The Lakers began conversations with Tyronn Lue’s representatives Friday, Lue’s 42nd birthday, and those discussions are expected to end their search for a head coach.
Lue is the Lakers’ choice to fill a vacancy left three weeks ago when the organization parted ways with Luke Walton. And Lue will come with two endorsers who have 10 Lakers championships between them.
Both Phil Jackson, who coached Lue, and Magic Johnson have told Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss that they supported the hiring of Lue, according to a person familiar with their discussions.
Lue also spent 2 ½ seasons as LeBron James’ head coach, winning a championship with him in 2016 and going to three consecutive NBA Finals. Lue and James are both expected to attend the boxing match between Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs on Saturday in Las Vegas, where Lue has been living.
The Lakers’ hiring process has been slow — deliberately. Rather than rush into making a decision, Buss and her advisors weighed their options after concluding interviews April 25. Lue and Philadelphia assistant Monty Williams were the only candidates to get two interviews.
Williams was head coach of New Orleans from 2010 to 2015, leading the team to two playoff appearances, including one with All-Star forward Anthony Davis. Williams had a record of 173-221 and was fired after a first-round loss in the playoffs to the Golden State Warriors.
Williams joined Billy Donovan’s staff in Oklahoma City as an associate head coach after his departure from New Orleans. In February 2016, Williams’ wife was killed in a car accident. He took several months away from coaching to grieve and care for his family.
When Williams returned to coaching, it was to join the Team USA staff. He also took a front office position with the San Antonio Spurs and this season joined the 76ers’ staff.
After their second interviews, neither Lue nor Williams heard a word from the Lakers until Friday.
Johnson and Buss had a dinner Thursday night during which they discussed Buss’ pending decision.
Even though Johnson abruptly resigned as the president of basketball operations on April 9, Buss still considers him a close confidante and values his opinion on the direction of the franchise. Johnson expressed his support for Lue and impressed upon Buss how difficult a feat it is to make three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, the source said.
Buss posted a picture to her social media accounts of the two of them at dinner, cheekily adding an image that said “breaking news” over the photo. Johnson posted the same photo, calling her his sister, as he often does.
Then, Friday morning, the Phoenix Suns hired Williams as their head coach, knocking over a domino that spurred the Lakers into action.
The Lakers had always considered Lue the front-runner because of his ties to both the organization with which he started his NBA playing career, and to James. But the Suns’ announcement sped up their timetable. Shortly after Williams’ hire, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka set to work to reach out to Lue’s representatives.
The Lakers have been without a head coach since April 12 when they parted ways with Walton. A day later Walton reached an agreement to coach the Sacramento Kings.
The Cavaliers fired Lue in October after an 0-6 start to the season. As the season unfolded, the Lakers tumbled from fourth place in the West in late December toward their sixth consecutive season without a playoff berth.
During Walton’s tenure as the Lakers’ head coach, rumors persisted that it was only a matter of time before Lue replaced him. Walton had consulted Lue about coaching James before the season started.
Lue kept a respectful distance from that chatter, but the connection between Lue and James was hard to ignore.