Redskin

Oram: Lakers coach Darvin Ham already has his first win; he’s won over LeBron James


The most important endorsement hit the Twittersphere at 5:45 p.m. in Los Angeles.

“I’m so damn EXCITED,” LeBron James wrote.

Darvin Ham is his new coach.

LeBron is happy.

And today that’s what matters.

We will learn a lot in the next 12 months about what kind of coach the Lakers have in the rookie Ham, 48, a respected Milwaukee Bucks assistant who is seen as long overdue for a move into the spotlight. He comes with a big reputation as a communicator. And when it comes to unifying a splintered locker room, league insiders believe he has the goods.

No, he’s never been a head coach.

Or worked under a microscope as he will in L.A.

Or had to solve a riddle quite like Russell Westbrook, if the former MVP sticks around.

But LeBron believes in Ham. With a few keystrokes, the toughest person to impress gave his public approval and Lakers Nation could relax.

Three years ago, Ty Lue balked, Monty Williams took the exit ramp to Phoenix and the Lakers came away from their coaching search badly bruised.

Now, 47 days after Frank Vogel’s three-year run ended with an injury-riddled, 33-win campaign, hiring Ham feels something like healing.

Those who know Ham say he has an unteachable presence about him. He can hold players accountable. And not just role players. Stars, too. He understands locker room dynamics with eight years in the NBA as a player. He won a ring as Mike Budenholzer’s favorite assistant in Milwaukee.

In other words, he’s got juice.

And sources said he blew the Lakers away with his understanding of X’s and O’s.

Somewhere along the way, he won the approval of James.

In an offseason where hiring a coach felt mostly like ordering drinks before settling in for the main course at a nice restaurant, getting James on board is the most important piece of this challenging Lakers puzzle.

Vogel was a fine coach. His defensive acumen rescued the Lakers after years in a defensive abyss. He was the right man for a complicated time.

But no matter how strongly you might feel that the disappointments of the last two seasons were not his fault, it became increasingly clear throughout last season that James was ready for a new voice.

That’s Ham.

And LeBron is on board.

A quick history lesson: The Lakers once went 90 days without a head coach.

It was 2014. The Lakers won 27 games and Mike D’Antoni quit. With Kobe Bryant entering his 19th season, it quickly became clear that they were going to hire Byron Scott. The Lakers knew, Byron knew and fans knew. But the Lakers kept their coaching job open as a carrot to potential free agents in a star-laden class.

As one Lakers executive said at the time: “What if LeBron wants his brother to coach the team?”

Point taken.

And the point is that nobody wields more influence than James. He had no interest in the Lakers eight years ago, and his opinion on the Lakers coach mattered.

How much of a factor do you think it is eight years later, now that he’s entrenched in L.A. with a championship ring to show for it.

If his true feelings about Ham were reflected in his tweet, that will resonate throughout the Lakers locker room.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. In the Lakers universe, James is the sun, and everyone else is just space flotsam. No matter who ends up on the team next season, you can be sure they will look up to James. They’ll follow his lead.

He trusts Ham? They’ll trust Ham.

That’s a level of alignment the Lakers sorely need, especially after the malcontented Russell Westbrook revealed just how unhappy he was with Vogel throughout his maiden Lakers season.

And make no mistake: Vogel was not fired on April 11. Not really. He was fired when the Lakers gave him a one-year contract extension last summer, months after leading the Lakers to their 17th championship under the most bizarre set of circumstances in league history.

The Lakers put him in the friend zone.

As coaches like to say, it is what it is.

Vogel was the beneficiary of a botched coaching search. In 2019, Pelinka was too rigid, too cocksure.

And so this hire says a lot about Pelinka, too. This time there were no fireworks. No egg on his face. Just a disciplined, patient process, that ended with the Lakers landing their top choice.

The fact that this was a four-year deal, compared to the stingy three-year pact Pelinka was peddling in 2019, shows a willingness to respond to the marketplace. Sources said Ham has been assured he will have autonomy to hire his coaching staff.

Is it possible the Lakers are learning from their mistakes?

If only that carries over beyond their coaching search …

Because the fate of the Lakers next season and beyond will be decided in June and July more than it was on May 27.

Everyone knows the weightiest decisions lie on the other side of the Lakers hiring a head coach.

How can Pelinka build out a winning roster? Should he trade Westbrook? Extend LeBron?

Those are the big-ticket items.

As one skeptical source told The Athletic this week, “I don’t know if a coach can fix them.”

Ham alone can’t be the solution.

He is now partnered with Pelinka and Kurt Rambis in building a roster that can contend. It will be difficult, especially if Westbrook remains on the roster.

Optimism always abounds in the afterglow of a coaching hire. Ham has his work cut out for him with a roster that, barring a Westbrook trade, will largely be built out once again with minimum contracts in free agency.

It’s not an easy job.

But he’s already done the hardest thing.

Won over LeBron James.

(Photo of Ham: David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)





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