If there is one thing that the last several years have taught Lakers fans, it’s that this ownership group and front office have thought a lot about how much it costs to run an NBA team, and how much it will or won’t spend to field a contender.
Because despite Jeanie Buss initially saying all the right things about being willing to pay the luxury tax for a contender back in early 2021, the team’s actions have not borne that out. They lost Alex Caruso for nothing after asking him to take less to help them save money on taxes that same offseason and have been turning down certain trades because they would make this roster more expensive either in immediate tax bills or long-term, all while Buss herself complains that the team should have went further because of how much money she is spending.
(For what it’s worth and for full context, the Lakers have the sixth-most expensive team in the NBA this season, but are only spending $2 million more than the notoriously cheap Phoenix Suns and are behind the small-market Milwaukee Bucks)
Whatever you think of the path the Lakers took to this current 2-8 team and how much frugality has been a factor in their rapid decay from championship hopefuls to basketball roadkill, it’s been clear that money has been a concern for them.
All of that context made one of Darvin Ham’s answers from after the team’s second loss to the Utah Jazz in a week interesting. After a question that had nothing to do with luxury taxes or the salary cap, Ham brought up those two factors repeatedly, without any prompting (emphasis mine in Ham’s answers mine):
Reporter: Darvin, understanding that you can be big-picture and you can be positive, and view things that way, but you’ve got LeBron, who’s in year 20, AD has missed functionally two seasons, how do you keep their patience? I don’t know if that’s even the right word, but their mindset not in the disappointment and the frustration of 2-8, and along for the build with you?
Ham: “I mean, you just have to put everything, all cards on the table. We can’t act like something is happening that isn’t real, you know what I’m saying? And with that I mean the way our salary is constructed, our salary cap and our budget, all the way to injuries, guys being available, playing style, new coaching staff and guys having to buy in to how we’re playing and what we’re doing, all of that is real. And guys having to step up and play better, some of our younger guys, some guys who don’t have as much experience in the league that are in our rotation, they have to step up, have that confidence and play better. And those are just the real facets of our game. We can’t go out, we’re in the tax — we’re a tax offender, right? We just can’t go out and start spending money everywhere to build a team.
“We have three big-time, future first-ballot hall-of-famers that a chunk of our budget is being spent on, and there is only so much left, so we have to do our due diligence and go out and again, establish the way we want to play. Which I thought we’ve been doing, we’ve regressed a little bit defensively, our offense is coming around here of late, and just keep fighting the good fight, pushing forward one day at a time, man, and just having honest dialogue. Not sugar-coating anything, looking at everything for what it is and being real, like being real. Like we’re not one of these teams right now where we have $30, $40, $50 million in cap space. We don’t have that today.”
You can watch the clip below in full if you so desire:
FULL AUDIO of the Darvin Ham “repeater tax” quote:— LakersGuru (@GuruLakers) November 8, 2022
(This was VERY hard to find. Not on spectrum OR Lakers YouTube. Had to go to the NBA site.)
Includes question from media that prompted the response. Full context. Nothing cut.
You can freely decide what you’re hearing. pic.twitter.com/ZspSlgna7E
Interestingly enough — and credit to Michael Corvo of Clutch Points for catching it — this is not the first time Darvin has done this:
Interestingly (or maybe not), this is actually the 2nd time Ham has mentioned the repeater tax and the Lakers roster construction unprompted this season. Here was his full response to a question from @DanWoikeSports after the Oct. 30 win over the Nuggets: https://t.co/FSPuN9bTqw pic.twitter.com/NUPBvsEtWD— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) November 8, 2022
I’m a little torn here on my takeaways from this. On one hand, Ham is just being candid, and nothing he specifically said is wrong. Like, the Lakers currently do not have cap space, and cannot go out and sign players to help at midseason. They do have a lot of money tied up in three guys. All that is accurate, and is and was a real constraint when trying to build the roster both in-season and this summer.
However... it has to be sort of indicative of what kind of conversations are going on behind the scenes, in the front office, for Ham to bring this up completely unprompted, right? It’s hard to believe that these aren’t nearly direct talking points that Rob Pelinka was using when he and Ham were talking about building out this roster in free agency and discussing various trade possibilities this summer... or maybe even more recently. It’s definitely not the kind of thing that coaches usually bring up in postgame interviews. I can’t recall a single instance of it in the past, at least not offhand.
But is it something we should be freaking out about? Is it an indicator that no trade is coming to improve this team, even after the team’s weirdly arbitrary 20-game mark for self-evaluation? That is, personally, not how I took it. But only time will tell, and at the very least, it’s a little weird. Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments below.