LeBron James may have made history by reaching the NBA Finals eight years in a row, but one of his assistant coaches with the Lakers is hot on his trail. Phil Handy worked with LeBron during his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, reaching the NBA Finals in each of those four seasons. After James went to the Lakers and saw his Finals streak end in 2019, Handy traveled north of the border and won a championship with the Toronto Raptors. Afterward, he rejoined James in Los Angeles, making his sixth consecutive trip to the Finals and winning his third ring in the bubble.
Such a resume made him one of the most sought after assistant coaches in basketball this offseason. SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the Brooklyn Nets had hoped to hire Handy onto Steve Nash’s staff. Given his close relationship with Kyrie Irving from their time together in Cleveland, it seemed like a distinct possibility. But Handy confirmed in an interview with Jason Dumas of KRON4 in Philadelphia that he is remaining with the Lakers.
“I am a Los Angeles Laker,” Handy said. “What’s next for me is to wait for Frank Vogel to pick up the phone and text me or call me and give me what my next directives are. I’m just going to sit back and try to enjoy this championship we earned and, you know, decompress a little bit. We work so hard that people think we never take time off and I, myself, have had to learn to how to decompress and step away from the game, to where I can stay mentally and physically sharp. I’m going to enjoy this time with my friends and family, and I’ll be ready for whatever directives coach Vogel has for me next as we prepare for this next upcoming season.”
Retaining Handy will prove critical in their championship defense next season. He is widely considered one of the best player-development coaches in basketball, and while the Lakers are a veteran team, youngsters like Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker are far from finished products. The Lakers’ staff skews heavily towards defensive-minded coaches (including Vogel himself), but Handy has drawn some praise for his hand in building the Laker offense as well.
Handy’s career began with the Lakers in 2011. As he has with so many superstars, he developed a close bond with Kobe Bryant at the time and even introduced him to Irving later on. Not every coach can work with the NBA elite so comfortably. Handy can, and fortunately for the Lakers, he’ll remain on their bench next season.