Lakers LeBron James Could Force Coaching Ouster for ‘His Guy’: Execs

The mutual admiration society that exists between Lakers star LeBron James and head coach Ty Lue, currently coach of the Clippers—for now, at least—is no secret. But with the Lakers eliminated from the playoffs with a mild five-game, first-round showing against the Nuggets and with the future of both James and Lue in question as April prepares to turn to May, there has been increasing chatter about the possibility that the two could soon be reunited.

Lue coached James for two-and-a-half seasons in Cleveland, from the middle of 2015-16 through 2017-18, and the Cavs reached the Finals in all three seasons, winning the franchise’s only championship in 2016. James left Lue and the Cavs for the Lakers in 2018 and has not been especially happy with any of his L.A. coaches during that time—Luke Walton, Frank Vogel and now, Darvin Ham.

Now, James is in position to dictate whether the Lakers bring back Ham, and if not, he can have sizable input into the team’s next coach. Depending on how things go with Lue and the Clippers, locked in a first-round battle with the Mavericks, James could push to finally get Lue back to Lakerland.

“There are a lot of factors there, Ty is under contract (for 2024-25) but if the Clippers decide they need some changes, he could be one of the changes,” one league executive told Heavy Sports. “LeBron can be a free agent. If Ty is out there, it is pretty clear that’s who LeBron wants.”

LeBron James Praised Ty Lue Earlier This Season

James did lob some praise at Lue earlier this season. When the Lakers played the Clippers and it was suggested that the team had become the “James Harden Clippers” after the team traded for the former Sixers star. “Nah, it’s the T-Lue Clippers,” James said then. “I know T-Lue very well. It don’t take T-Lue long to make sure s— get right.”

It was a noteworthy comment because the Lakers were struggling at the time and Ham’s job security was already being questioned, a mere year-and-a-half into his tenure.

The Lakers had the opportunity to land Lue in 2019 but bungled the negotiations, offering Lue a three-year contract worth $18 million. He’d had a five-year, $35 million deal in Cleveland, and rejected the Lakers’ approach.

He later told ESPN: “I just didn’t think I was treated fairly. And I wasn’t just going to accept any offer just to get a job. I just thought I was better than that.”

Lue remains in good stead with the Clippers and at no point in the past year has his job been in danger. But the team will open a new arena, the Intuit Dome, next season and if this postseason fizzles out, it’s possible that team owner Steve Ballmer could look for as much of an overhaul as he could get heading into the Clips’ next era.

Lakers Facing Busy Offseason

That’s where it gets interesting for the Lakers. Their season has, again, ended in a disappointing loss to Denver, this time in the first round. For a talented team expected to make a championship run, that’s a huge disappointment.

There are some big-time decisions to be made, beginning with whether Ham returns for 2024-25, which appears unlikely.

The other top-line decision will be James’ impending free agency. He is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and eventually re-sign in L.A., but until that becomes official, he can wield some power over Lakers decision-makers.

Whether he will, and whether the circumstances to bring in Lue will be there, is a question.

“If it was all up to LeBron, he’d have Ty Lue as his coach and he would do that with the Lakers,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “That’s his guy. Out of all the coaches LeBron has ever had, the one he singles out is Ty. Now he is in a position where he has free-agency on his side and he can maybe force the team to do something to get his guy if he gets fired.

“I think LeBron has a reputation for pulling strings and dictating moves, and that gets way overblown. Anyone who has worked with him will say, he is easy to work with. He has opinions and he will let you know and, really, you’d be crazy not to ask him his opinion. But he is not a puppet master like some people think.

“But if Ty Lue is available, I’d be really shocked if he did not push the Lakers to get him.”


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