The Los Angeles Lakers are In-Season Tournament champions and that’s about the only good thing they have going for them right now. The roster has battled injuries to pretty much everybody but Anthony Davis and LeBron James all season. The questionable construction of the team as it relates to a lack of three-point shooting has become a nightly problem. And it seems that things are coming to a head for the man in charge of it all– head coach Darvin Ham.
After the Lakers lost to the Miami Heat without Jimmy Butler by 14 points at home last night, LeBron exited the arena without speaking to reporters. Davis sounded miserable during his media appearance. Nobody had any answers for how the Lakers are going to improve on their 17-18 record. Then, less than 12 hours later, Shams Charania and Jovan Buha published a well-sourced report for The Athletic saying Ham is “struggling” to connect with the locker room with his lineup and rotation choices. They cite six different team sources, which is remarkable. Most pieces of this ilk simply say “multiple” or a singular team source. But six different people within the Lakers’ organization are basically saying Ham has lost the locker room, which is a very bad thing on January 4.
There’s currently a deepening disconnect between Darvin Ham and the Lakers locker room, six sources with direct knowledge of the situation say, raising questions about the head coach’s standing. The people spoke with The Athletic on condition of anonymity so that they could speak freely on the matter. Those sources have described that the disjointedness between the coach and team has stemmed from the extreme rotation and starting lineup adjustments recently from Ham, leading to a fluctuating rhythm for several players across the roster.
Ham’s decision to bench D’Angelo Russell and start James, Prince, Reddish, Jarred Vanderbilt and Davis in a lineup without a second guard ballhandler beginning Dec. 23 in Oklahoma City was considered a head-scratcher by multiple parties internally, according to sources spoken to for this story.
Those who have paid attention to LeBron’s career know what comes next. When The King goes radio silent and information starts to leak that paints a major decision-maker in a poor light, change is almost certain to follow. That’s always been the case and LeBron is now 39 years-old, undoubtedly feeling the looming presence of his mortality lurking around the corner. He needs to win now, and a coach who has gone through 10 different starting lineups in less than four months is hindering that effort.
Now, that doesn’t mean Ham is on the verge of getting canned. This is the first report of discontent within the franchise regarding his decision-making so it should be considered more of a warning shot across the bow.
But if the Lakers do decide to fire Ham mid-season in an attempt to rejuvenate the team, who could replace him?
Handy is probably the only logical choice and by far the most likely. NBA teams never bring in an outside voice after firing a coach in the middle of the season; they just elevate an assistant to the interim title and hope it works out. With Handy, it just might! He’s long been considered head coaching material and is the longest-tenured assistant with the Lakers, first joining the team in 2019. He’s experienced firsthand what the team needs to reach its zenith with LeBron and AD at the helm and presumably has excellent relationships with both superstars after the bubble. Handy has never been in the top seat on the bench so it’s anybody’s guess as to how it would go, but it’s quite likely the Lakers only fire Ham if they’re confident in Handy’s ability to keep the ship afloat.
On the other hand, these are the Los Angeles Lakers we’re talking about here. Nothing can ever be ruled out. So why wouldn’t they offer Doc Rivers a fat contract to leave the ESPN booth and return to the sideline? A longtime coach like Rivers would have to be convinced to join a team midseason with someone else’s coaching staff around him, but it’s not like Rivers is a big X’s and O’s guy. His primary skill is being able to connect with star players, which is something he can do without a runway. Showing up to teach the team Ubuntu or whatever and leaving the nitty-gritty strategic decisions to the rest of the staff could work out pretty well. Of course, broadcasting is a lot more of a relaxing gig and comes with significantly less criticism than being head coach of the Lakers so his offer would undoubtedly have to include many zeros to even be considered.
Hell, why not? Everybody knows LeBron’s reputation as a coach on the floor and this way he gets to decide the rotations so he doesn’t get mad. Let the other assistants handle the nitty-gritty and make the big picture decisions. This is really the final frontier for LeBron; he’s won four NBA championships, numerous MVPs, owns the NBA’s all-time scoring record along with a dozen other longevity-based achievements. All that’s left is being the first player-coach in decades. And, frankly, what do the Lakers have to lose if they feel like they have to fire Ham?