How hiring UConn's Dan Hurley could impact the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James and Bronny

ByESPN insiders ESPN logo
Monday, June 10, 2024

One month after firing Darvin Ham, the Lakers are zeroing in on their next head coach. Sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that Los Angeles is preparing a massive, long-term contract offer to pry two-time NCAA champion Dan Hurley away from the University of Connecticut.What would such a monumental hire mean for the Lakers -- and the future of superstar LeBron James, who can become a free agent this summer? Our NBA and college basketball experts break down what we know and what could happen in the coming days and weeks.

Why are the Lakers targeting Hurley, a coach with no NBA experience?

It's an audacious and creative option that reflects where college basketball is in the NIL era, where the NBA is with its new collective bargaining agreement and where the Lakers are after churning through coaches over the past decade. (They haven't had a coach last more than three seasons since Phil Jackson.) There isn't a perfect choice, but this one would represent a high-risk/high-reward option with a coach with unquestioned talent.

The other candidates, one of whom might still get the job, as Hurley is not a done deal, represent some of these qualities. JJ Redick has shown great innovation and depth in X's and O's and has credibility with players. James Borrego has the most experience and has proved to be effective at this level. Sam Cassell is beloved as an assistant, has bonded with stars, and has a championship résumé. Hurley's profile is different, but his star has never been higher.

-- Brian Windhorst

What would Hurley bring to the Lakers? How would his coaching style translate to the NBA?

Over the past few years, Hurley has established himself as one of the elite player-development coaches and tactical minds in college basketball. After his first national championship with UConn, he had two players selected in the 2023 NBA draft -- including lottery pick Jordan Hawkins, who saw dramatic improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 under Hurley. This year, he had five players invited to the NBA draft combine and could have the first two college players picked in Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle -- neither of whom were in this position when they arrived in Storrs.

From a tactical perspective, he's developed arguably the best offense in college basketball, predicated on off-ball movement and 3-point shooting. It's a stark change from his offenses at Rhode Island and his early days at UConn, and represents an ability to adapt his X's and O's to the modern game. The offensive principles he's utilized also translate well to the NBA.

The biggest question about Hurley's coaching style comes from an emotional standpoint. He's notorious for his sideline histrionics toward referees -- and opposing crowds, at times -- and his practices are incredibly loud, intense and filled with their fair share of choice words. Hurley's intensity has translated to plenty of success at the high school and college levels and would be difficult to completely change at 51 years old, but he might have to dial it back for the NBA.

-- Jeff Borzello

What would a Hurley hire mean for LeBron James?

For starters, it would mean his fourth coach in seven years with the Lakers, after playing for six different coaches over his first 15 years in the league. And it would mean his second consecutive coach, after Darvin Ham, to coach him with zero NBA head-coaching experience on his résumé.

James has not had any conversations with the Lakers about Hurley - or Redick and the coaching search in general for that matter -- a source familiar with the situation told ESPN on Thursday. James, through his representatives, has made it clear that the Lakers should do what is best for the organization and is mindful and respectful that the Lakers need to make a decision on a coach that will be with the team beyond his playing career.

James has already endorsed Hurley's acumen, posting on X -- ironically under a video of Redick interviewing Hurley -- that the Connecticut coach is "so DAMN GOOD" and "super creative" with his offensive schemes. Matching wits with James' basketball mind has always been the key to a good partnership and is something James values as much if not more as a coach's organizational skills and demeanor.

Of course, the idea of Hurley's fiery demeanor translating from a 40-game collegiate season coaching teenagers to an 82-game NBA slate, holding a superstar like James accountable, remains a question mark. However, sources close to James have told ESPN in the past that while it might not always seem that way, James likes being coached hard and responds well to being held to a task on the floor -- even as he nears 40 years old.

-- Dave McMenamin

What could the Lakers do this offseason to enhance the roster for Hurley (or another coach)?

The roster the Lakers have now, as Hurley is interviewing for the job, could look far different than the one he would possibly coach in October.

All-Star Anthony Davis is under contract and all signs point to James returning (he has until June 29 to exercise his $51.4 million player option). But there are questions about the rest of the roster beyond the two franchise players, starting with D'Angelo Russell's $18.9 million player option.

If Russell opts in to his contract for next season, Los Angeles is not only a luxury tax team once again, but will exceed the first apron. If the Lakers re-sign restricted free agent Max Christie, they would then enter the restrictive second apron. A team over the first apron is not allowed to take back more money in a trade, while a second-apron team cannot aggregate contracts or send out cash in a trade, and doesn't have access to the $5.1 million taxpayer midlevel exception.

A scenario in which Russell does not return opens up more flexibility, including access to the $12.9 million midlevel exception and more wiggle room to acquire a player in a trade. However, it would also leave the Lakers with a void at point guard.

The Lakers will also need to evaluate if searching for a third star to put alongside James and Davis is the best direction under the new CBA. The Lakers have three first-round picks (2024, 2029 and 2031) to trade, but a more prudent use of them would be to copy how the Dallas Mavericks have utilized their draft assets. In three separate trades, the Mavericks acquired Kyrie Irving, P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford, all key contributors to their NBA Finals team. The cost? Three first-round picks.

-- Bobby Marks

How would a Hurley hire affect the likelihood of the Lakers drafting Bronny James?

Obviously, it's too early to predict how much influence Hurley might have over the Lakers' approach to the draft, with L.A.'s front office in the midst of preparations irrespective of this hire.

Whether the Lakers target Bronny James, a projected second-rounder, might not be Hurley's call, and I don't think there's a direct implication one way or the other as to their immediate strategy in cultivating the fringes of their roster. The Lakers will presumably target a more NBA-ready rookie with the 17th pick if they keep it, leaving the door open for them to take a longer-term prospect in the second round at No. 55.

More importantly, a major impetus behind the Lakers targeting Hurley with a significant long-term offer is his strong history of player development, something that holds value to the organization not only in the moment, but also as it prepares for the eventuality of a post-LeBron future.

During this back-to-back title run, Hurley and his UConn staff did an excellent job of identifying undervalued talent on the recruiting trail and developing them into NBA prospects. Clingan and Castle will come off the draft board early in a few weeks. Others such as Cam Spencer and Alex Karaban (who's headed back to UConn) benefited strongly from the program. It follows that if the Lakers ultimately decide to target Bronny James, the Hurley hire is one that could enhance his chances of becoming a player who sticks in the league long-term.

-- Jeremy Woo

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