Dan Hurley Never Made Sense as Lakers Coach, but More Opportunities Will Come

For most coaches, an NBA job is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Hurley is not most coaches.
UConn Huskies coach Dan Hurley will have plenty more opportunities to coach in the NBA, should he choose to make the jump.
UConn Huskies coach Dan Hurley will have plenty more opportunities to coach in the NBA, should he choose to make the jump. / Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY

The Los Angeles Lakers’ courtship of Dan Hurley made all the sense in the world—for the Lakers. They don’t just need a great coach; they need LeBron James to believe they have a great coach. James has already publicly lauded Hurley. And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski thoroughly laid out, Hurley would also be an ideal coach for James’s son, Bronny, if the Lakers draft him later this month. The plan was a classic Lakers combination of sizzle, smarts and timing.

There was only one problem: It didn’t really make sense for Hurley.

Hurley has a better chance of winning a title at UConn next season than he would with the Lakers. But this was not just a choice between staying at Connecticut and leaving for the Lakers. Hurley was also choosing between the Lakers job and whatever job offers might come his way in the next few years.

Hurley has no reason to leave UConn for another college job, but if he wants to coach in the NBA, he will have more opportunities. Billy Donovan won back-to-back NCAA championships with the Florida Gators, stayed for eight more years and then left for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brad Stevens took the Butler Bulldogs to back-to-back national title games, stayed at Butler for two more years, and then went to the Boston Celtics.

The NBA will keep calling. The Lakers, meanwhile, offered glamour, money and a hundred ways this could end poorly. Six weeks ago, when the Denver Nuggets casually dismissed the Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, who thought the Lakers were on the verge of another championship? LeBron will be 40 in December. Anthony Davis is 31 and averaged 52 games over the past four seasons. The Lakers have the 17th pick in this year’s draft, which is considered fairly weak, and their 2025 first-rounder is on its way to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Lakers might view Hurley as a great coach for LeBron and Bronny, but how would that have worked out for Hurley? One reason LeBron is an all-time great player is that he sees and understands the game as well as elite coaches. He also has a better understanding of how to use his power than any player in NBA history. Add that up, and this is what it means if you coach him: You will win a lot of games, and you will be on notice perpetually.

Of LeBron’s last five coaches, three were fired by the end of their second year with him. A fourth, Frank Vogel, won a championship in Year 1 and still got fired after Year 3. During that same time period, NBA reality derailed the Golden State Warriors’ “two timeline” strategy: Most young players are not ready to contribute to winning, but they need playing time to develop.

How was Hurley going to satisfy LeBron’s desire for another championship and help Bronny become an NBA starter? And if he didn’t, who would pay for it?

Look, this could work out for whoever gets the Lakers job. Davis and James are still stars, and maybe the Lakers will nail a trade and create another window for a championship. But it’s unlikely, and that window would be small, anyway.

The next Lakers coach will be part of a complex and delicate power structure. James and Davis are both Klutch Sports Group clients. Lakers vice president and general manager Rob Pelinka is a veteran of NBA politics and maneuvering. Klutch CEO Rich Paul will look out for his guys, as he always does (and as he always should). Pelinka will try to balance the talents and egos of everybody in a way that produces success. They might all go into this with the best of intentions, but it is still tricky territory.

At UConn, Hurley is the singular dominant force in his program. He decides who to recruit and what plays to run. Nobody on that UConn team next season can create a weeklong story about Hurley’s job security with a single emoji, the way James did to Darvin Ham last season.

That does not make UConn a perfect situation. College sports are in a chaotic state. But Hurley has navigated the chaos as well as anybody. It is also worth noting that 16 months ago, Hurley was in his fifth season at UConn and had never led the Huskies past the round of 64. He might have harbored NBA aspirations at the time, but they were not realistic yet. This is all new to him.

Hurley just bought himself time to read the landscape and decide if he really wants to coach pros. If he does, he can figure out which jobs and circumstances would give him the best chance at success. For most coaches, an NBA job is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Dan Hurley is not most coaches.


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Michael Rosenberg

MICHAEL ROSENBERG

Michael Rosenberg is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, covering any and all sports. He writes columns, profiles and investigative stories and has covered almost every major sporting event. Michael is the author of War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and America in a Time of Unrest. Several of his stories also have been published in collections of the year's best sportswriting. He is married with three children.