In case you’ve either been living on Pluto or beneath 100 foam pillows, you’re well aware of all the nonsense surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers, whose search to replace Luke Walton as head coach has been an exercise in public humiliation.
First, Walton was going to stay. Then he was canned. Then he was snatched up a day later by Sacramento. Then it was going to be Monty Williams. Then it was going to be Tyronn Lue. Then Kurt Rambis had a major say. Then his wife Linda had a major say, too. Then Jason Kidd’s name came up—only Jason Kidd is a terrible coach. Then Mike Woodson’s name came up—because Mike Woodson’s name always comes up. Then Frank Vogel’s name came up—because, eh, um, yeah. I’m not sure.
All the while, the two best candidates—the two perfect candidates—for a marquee franchise that lives off of making splashes (as well as wise decisions) are sitting here, waiting for a call.
Or, to be blunt: Hey, Lakers—either hire Beck Hammon or hire Nick Van Exel.
Hammon, as you likely know, just wrapped her fifth season as Greg Popovich’s assistant in San Antonio. By all accounts, she’s bright, relatable, intense, savvy. She knows what it is to bust ass to rise from the ashes to stardom (an undrafted rookie out of Colorado State, Hammon wound up a six-time WNBA All-Star and one of its Top 15 players of all time). Popovich praises her at all costs. Players praise her at all costs.
No, there’s never been a woman head coach in the NBA. But the Lakers—land of Magic and Kareem; of Shaq and Kobe; of LeBron and, um, Rajon Rondo—have never been a team to shy away from risk. Jeanie Buss, the owner and managing partner, has spent much of her life defying odds and stereotypes in a male-oriented business. If anyone should be itching to give Hammon the chance she deserves, well, it’s the Lakers.
As for Van Exel—he spent 14 years in the NBA, including 1993-98 as the Lakers point guard. He began his coaching career back in 2009 at Texas Southern, and since then has been with three NBA franchises (he’s on the Memphis staff since 2016) and led the Texas Legends of the developmental league. I recently sat down with Del Harris, who coaches Nick with the Lakers. Back in the day, the two sparred nonstop. Nick took no shit, Del talked too much. It was ugly. But when I asked Del about Nick as a coach, he couldn’t stop praising him. “He knows so much about the game,” Harris said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t seen.”
Van Exel would bring a unique perspective. He was a star who can relate with stars. He was a grinder who can relate with grinders. He played a long time, and knows what it takes to last.
Most important, in this case—he’s a Laker. A legit Laker.
And he, and Becky Hammon, are waiting for the call.