WHEN THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS interview candidates for head coach this week, how to manage LeBron James will be a major topic. It always is.
It's a challenging, complicated, stressful, public and often embarrassing experience. It's also enriching, fulfilling and an often wonderful experience.
It can be hard to get your arms around it. It can be even harder to define. It's one of the reasons the early candidates -- Ty Lue, Monty Williams and Juwan Howard -- all have histories of coaching James. Lue and Howard in the NBA, Williams with Team USA.
So based on the past 16 years, here's the best we have. The handbook for coaching LeBron James:
Understand the art of influence without ownership
Often it seems observers of James want to classify his acts in clear-cut terms. He traded this player. He got that coach fired. He signed this other guy. It gave rise to the concept, for example, that James was the "GM" in Cleveland.
Oh, how often this is so far from the truth. In perfect irony, despite what the world assumes, sometimes James' teams wish he would be so declarative. It's that frequently he isn't willing to make clear requests that can often be a problem. Sometimes teams would love a black-and-white answer while James usually operates in a world of gray.
James has mastered the art of influencing decisions without taking ownership of them. If he were to issue a hard-and-fast edict, then the team would know he was fully willing to stand behind it and take blame, or credit, when it works or fails.
James doesn't want to do this. He has long operated where his teammates, coaches and strategies change massively from opening night to the last game of any season. He has changed entire franchises three times.
This isn't to say he has never given a strong opinion. Or said he wanted to sign or trade for a certain player. Or even led recruitment efforts and closed the deal on an acquisition. But don't ever count on him doing so; be prepared for him to take a position but not marry it.
This is a man who enjoys flexibility and whose greatness allows him to have great power along with it. He's not giving it up. And, frankly, why should he? In a player-driven league, why not have it both ways? Any coach who takes the job needs to understand this at all times.
Have his respect when you walk in the room
This is absolutely vital. Although it's possible to win James' respect, it's much harder that way than if you carry it with you from the start. If you don't have James' respect, you have no chance.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra earned it, but it was an all-encompassing multiyear battle. David Blatt, who arrived in Cleveland as one of the most respected coaches in Europe, never did. They both had limited currency when James started playing for them, and it created a much tougher task.
It was a struggle for Luke Walton, too, to say the least.
Meanwhile Ty Lue, who played against James, and Paul Silas, his first NBA coach and a legendary tough guy who had won multiple championships, were able to win over James much quicker. That doesn't mean they didn't butt heads -- James cursed Lue to his face and walked out of the locker room after an argument at halftime of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals -- but they held James' respect.
James' first summer playing for Mike Krzyzewski with Team USA was rocky, but they got through it because of James' immense respect for the Duke legend. Now James considers him a mentor.
You don't have to be a Hall of Famer to get James' respect, but for you to have a decent chance, you need to have that respect before you take the job.
Have a game plan
Over the years, perhaps the best compliment James has paid coaches is that they gave his team a good game plan. He has said it over and over after quality wins, whether it was November or June.
He has often talked about the importance of having high-IQ players, and he feels this way about his coaches, too. He knows a great deal about the game and the tendencies of opposing teams and players. If you want to impress him, teach him when you prepare him. Tell him something he doesn't know about the game he knows best.
And this isn't just for the pregame meeting and film session. This also means in the heat of the battle. When the team needs a stop or needs two points, James wants there to be a play ready on the grease board. He'd like it to be better than he could come up with himself.
It doesn't always have to work, but James has to believe in it.
Hold him accountable, and be ready for him to push back
Those who know James the best all say the same thing: He wants to be coached. He will accept being corrected. He will adapt and try to improve. He will accept blame for mistakes and genuinely promise to adjust. Sometimes.
For obvious reasons over the years, people within organizations walk on eggshells around James. Some appear to be downright afraid of him. He's such a star and can be loud, which has a way of intimidating those around him whether he means to or not.
