could land it.

“Quality coaches opt for other jobs because the Lakers’ search always seems to have an aspect of randomness and unpredictability, along with an extended timeline,” the scout said. “With the premium other organizations are paying, it isn’t worth the risk of striking out on the Laker[s] job knowing how many voices, many of whom are less than qualified, are a factor in the decision.”

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And yet both an Eastern Conference GM and Eastern Conference scout ranked it among the top five jobs in the league.

“Being in the L.A. market is such a huge advantage,” the scout said. “It seems like most players, if given the choice, would want to be there. A lot have second homes or reside in L.A. in the offseason. The history of winning and the cachet the franchise has are still factors, in my opinion, maybe not as much as in the past, but it’s still there. Even when they were struggling, post-Kobe, they still were able to sign LeBron James as a free agent and then use their young players and draft assets to trade for Anthony Davis. I could see them doing something like that again in the future, potentially. It just changes the dynamic of team building when you have the ability to attract top free agents as opposed to always having to scout, draft and develop superstars.”

The downside, said a second Western Conference scout, is that stars such as LeBron have outsized influence on how the team operates, compromising the head coach’s authority.

“I don’t know where I would rank it, but the Lakers’ job isn’t appealing to me,” the second Western Conference scout said. “Look at the list of coaches since Phil. You get none of the credit, which is what it is with LeBron. They are incredibly cheap, which affects the ability to fill out the coaching staff. And you have completely unrealistic expectations, in part from media and in part from ownership.”

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Jackson, who won five championships over two stints spanning 11 seasons, last coached the team in 2011. Since then, the Lakers have had seven coaches: Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff (interim for five games), Mike D’Antoni, Byron Scott, Luke Walton, Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham. None lasted longer than three seasons, including Vogel, who won a championship, and Ham, who went to the Western Conference finals.

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“The Lakers’ job is very tough,” said a Western Conference GM. “They have talent, but a short window, and it’s championship or bust.”

That does seem to be where the bar is set, even though there are a host of younger, more talented teams with stars in their prime — Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, Dallas — in the Western Conference alone. Or that the Lakers haven’t exactly churned out titles of late, winning one in the last 14 years. Or that James, whose presence is largely the reason for any belief that the Lakers are still capable of winning it all, turns 40 next season.

None of that seems to matter in the land of movies and make-believe. The idea — promoted by Lakers’ fans, media and ownership alike — that vying for championships is a franchise birthright is unshakable. Which offers an inherent endorsement to anyone hired to be its head coach. If you’re the Lakers’ head coach, it must mean someone thinks you’re capable of winning it all. No other franchise confers such instant credibility. Or tests its validity as ruthlessly.

A dream job. Fully capable of becoming a nightmare.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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