Why the Lakers and Dan Hurley could be a winning match


Surely, Dan Hurley would take the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job if he were to be offered the position. The head coach of the reigning back-to-back national champion Connecticut Huskies has talked for years about the prospect in his career of coaching an NBA team someday.

With reports surfacing on Thursday morning that L.A. is targeting the 51-year-old in its crucial coaching search, there are a variety of layers to consider.

Should Dan Hurley leave UConn for the Lakers?

First off, Hurley has accomplished everything he can at the college level. Sure, if he joins John Wooden and leads UConn to a 3-peat, that would be a historic accomplishment, but there’s also a sense of it being the same thing he’s done the last two years — if we are looking at it the way Hurley sees his life and career.

Hurley, the brother of Duke legend and Arizona State head coach Bobby and the son of high school legend Bob Sr., has coached with a chip on his shoulder, fueled to make his mark in a family where he was previously the afterthought, but now is the centerpiece.

“Don’t get me wrong, (winning the title) was an incredible feeling in the moment, but it hasn’t fulfilled me in a way that maybe I thought it would,” Hurley told The Athletic after winning his first championship. “I was probably chasing that championship thinking there’d be some level of healing. It’s like realizing there’s no Santa Claus.” 

That quote signifies how Hurley thinks, and why there’s no better window of opportunity than the present. The Santa Claus of basketball jobs in brand, potential and wonder is to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. You could be a cynic and say it’s also a very difficult job filled with wild expectations, but Hurley’s ego and larger-than-life personality are powered by the prospect of chasing after the next big thing. Well, there’s no bigger thing than the potential of being on a stage with a Larry O’Brien trophy alongside LeBron James and winning a world championship. 

We know the 39-year-old James approves of Hurley, as he’s publicly made known after Hurley’s appearance on JJ Redick’s podcast — oh, the irony. But Hurley’s college background and ability to develop talent would have to make LeBron feel comfortable if his son, Bronny, becomes part of the LA organization and is going through the developmental structure of it. The Lakers’ G League team is literally embedded with the Lakers at the UCLA Health Training Center, so there’s a connectivity present and the thought of Hurley joining the fold and knowing what a younger prospect looks like and how to address that elephant in the room would likely make James happy. 

But does this make sense for the Lakers, who originally were thought to be hiring the 39-year-old Redick away from the broadcast booth and into his first coaching job? 

It’s no secret that the reaction to early reports that Redick could be the guy produced plenty of discourse and questions entailing whether he was fit to take on this job, having never coached, and having to deal with LeBron, Anthony Davis and the very high expectations set on Rodeo Drive. Did Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka see this discourse or start to buy in to the potential cons of hiring Redick and shift in a different direction? Perhaps. 

The $1 million question is this: if Hurley was always the candidate they wanted, why now? Why on June 6 are they just having these conversations? The college season has been over for two months, and Hurley just got rising junior star Alex Karaban to come back to UConn to pursue history. He’s been handling this offseason with the same intensity that he’s handled everything. But that’s another reason why it’s a no-brainer for Hurley to take this job if he’s offered it. 

Hurley has jokingly, but also seriously, shown his dislike for college basketball’s current atmosphere, where close to 2,000 transfers are in the portal and building a roster is all about a never-ending financial bidding war that also entails making sure you’ve got the pieces that properly fit your puzzle. In the college game, the offseason or thought of one is really gone because of everything that roster building entails. It’s an unhealthy lifestyle for coaches, but one that Hurley has mastered in how much he’s won the last two years. But that lack of being able to sustain it, and what feels like a road of chaos that won’t end in the sport, further pales in comparison when looking at being an NBA coach. 

“Maybe just burnout for me,” Hurley said in April when asked what would make him leave Connecticut. “You know, it could be pushing too hard and probably just breaking down at some point because you just can’t keep up the intensity, and energy, and output. Maybe down the road, I could grow up a little bit and mature with the emotions, and maybe (a coaching job) in the NBA would be the way to go. College has become like the G League. The college game has changed. You win the national championship, and obviously you have the parade and the White House, but you’re right into free agency frenzy. I’m worried about the burnout (of that).” 

Twenty years ago, the Lakers offered Mike Krzyzewski a five-year, $40 million contract. The amount of $8 million per year two decades ago was a seismic financial offer, but the circumstances of the college game and the way Coach K could flourish in it are totally different from what they are now. 

Here’s another layer to consider: Hurley’s aggressive personality on the sidelines and his demeanor with officials and players. 

I would say this: I think much of Hurley’s antics on the sidelines are an act, and he would change if it meant he could be an NBA head coach. Tony Brothers or Scott Foster are not putting up with all of that. But to those that call Hurley insane on the sidelines, I fully believe much of what he does is calculated. He would understand he has to change that, because if he didn’t understand it, we wouldn’t be talking about the head coach of the repeat national champions to begin with.

As for how he coaches players, he is a mad scientist in the lab. I’ve seen him motivate players to a major degree, nearing that line but never crossing it in the way you can drive kids to their best point. Obviously, the NBA is a totally different animal, and you’re not going to be able to break players down to then build them back up. 

But it’s exactly all of these questions about whether Hurley could handle this move to Los Angeles that has to drive his thought process to take this position. He is fueled by people telling him he can’t do something. The Lakers are a crown jewel brand in sports. He’s proven all one can at the college level, and while Hurley once said a move to the NBA would not come until “way down the road,” the situational potential, the opportunity to be alongside LeBron in L.A. and the long-term financial commitment from a name brand like this one is an opportunity that comes off as one-of-a-kind in Hurley’s career arc.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


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