It’s Darvin Ham’s team now.
The Los Angeles Lakers named former Milwaukee Bucks assistant and Texas Tech star Darvin Ham new head coach replacing Frank Vogel. ESPN said he’s getting a four-year deal.
The 48-year-old Michigan native becomes the seventh coach to sit in the first chair of the Lakers bench since the immortal Phil Jackson retired in 2011.
That’s a lot of coaches.
Ham has a good reputation in NBA circles as a communicator and Xs and Os guy (the first part is much more important than the last part).
He won an NBA title as a player with the Pistons in 2004 and as an assistant coach with the Bucks in 2021.
Ham inherits an aging roster, with a bloated front office and a team that seems to lack direction. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Ham is young. This will be his first head coaching job in the NBA, but he’s taken every step to be ready. Here are the five things he has to do right away to prove he’s worthy of the Lakers first chair.
Win the press conference
It’s a shallow, sound-bite sports media world and as trite as it sounds, Ham can’t lose the job at the press conference, but he sure can damage his reputation and lose the locker room.
Remember Adam Gase’s wild eyes when he was introduced as new coach of the New York Jets? He never recovered.
Players and fans get their news from social media outlets (and great sites like ours). Ham has to look the part at the introductory press conference. He has to dress sharp, sound relaxed and confident at the same time. He has to say a lot, without saying anything. If people are still talking about his press conference a week later, that’s bad.
Answer the Westbrook question
The Russell Westbrook experiment with the Lakers didn’t go well last season. Is it worth trying again in 2022-2023? It’s sure to be the first question Ham is asked about when he meets with the press.
It’s unlikely Ham will give an honest answer to the media unless he’s already talked it over with Westbrook first. He needs to defer to Westbrook in this case, or at least hear him out.
Maybe the answer is to make Westbook the instant offense sixth-man off the bench. Maybe the answer is to tell Westbrook you get 20-25 games in the regular season to see if it all meshes.
Maybe the answer is to cut him, trade him to anyone who might want him.
But Ham has to have an answer. The ambiguity is poisoning the franchise.
The Lakers roster is already full of superstars who have won NBA titles. This is not a young team that needs to learn how to win. How did Phil Jackson, and before him Pat Riley, inspire the Lakers to play hard? By making the players accountable, by telling them they were the best and if they worked hard and played the game the right way, success would follow.
Ham needs to adopt that same mindset. When things get heated, he has to stay cool and confident that his team will find a way to thrive.
Build a winning staff
One of the big stories to come out after Ham’s hiring was the fact that he was going to be given autonomy to hire his assistant coaches. In any other franchise when a new coach is hired, that’s pretty much a given. With the Lakers, who have way too many “advisers,” not so much.
The Lakers would probably like to see Ham bring on an assistant who has head coaching experience. Vogel had Jason Kidd the first two years. David Fizdale was on the Lakers staff last year. Fizdale has been an NBA head coach. If Fizdale wants to stay in L.A. maybe he’s the best choice.
Talk endgame with LeBron
No one can truly relate to LeBron James with all his accomplishments and goals, but Ham should command a certain amount of respect from James. Ham is the head coach. James is the player. Of course, James is/was (depending on how you feel) the greatest player in the world. If James wanted Ham fired on Friday, he’d probably be fired.
At this point though, you have to believe that James’ only goal is to win NBA titles. Ham needs to show a road map on how to get there. To me, that means backing off on James’ workload. James doesn’t need to play 45 minutes on the second game of some god-awful back-to-back in Minnesota. The goal should be getting James to the playoffs rested and ready. James has to be on board with the plan.