The Los Angeles Lakers wasted no time in rebounding from their near implosion. Two days after Magic Johnson stepped down from his perch as President of Basketball Operations, the Lakers mutually parted ways with Head Coach Luke Walton.
Though both Magic and Walton had endeared themselves as lifetime members of Laker Nation—Magic of course as the face of the Showtime era and Walton as the NBA legacy child present for Kobe Bryant’s 2009 and 2010 titles—one departure was more surprising than the other. Johnson left the team without warning, calling it quits two years and two months into his tenure.
Walton’s annexation, however, was plotted as early as November. Johnson publicly chastised Walton for a poor start to the season, completely glossing over the fact that the Lakers (read: Johnson and Rob Pelinka) supplied him with a directionless roster.
That Walton wasn’t fired earlier was a miracle. He wasn’t hired as a coach for Magic or James, rather as a hold over until the Lakers found their flow.
Looking to find that flow sooner rather than later, Los Angeles has already begun interviews with prospective head coaches, one of whom was similarly immortalized in Lakers’ history. Tyronn Lue, the man who once sat idly as Allen Iverson stepped over him in the 2001 NBA Finals may get to rewrite his Lakers narrative, assuming he makes the coaching cut.
James’ presence in Los Angeles immediately made Lue a favorite to fill the vacancy. In 2016, when then-Cavs Head Coach David Blatt wasn’t making the grade, Cleveland quickly instilled Lue in his stead, likely to appease James and the players who had a better relationship with then-Associate Head Coach Lue.
Despite his players’ confidence in him, Lue recognized the scrutiny under which he worked.
It’s the hardest job, by far,” Lue said on ESPN’s NBA Lockdown podcast in May 2017. “It’s the hardest job. But I’ve been through a lot of tough things in my life anyway, and I just try not to listen to the outside noise—to the media and what they have to say. As long as I have the support of [Cavs general manager] David Griffin, [principal owner] Dan Gilbert, my players, the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, as long as I have that support, that’s all that matters.”
Coaching James and friends is taxing. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra can vouch for that. James engenders an unmatched level of analysis that invariably consumes whomever has the (dis)pleasure of coaching him.
But if Lue felt the pressure in Ohio, what makes him think things will be better in Los Angeles?
Judging by his resume, stress management isn’t one of Lue’s strong suits. He stepped away from the team in March 2018, when the Cavs were locked in a race to maintain home court advantage in the Playoffs, citing health complications “compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year.”
Lue hasn’t made much mention of his health since then, but it’s safe to say that LA would be an even hotter pressure cooker than Cleveland as the Lakers have both a presidential search and roster rebuild ahead of them.
Assuming the trust lead by Jeanie Buss wants to prevent another Johnson-Walton situation, the Lakers should wait to instill a president who would work with Lue in the early days of roster construction, rather than blindsiding Lue with a hasty front office hire. Picking up Lue before the Lakers have a roster plan in place would set him up for failure even before James can finish filming Space Jam 2.
That doesn’t even consider that Lue’s championship reputation precedes him. He replaced Blatt without skipping a beat, leading Cleveland to its first title in over 50 years. James was undoubtedly a huge part of that, but Lue’s place as the figurehead steadied what could have been a tumultuous transition of power.
Los Angeles is hungry for success, and Lue would be expected to bring it. Never mind the fact that the Lakers only have seven players under contract entering the 2019 NBA off-season; the Lakers are already on the clock, having wasted a year of James’s three-plus-one contract. Lue might get the benefit of having James’ support, but that doesn’t change the ravenous fanbase and management in Southern California praying for basketball relevance.
Though Lue has the prowess of personality management—he deserves major props for keeping what is now known as “Kyrie’s Bizarre Adventure” in check in Cleveland—the Lakers introduce too many variables that could spiral his Lakers tenure out of control.
The Los Angeles Lakers are an NBA anomaly. They have one of the greatest players of all time and absolutely no direction for the future. The organization once touted as a free agent destination is more recently known for its familial issues, tampering and roster mismanagement.
Tyronn Lue can’t fix that.