Lakers hire Darvin Ham, tick several boxes with first-year head coach

After a month-and-a-half search, the Lakers hired their next head coach, Darvin Ham, on Friday afternoon, multiple sources confirmed to Athleticism.

Ham, 48, ticked almost all the boxes for the Lakers when looking for a coach: he has franchise ties, he has a championship pedigree, he’s coached several big stars (including Kobe Bryant and Giannis Antetokounmpo ), he’s a former player, he has a strong and imposing personality, he’s beloved by the players, and he’s a respected tactician in the revered Popovich/Budenholzer training tree.

In an otherwise lackluster coaching market, Ham fits the profile of a freshman head coach with the advantage of being successful from day one.

Ham seemed like an obvious choice for the Lakers vacancy after vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the team was looking for a candidate with high-level seriousness and communication skills. after firing former head coach Frank Vogel on April 11.

Ham is known as a charismatic communicator who holds players accountable and sets strict boundaries. Although his expertise is in player development – ​​a skill that could certainly aid in the internal improvement of the capped Lakers – he is a defensive-minded tactician who has played a notable role in the development of the league’s defensive scheme. Bucks.

Ham has agreed to a four-year deal with the Lakers, sources say. He was an assistant coach for 11 seasons, making his debut with Mike Brown’s Lakers in 2011, before spending the last nine years in Atlanta and Milwaukee as a senior assistant under Mike Budenholzer. Ham is a two-time champion, winning both as a player (with the Detroit Pistons in 2003-04) and as an assistant coach (with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2020-21).

Three years after botching their last coaching search, the Lakers have hired the best candidate available. Ham placed second in AthleticismUtah Coaching Rankings – the best option out there (No. 1 was Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who was tied to the Lakers but never officially available).

The only reason Ham’s hire is a slight surprise is because of Lakers history. They have traditionally favored flashy coaching names: Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike D’Antoni and Tyronn Lue (the leading candidate before hiring Vogel).

But without a specific candidate of that ilk, they had two options: hire a retread or give an assistant coach a chance.

The Lakers decided to step out of their comfort zone and hire a first-year head coach with considerable potential (the Lakers’ last first-year head coach, Luke Walton, played nine seasons in Los Angeles and had much stronger links with the organization) . Ham has a chance to stabilize the Lakers coaching position after a decade of turmoil since Jackson’s departure.

Ham impressed the Lakers, beating more experienced contenders Terry Stotts and Kenny Atkinson. The Lakers picked Ham after interviewing Stotts on Tuesday and Ham on Thursday, sources say. Ham is the Lakers’ 28th coach in franchise history and sixth in the past 11 years.

It’s unclear how the Lakers handled Vogel — down first on years and money, offering him a one-year extension after winning a championship, having the report of his leak at last season’s buzzer regular. game – affected league interest from already contracted coaches, such as Nick Nurse, Quin Snyder and Doc Rivers. It sounds like those names would have continued the Lakers’ work harder in years past and/or had circumstances been different.

Besides playing a key role in Antetokounmpo’s rise to stardom, Ham earned Bryant’s respect and also formed relationships with Pau Gasol, Al Horford, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

The only real knock against him is that he has no head coaching experience. He has been a finalist for several head coaching positions in recent years and was heavily considered for the Charlotte Hornets vacancy. It was only a matter of time before he got a chance.

Ham is following in the footsteps of recent head coaches who cut their teeth in the G League: Nurse, Snyder, Taylor Jenkins and Chris Finch. All four coaches quickly rose to prominence at the NBA level.

The difference between Ham and those four names, however, is that the Saginaw, Michigan native played eight NBA seasons from 1996-2005 as a hardliner with Denver, Indiana, Washington, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Detroit. This gives him an immediate cachet with the players.

As Ime Udoka and Willie Green have shown this season, and Steve Kerr, Tyronn Lue and Nurse have shown in recent years, first-year head coaches can step in and have a significant impact (and in the case of all three latter, winning championships as rookie coaches).

Ham and the Lakers will assemble a team with head coaching experience, according to ESPN. Vogel’s team of assistant coaches led the team’s pre-draft training, but it’s unclear how many, if any, will remain in Ham’s squad.

After the Lakers’ disastrous 33-49 season, in which they finished 11th in the West and missed the Play-In tournament, Ham is tasked with making suitors for the Lakers again. It’s undoubtedly a tall order: LeBron James turns 38 in December, Anthony Davis has suffered multiple serious injuries over the past two seasons, Westbrook is a terrible fit alongside his two star teammates, to say the things nicely, and the Lakers don’t have many tools to rebuild their shallow roster.

Westbrook’s future in Los Angeles remains uncertain. There’s a growing possibility he’ll be back since the Lakers don’t want to tie up a first-round pick to move him, and some within the organization believe a new coach could better maximize the fit with Westbrook. , James and Davis. Ham had to sell the Lakers on how he would use the 14-year-old star point guard next season if the Lakers retained him.

Ham, who had become a Laker fan favorite in recent weeks, got strong support from several Lakers personalities, including tweets from James (who was a Ham supporter), the Lakers legend and the former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson (who advised in the process) and future free agent Kent Bazemore.

Johnson, who advised Gov. Jeanie Buss and the front office on their search for coaches, said Athleticism on Monday, he wanted a former player hired as the Lakers’ next coach.

“Probably in addition to Erik Spoelstra, the other three who are in the bottom four are ex-players,” Johnson said. “So I think that says a lot about these young ex-players who command respect straight away, who have done it before. I’m not saying it has to be a former player, but I’m saying look what is happening.

“But the most important thing for me is responsibility. They must hold everyone, from one to 15, accountable. And we walked away from accountability. The guys never talked about it this season. It was always someone else’s fault. I hated that. Never, ‘Hey, I played badly. Hey, it’s on me.’ So whether it’s an ex-player or not, but the trend is ex-players. But otherwise, I want a coach who will hold everyone accountable. And so, that’s what I would like to see.

The Lakers’ next agenda is figuring out what to do with Westbrook, preparing for the June 23 NBA draft, for which they’ll try to buy a second-round pick, and then the start of free agency on June 30th.

But the most important part of the Lakers’ offseason is officially settled. Ham departs from their typical coaching hires, with the potential to thread the delicate needle between the Lakers’ present and future. Their critical summer is off to an impressive start.

(Photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

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