14 Jan

Lakers’ Darvin Ham not in immediate danger of losing job despite recent turmoil, per reports

Despite all the noise surrounding Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham recently, he is not about to get fired, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein.

Stein’s latest newsletter indicates that, as mediocre as the Lakers’ 2023-24 season has been, it would have to get much worse for the front office to make a coaching change:

The current signals in circulation suggest that things would have to worsen significantly — significantly — for the 18-19 Lakers to truly put Darvin Ham’s job under immediate threat. That was the messaging in circulation even before Sunday night’s stirring 106-103 victory over the Clippers despite some crunch-time shakiness against their co-tenants at Crypto.com Arena.

League sources say Ham continues to enjoy very strong support from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka … especially after the leadership Ham provided in his first season as the frequent voice and face for the franchise as it spent months in sub-.500 purgatory before finally surging into the playoffs with a 9-2 closing kick.

[…] But it’s believed that the Lakers are determined to get through the season before seriously pondering any semblance of drastic changes and still hope offseason signee Gabe Vincent can be a difference-maker when he returns from injury.

Separately, Ham told The Athletic’s Sam Amick that he has the support of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. After a report in The Athletic last week about a “deepening disconnect” between Ham and the players, Buss reportedly sent the coach “a lengthy text message of support.”

On an episode of ESPN’s “The Hoop Collective” podcast published Monday, Brian Windhorst said that Ham was not going to be fired after Sunday’s game against the Clippers, regardless of the result.

“Let’s put it this way: There have been a number of stories in the last few days that have emerged about player or agent frustration at the head coach,” Windhorst said. “And [there are] many examples in the history of the NBA where player frustration with the head coach has led to the head coach being replaced. But in this case, the organization — at least for now — fully supports Darvin Ham. And of the players who might be frustrated at Darvin Ham, I don’t think that the players who have the power with the frustration are in that space yet.”

Here’s a quick recap of the last few days of Ham/Lakers chatter:

Wednesday, Jan. 3: Lakers miss 26 of their 30 3-point attempts and lose by 14 points to a Miami Heat team missing Jimmy Butler. LeBron James leaves the arena without speaking to reporters after scoring 12 points on 6-for-18 shooting. Austin Reaves describes the vibe in the locker room as “shitty.”
Thursday, Jan. 4: The Athletic publishes its story on the divide between Ham and the team, which it attributed to his decisions regarding the rotation and the starting lineup. (This echoes an Anthony Irwin story published Dec. 27.)
Friday, Jan. 5: In another The Athletic story, a “high-ranking Lakers source” pushes back on the notion that Ham is on the verge of losing his job. Before Los Angeles’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Ham says that he’s “aligned” and “on the same page” with Buss and team president Rob Pelinka, adding that he wishes people would be “firm enough to stand on what they’re saying” instead of talking to reporters anonymously. Then the Lakers lose by 14 points and James tells reporters, “We just suck right now.” It is their fourth consecutive loss and ninth in 11 games, but Ham says, “It’s the NBA, man. This is a marathon, and you have to look at the totality of the picture. I’m tired of people living and dying with every single game we play. It’s ludicrous, actually.”
Sunday, Jan. 7: Irwin reports that, while the Lakers’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers “won’t be considered a win-or-go-home game for Darvin Ham,” Buss and Pelinka will have “no choice” but to “take a serious look at Ham and whether he is capable of turning this around” if they suffer an embarrassing loss. Irwin cites several sources saying that Lakers players and officials are sick of Ham telling them to play harder and don’t feel that he has taken accountability. Before the game, Ham says he does not feel as if he’s coaching for his life and Clippers coach Tyronn Lue says that the criticism of Ham is “definitely unfair.” Then the Lakers beat the Clippers by three points and James goes out of his way to compliment Lue, who coached James in Cleveland. (The Lakers made Lue an offer to be their coach in 2019, but the two sides did not come to terms on a contract, with Lue later saying that that he “didn’t think I was treated fairly” during the negotiations.)
The Lakers are not quite a .500 team and their offense ranks 23rd in the NBA. They entered the season expecting to be championship contenders, but are 10th in the West, with both the Golden State Warriors (17-19) and Utah Jazz (17-20) right behind them. There are serious problems here, and some of Ham’s decisions regarding the rotation — Reaves didn’t start for almost two months; for four games both he and D’Angelo Russell came off the bench — have been pretty strange. That does not, however, mean that Ham is necessarily going to take the fall.

Based on multiple reports Monday, the Lakers’ preference is to not make a coaching change. If they’re going to stick with Ham, though, they’ll need to play well enough that this storyline goes away naturally (or at least avoid the type of meltdowns that will bring it to the fore). Next up are home games against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, before Los Angeles visits the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Eight of the Lakers’ next nine games are at Crypto.com Arena, including a “road” rematch against the Clippers on Jan. 23. Let’s see if they can string some wins together.

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