Dusk in LA: Lakers Face an Identity Crisis on Eve of NBA Draft

With no head coach now that Dan Hurley is staying at UConn, Los Angeles must go back to the drawing board and look to the future

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets during Round One Game Five of the 2024 NBA Playoffs on April 29, 2024 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado
LeBron and the Lakers were booted from the playoffs in Round 1. Where do they go from here?
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the throes of a seasons-long identity crisis. With a poor defensive profile, no head coach and LeBron’s foot in the retirement door, they’re forced, as all once-greats are, to look towards the horizon. 

Last week, team execs met with UConn head coach Dan Hurley to discuss a six-year, $70 million contract which would have pried him from the East Coast for the first time in his career. The offer, which averaged just north of $11.5 million per year, would have nestled Hurley between the Pistons’ Monty Williams and the Suns’ Mike Budenholzer as the 5th highest-paid coach in the NBA. On Monday, days after praising the “compelling case” made by the Lakers, Hurley issued a public rejection of the offer, noting the University of Connecticut’s “championship culture” and reaffirming his commitment to improvement. 

While the contract’s terms are nothing to scoff at, Hurley’s rejection should not come as a complete shock. Besides six years of team-building, the Lakers would force Hurley to abandon his shot at a third consecutive NCAA title, a feat last accomplished by John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins (who won three in a row from 1967 to 1969, and went on to win a total of seven championships consecutively through 1973).

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Moreover, the Lakers are a team in distress. Since their title win five seasons back, they’ve lost a slew of rotation weapons, including Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as the Ringer points out. With LeBron — still great, but not as quick — rising to the hallowed rank of oldest active player, L.A. has become increasingly reliant on Anthony Davis, a superstar famed for his poor durability.

Between the 2020-21 and 2022-23 seasons, A.D. missed a stunning 114 games, a span in which he established himself as both a tremendous asset and crushing liability to the new-era Lakers. It would be disingenuous not to mention Davis’s recent rebrand, kicked off by a vow to prove his robustness. In the 2023-24 season, the center posted 76 games played, a 36% increase over the previous year. Still, with so many unknowns on the Lakers roster, a year of relative reliability is hardly worth boasting about. 

Among these question marks are L.A.’s executive leadership. Since taking the helm in 2017, general manager Rob Pelinka has proved volatile, dismissing head coaches Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham just two seasons apart. In fact, the Lakers haven’t held onto a coach for more than three seasons since 2011, when Phil Jackson retired on chilly terms with late franchise owner Jerry Buss. While sources have speculated that Hurley was put off by a lowball offer from Lakers management — initial sources reported an eight-year, $100 million contract — his decision feels more holistic, based on a preponderance of factors, including the Lakers’ instability and a desire to, with respect, win championships.

As the Big East king makes the trek back to Storrs, the Lakers are now forced to scramble for a coach on the eve of the NBA Draft, which is scheduled for June 26-27. Though the battle for Hurley is over, the prelude to the 2024-25 season continues, as L.A. battens down the hatches and starts conversations with a number of possible franchise futures.

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