The Lakers sit at .500 38 games in; a disappointing opening to the season given the high expectations surrounding the team. Many viewed the Lakers as contenders heading into the season after a successful free agency, retaining the majority of their core and adding further depth. The opening of the season hasn’t gone to plan for the Lakers.
The injury bug struck the Lakers early on in the season with long term injuries to Gabe Vincent and Jarred Vanderbilt, while both Rui Hachimura and Cam Reddish were in and out of the lineup. More recently, the Lakers have been close to full strength outside of the injury to Gabe Vincent (who underwent surgery for a knee problem this week). He is set to be out for 6-8 weeks.
However, even with the Lakers back to nearly full strength, they still haven’t been able to build momentum and move up in the standings. Something has to change. It’s evident from players’ body language and the lack of effort, especially in last Wednesday’s loss to the Miami Heat, who were without Jimmy Butler.
What Needs to Change?
Is it roster changes? The Lakers are restricted by who they can trade before January 15th (when everyone on the roster outside of Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Davis is trade eligible). Until then, the question becomes ‘should the Lakers make a coaching change?’ Shams Charania of the Athletic reported last week that there is a growing disconnect between Darvin Ham and the Laker locker room. This isn’t really a surprise, as it has been visible for weeks that frustration is growing for many players.
Ham has changed the starting lineup multiple times throughout the season, and players are struggling to develop a rhythm as their role keeps fluctuating. Rui Hachimura is a prime example. Hachimura’s minutes fluctuate wildly, one night he can play into the thirties in minutes and be in the closing lineup and others it seems he can barley get into the game. There is a lack of continuity and it has definitely hurt the Lakers, injuries have definitely played a part but they haven’t been the driving force, as Ham has suggested.
Keep in mind that both of the Laker superstars have been healthy to start the season. The Lakers are still struggling. That is one of the biggest worries. Even though Darvin Ham has been trying new lineups, one lineup that hasn’t been tried this year is the starting five that got the Lakers to the conference finals this past Playoffs – D’Angleo Russell, Austin Reaves, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Anthony Davis. It’s confusing that Ham is so insistent on going away from a lineup that was so successful for him last season.
If the Lakers did decide to make the decision to part ways with Darvin Ham, who might his replacement be? Perhaps Doc Rivers, an experienced coach who has won a championship. Rivers is currently commentating on ESPN after parting ways with the 76ers this offseason. Ex-Milwaukee Bucks Head coach Mike Budenholzer is also available, but it would be difficult to see the Lakers hierarchy heading in that direction.
Perhaps the Lakers look internally at someone like Phil Handy. Handy has been an assistant for many years in the NBA and is a 3 time champion as a coach with the Lakers in 2020 Toronto Raptors in 2019 and Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Handy is highly respected among NBA personnel and would be someone who commanded respect in the locker room. As he’s also on the Lakers staff currently he has a relationship with the players on the roster, perhaps making it an easier transition if a change were to happen.
What to Do?
Ham’s contract runs through 2026, so it wouldn’t be a cheap decision to part ways with him. The last two wins over the Clippers and Raptors have definitely bought Ham some time to turn things around. However it seems even if the Lakers were to have lost those two games he would likely still be head coach. He has ongoing support from Jeanie Buss, who is according to reports fully supportive of Ham and plans to remain patient with him. Ham said to the Athletic that when the report came out last week about the growing disconnect between Ham and the locker room he received a long, supportive text from Buss.
Overall since taking over the Lakers in the Summer of 2022, Darvin Ham has done a good job. He managed to keep the Lakers around the .500 mark last season before the trade deadline. When LA had a number of new players incoming at the deadline, he managed to figure out the rotations quickly and lead the team all the way to the Western Conference Finals .
However, it must be said he has struggled to start this season. He’s been inconsistent with his rotations and his consistent changing of lineups has disrupted players’ rhythm. Ham deserves a chance and he seemingly has the backing of Jeanie Buss. That said, the Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They can’t afford to let things develop. Results have to come fast and if they don’t for Darvin Ham, unfortunately it may be time for the Lakers to look to part ways with the second-year head coach.
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