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Dan Hurley Rejected the Lakers. Will LeBron Be Next?



The Los Angeles Lakers chasing Dan Hurley is like Leonardo DiCaprio trying to date Dua Lipa. Sure, she might meet up for coffee, but he’s a bit old, has a history of short-lived relationships, and can’t offer any spoils that she doesn’t already have. Hurley flew to Los Angeles over the weekend to meet with Lakers brass, but the aging stars, subpar supporting cast, and limited future assets had to have been a turnoff. Now that he has opted to stay with the Connecticut Huskies following his L.A. flirtation, the Lakers will need to lower their standards in their coaching search and re-target JJ Redick or a retread like James Borrego.

How far can a rich history, a glamorous location, and prime-time exposure really go when underneath the Hollywood glitz, the Lakers are in reality a perennial play-in team? You can’t rest on your laurels when you’re no longer a title contender.

Despite the individual brilliance of Anthony Davis, the Lakers posted the 17th-ranked defensive rating this past season. On offense, AD doesn’t shoot 3s and LeBron James, at 39 years old, isn’t quite as dominant as he once was. The Lakers have cracked the top 10 in offensive rating only once during LeBron’s tenure in purple and gold. Critical rotation players such as Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have all left or been traded since the Lakers won the championship in 2020, and their replacements haven’t filled those voids effectively. LeBron and Davis were about as healthy as the Lakers could have hoped for this year, yet they still had to claw their way into the playoffs, only to lose in five games. This may be only the beginning of a downward spiral for the franchise.

It’s also possible the Lakers were simply used by Hurley to gain leverage for a raise with UConn and set a higher bar for a possible future leap to the NBA. The Lakers’ reported six-year, $70 million offer to Hurley was substantial, but not out of UConn’s reach. This relative financial hesitancy was evident a few years ago when Ty Lue was low-balled before he crossed the hallway to the Clippers and their billionaire owner, Steve Ballmer. Jeanie Buss faces unique financial pressures. Unlike many NBA team owners who made their fortunes in other industries before purchasing their teams, the Lakers are a family business and the franchise is their primary source of income.

This fiscal conservatism has also affected roster decisions; notably, the Lakers passed on re-signing Caruso. Coming from college, where the transfer portal allows players to change teams every year, Hurley couldn’t have felt good about the fact that stability seems like a foreign concept in Los Angeles. Not just on the roster, but with the coaching staff.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has dismissed two coaches in three years, despite recent successes. Frank Vogel was scapegoated two seasons after winning a title, and Darvin Ham got let go just one season after the Lakers made the Western Conference finals. No Lakers head coach has lasted more than three seasons since Phil Jackson’s retirement over a decade ago.

Pelinka is out to protect his own job, in part, by moving on from coaches so quickly, but LeBron’s notorious impatience complicates matters. There was a time when any coach would accept coaching LeBron because he was an all-time great talent. But as he nears 40, the risks outweigh the benefits. This is also why the Lakers have resisted investing future assets for two years running. With LeBron’s age, AD’s lack of durability, and the uncertain state of the rest of the roster, dumping all their picks to go all in isn’t as wise as it was for LeBron teams of the past. And with two pricy stars atop the roster, the NBA’s new luxury tax rules make putting a contender around LeBron and AD an even greater challenge.

Pelinka can trade three firsts (2024, 2029, and 2031), three swaps (2026, 2028, and 2030), and six seconds this summer. But there is no realistic trade he can make that would establish them as favorites in the West. And there is no guarantee he could even make a trade that could guarantee home-court advantage in the first round. Would the Lakers have the best offer for Donovan Mitchell? Will Trae Young be made available? Is there any move that could blow your mind? I’m not seeing it this summer, unless a major surprise is coming.

Which brings us to the biggest question of the Lakers’ summer, one that feels a little louder after this news cycle. Hurley rejected the Lakers. Will LeBron follow suit? James has a player option for next season that he must decide on by June 29. So he will get to find out what the Lakers do in the draft, whether it’s making a big trade acquisition or drafting his son Bronny James.

LeBron should at least contemplate his future. If he stays in the West, maybe he’d push to replace Bradley Beal in Phoenix or form the Old Man Avengers in Golden State. Or perhaps he could see appeal in the Spurs if they want to accelerate around Victor Wembanyama. But considering the cakewalk path to the Finals that the Celtics just took, the East would have even more promise. Could he return to the Cavaliers or the Heat as the final piece to the puzzle? Or perhaps helping a franchise return to glory would be best, whether it’s the Knicks or Sixers? All of these suggestions would require trades, though, other than Philly, who could create more than $60 million in cap space.

After leading the Cavaliers to a 3-1 comeback and a championship eight years ago, LeBron said that he had “nothing left to prove.” Since then he won another title and became the game’s all-time leading scorer. He still has plenty of game left to achieve even more. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won back-to-back championships at age 40 and 41. But unlike Abdul-Jabbar, who seamlessly transitioned to a supporting role to clinch late-career titles with the Showtime Lakers, LeBron finds himself in a less promising situation. Yet late-career titles helped underscore Kareem’s longevity and adaptability and are part of what defines his greatness.

Leaving Los Angeles would bring risk. James would inevitably be portrayed as a ring-chaser. If he won, his contributions would be diminished in the moment. And if he fell short, he’d get dubbed a failure. But LeBron needs only to look at Tom Brady in the NFL for a recent example of a legend who won his final championship with a new franchise, which only served to cement his GOAT status. There’s still great debate over LeBron versus Michael Jordan, who won his six championships all in the same decade, all with the same franchise, all largely with the same group of teammates. LeBron will never have that argument in his favor. But he has won with different sets of teammates across different eras of basketball. Shouldn’t he lean into who he is even more when there’s still time to add rings?

Championships aren’t coming anytime soon in Los Angeles, though. Not in the Lakers’ current state. Not with the West as loaded as it is. This is why Hurley decided to head back to Connecticut, and why LeBron at least needs to ponder his next move.

The Lakers might also be better off if this is the end of an era. They are the most recent team to win the title with a leading player that they didn’t draft. In the years since, the Bucks, Warriors, and Nuggets have succeeded with stars they’ve developed. This postseason we’ve seen the Celtics and Mavericks follow the same formula, building around homegrown stars. Boston is on the brink of securing Banner 18, surpassing the Lakers for the most ever, and Dallas’s deep playoff run could cement Luka Doncic’s allegiance to the team and end the dreams of wistful Lakers fans.

Once LeBron leaves or retires, the Lakers could begin to rebuild through the draft, just like they did after Kobe Bryant retired to build the type of young core that first made them appealing to LeBron. Just like they did by keeping Kobe as the centerpiece for five rings. Just like they did in their glory years in the 1980s with Magic Johnson and James Worthy. To get back to the top, Buss needs to return the Lakers to who they always were. After so many denials and disappointments, the Lakers have to realize that the most fulfilling championships are built on solid foundations, not fleeting romances.

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