Darvin Ham won the press conference. Maybe not an A-plus, but a solid A.
Now the new Lakers coach can focus on winning a few games.
Introductory press conferences for new professional coaches are always somewhat awkward affairs. What do you expect the GM to say?
“Well, we really wanted Coach X, but he turned us down and we ended up with this retread.” Or even worse when the team owner is pulled out of his or her gold-embossed mansion and forced to deal with questions from people they aren’t cutting checks for.
That can go off the rails quick.
Ham, with his head shaved, and a yellow tie, sat next to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka (in a purple tie, you know some PR person coordinated that) and took questions from the press for 32 minutes on Monday.
He was calm and collected. Ham got emotional at the start talking about his relationship with Bud, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, and I think he only bristled once at the question about hiring Rasheed Wallace as an assistant. (Wallace and Ham were teammates with Detroit and it does look like the Lakers have hired him, but they may not have wanted that out yet).
What Ham said about Lakers players
Ham was asked the Russell Westbrook question and either deflected or doubled down. He talked about defense a lot and at the very end said something very interesting about Anthony Davis.
Here’s a glimpse at what Ham said and what he probably really meant.
“Don’t get it messed up. Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there is still a ton left in the tank.”
Context: This was the answer about how Russell Westbrook can fit in with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Ham then followed up by talking about Westbrook’s running habits with the ball and reverted back to the coach cliché about defense being the most important thing.
What He Really Meant: He may have been throwing a little shade at Westbrook being in better shape (running with the ball hints at Ham wanting more speed and quicker decisions). He also used the word sacrifice, meaning he wants Westbrook to share the basketball and fit in. They’re basically saying, ‘ball don’t lie’ to Westbrook. Get it done or else.
“This is basketball. This here is a challenge.”
Context: Ham was asked about handling the stress of being the Lakers coach where the expectation is championships or else.
What He Really Meant: This was where Ham talked about the challenge of growing up in Saginaw, Michigan and being wounded in the face by a gun. Why did he talk about this publicly? To establish his toughness bonafides in the Laker locker room. Like, you don’t want to practice today AD? Get the heck out of here. I got shot in the face! This is Ham saying he’s the boss.
“The key is to have a consistent style of play and standard that is set on both sides of the ball.”
Context: This was a sneaky good question to Ham about what he saw from the Lakers when he was an assistant coach in the NBA. Ham started by saying the Lakers were one of his ‘scouts’ meaning a team he paid close attention to.
What He Really Meant: Of course, the name Frank Vogel was not uttered during the press conference. He is the coach Ham is replacing and he did win an NBA title in 2020, but this is Ham saying that the Lakers looked lost on the court and without a leader. He can’t dare say it that bluntly, or dare say Vogel’s name, but this is it.
Context: Ham was asked specifically about LeBron James and keeping him playing at a high level as his career approaches the finish line.
What He Really Meant: Basically, that it might be time to have a hard talk with LeBron and say that it’s OK to back off on minutes, that the important thing is for LeBron to stay healthy enough to get the Lakers into the playoffs.
“I think he’s the key.”
Context: Ham was asked about his view of Anthony Davis, the Lakers oft-injured, but oft-brilliant forward.
What He Really Meant: He’s calling Davis out is what he’s doing. Ham made an NBA career out of hard work and guts, and he wants Davis to, well, stop getting hurt so often. He went on to say that he needs Davis to stay healthy and consistent, because he’s unstoppable when he wants to be.
This is Ham recognizing that much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passed the torch to Magic Johnson in the 1980s, the day is going to come when James has to defer to Davis. The Lakers’ future success (and Ham’s job) may ride on that single factor.