The Los Angeles Lakers have already interviewed one Milwaukee Bucks assistant. Darvin Ham was one of the first candidates they spoke to as they’ve tried to fill their vacant head coaching position formerly occupied by Frank Vogel, and now, they’ve requested permission to speak to another Bucks assistant, Charles Lee, according to The Athletic.
Lee’s path to prominence as a basketball coach is fairly unique. He was a non-scholarship player at Bucknell and was part of their no. 14-seeded team that stunned Kansas in the 2005 NCAA tournament. That didn’t lead to much in terms of his playing career. He spent a few years playing abroad, but afterward, took the unusual step of working as an equities trader on Wall Street for Bank of America. He eventually made his way back into basketball, first at his alma mater Bucknell, and then, more notably, under Mike Budenholzer in the NBA.
The Budenholzer connection here is fairly notable. The Lakers have either interviewed or requested permission to speak with six candidates thus far:, , , , Ham and Lee. The last three, representing half of the combined group, has spent meaningful time working under Budenholzer. Atkinson was his top assistant with the Atlanta Hawks before taking over the Brooklyn Nets. Lee and Ham are both Budenholzer assistants now.
That might be a coincidence. Lee and Ham have both been head coaching candidates in the past, and Atkinson has a proven track record, so it makes sense that he would merit consideration. But it might also suggest that the Lakers are keeping an open mind about their playing style moving forward, and are looking to forward-thinking coaches like Budenholzer for inspiration. Budenholzer teams have always placed an enormous emphasis on ball movement and shooting, areas that were lacking under Vogel. The Budenholzer tree is already succeeding in top jobs, with Taylor Jenkins leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the NBA’s second-best record this season.
While Atkinson never worked under Budenholzer in Milwaukee, both Lee and Ham obviously have. The Bucks have figured out how to maximize a generational big man in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Lee and Ham might have ideas that could translate to Anthony Davis, who has struggled offensively over the past two years while dealing with injuries. In a recent interview with The Athletic, he talked about the direct style he’s taken into his working relationship with Antetokounmpo. When asked what he’s learned working with Giannis, Lee replied:
“Being honest. Not beating around the bush. Understanding the game and doing your homework and watching the film and going back and forth, but then just finding opportunities to hit him on things that are just honest. Like, not always, ‘Hey, all the players from Giannis down to our 15th guys — Lindell Wigginton and Jevon Carter or Jordan Nwora, whoever it is, they just want you to be honest with them and upfront. I think that when you outline clear expectations for players, they respect that more than anything else.”
This is the attitude any coach will need to have working with the veteran-laden Lakers. Ty Lue was famously comfortable confronting LeBron James during their time together in Cleveland, and Lee seems just as willing to have the hard conversations when they are necessary. That trait, more than any other, is what the Lakers need in Vogel’s replacement.