This is because James has zero qualms about going rogue. If he doesn't like the playcall, he'll blow it off. If he doesn't like the game plan, he'll change it. If he doesn't like how you present him a coaching point, he'll come right back at you. He'll do it in front of teammates; he'll do it in front of cameras.
You might say to yourself, and plenty have: How does James want to have great coaching but also want to have the right to cast it aside without consequence?
Welcome to the exceptionalism of being one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He can do it because he delivers. He can want it all because the returns are so fabulous.
Be ready for passive-aggressive behavior
James has many admirable character traits. He's a tireless worker. His discipline is world famous. He's a caring mentor. He uses his voice and money to affect social and societal change. He's generous. He's often hilarious.
Like anyone, he has character flaws, too. His tendency to be passive-aggressive is one that can really challenge his coaches.
James' moods tend to be fluid, and when he's in a foul one, he can snipe at his coaches. Sometimes it's with body language. Sometimes it's with the mass media. Sometimes it's on social media. It happens, and it not only makes the job harder but can be personally deflating.
Being mentally prepared for it and being able to handle it -- even if that means learning to ignore it or to pretend to ignore it -- can be important for the toolbox. This isn't unusual among NBA players, all of them have things that require a certain touch to manage. But not every NBA player has nearly 50 million Instagram followers and the power to halt SportsCenter with a tweet.
To coach James is to understand all of this and not just accept it but thrive with it. If you do, you will get diamonds, money and fame. If you don't, you won't be around long. And now that he's aging, it only magnifies all of the challenges.
FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS. That's what Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, stars of the LA Clippers' comeback in Golden State on Monday night, are on the books for combined next season. Add Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and it's $20 million total for those four core players.
That is why the Clippers have one of the most promising futures of any team in the league. Not just because of their cap space -- creating cap space isn't all that difficult if you're willing to lose -- but because of the quality players they have under contract along with that space.
Building a true team through free agency requires role players under reasonable deals and/or rookie contracts so a team doesn't have to totally clear the decks. As the people in the Clippers' front office geared toward a summer of chasing the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, they worked incrementally to put themselves in this position while not bottoming out.
While the in-town rival Lakers were celebrating landing James last year, the Clippers were getting tremendous value in keeping Harrell. When there was a frenzy at the 2018 trade deadline, they kept Williams by getting him into a favorable contract extension. The previous season, when Chris Paul approached the front office saying he planned to leave, the trade the team made with Houston landed it Williams, Harrell and a first-round pick the Clippers flopped in a deal to get Danilo Gallinari.
None of these deals seemed impactful, but together they incrementally brought the Clippers to this advantageous situation. This is what rebuilding while competing looks like, and it's harder than it looks. There's no question the Clippers need to land a bona fide star to move from a team of potential to a team of expectation.
That's usually the hardest piece to find, but they're working on it.
THE VOTES FOR Executive of the Year are in. Unlike the other major awards, it is not voted on by the media but instead by the teams themselves. Each team gets one vote, and you can't vote for yourself. It's a bit of a complicated award as often it's a product of moves over multiple seasons that typically earn peer recognition.
Milwaukee Bucks GM Jon Horst, who is in only his second season, and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri are expected to be two of the top candidates. Both oversaw wide-ranging changes to upgrade their teams, changing coaches and core players.
Ujiri made perhaps the most gutty trade of the year, landing Leonard, and made a controversial coaching change when he fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and replaced him with first-time coach Nick Nurse. Horst hired Mike Budenholzer, who has a strong chance to earn Coach of the Year honors, and revamped the roster around star Giannis Antetokounmpo. They finished with the top records in the league.
Other top candidates include Brooklyn's Sean Marks, whose roster upgrades without the use of high draft picks got the team back in the playoffs; Houston's Daryl Morey, last season's winner who retrofit his roster on the fly during this season; and Denver's Tim Connelly, whose team moved from outside the playoffs to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.