University of Michigan coach Juwan Howard recently declined a Los Angeles Lakers overture for the franchise's coaching job, electing to remain at his alma mater, where Howard will coach his two sons next season, sources told ESPN.
The Lakers have a formal search process in place, but courting college coaches typically requires a different level of discretion. The Lakers have a finalist list of Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, sources said. The Lakers are expected to conduct in-person interviews in the near future.
The Lakers never made a formal offer to Howard, sources said, but it's clear that if he had expressed an interest in the job, his candidacy would've moved quickly to that stage. While Howard has a playing history with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and star LeBron James, he has consistently maintained he plans to remain in Ann Arbor, where his sons Jace and Jett will be a junior and freshman, respectively, next season.
Howard interviewed for the Los Angeles job as a Miami Heat assistant coach in 2019, before accepting the head-coaching job at Michigan. Howard's success in the college ranks -- along with his résumé as a six-year Heat assistant and a two-time NBA champion as a player -- has inspired significant interest in him among NBA teams.
Boston Celtics president Brad Stevens was interested in Howard for his coaching opening a year ago, but Howard declined that overture too, sources said. The Celtics hired Brooklyn Nets assistant Ime Udoka.
Like Howard, Ham is another ex-player with strong leadership, presence, winning experience and tactical understanding from past work with high-level head coaches. Ham is also a strong candidate for the Charlotte Hornets' head-coach opening, sources said. Ham worked with Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak as a Lakers assistant coach a decade ago.
Stotts and Atkinson both bring with them previous NBA head-coaching experience.
Stotts most recently coached the Blazers from 2012 to 2021 and reached the playoffs in his final eight consecutive seasons on the job -- including two trips to the Western Conference semifinals and a berth in the conference finals in 2019. He is known for his offensive creativity and an ability to build relationships with his star players.
Atkinson built a reputation for player development as both an assistant and head coach in the NBA. He spent three-plus years as head coach of the Nets, whom he led to a playoff appearance in his third season in 2018-19.
Howard is 61-32 in three seasons at Michigan and was named national coach of the year in 2021. His time with the Wolverines has included top-five poll rankings in all three years, a Big Ten regular-season title and two trips to the NCAA tournament.