Typically, first time NBA head coaches get to learn alongside a younger team with lowered stakes. Darvin Ham has no such luxury with these Los Angeles Lakers headed up by a 38-year-old LeBron James and MVP candidate Anthony Davis. He has no time to learn on the job, and mistakes he has personally acknowledged yet repeated have already cost a couple wins. Given the razor thin margins for error that come with a flawed roster, his learning curve is a less a curve than it is a cliff.
On a couple occasions, Ham has apologized for some issues in his coaching that cost the Lakers. It’s a fine sentiment and a coach can’t ask for accountability from their team without taking some of their own but an apology has to come with a willingness to learn from the mistake and not make it again. Ham is good at saying the words, but has to more quickly take action on those issues.
As an example, Ham said after Tuesday’s overtime loss to Boston that he needed to do a better job managing and using his timeouts to either break up momentum or get guys a breather as he relied so heavily on one lineup for all the fourth quarter. Thing is: That issue cost the Lakers earlier in the season against Indiana. So, sure, the apology is nice, but without actually learning, it’s just words.
He hasn’t directly addressed this as something he needs to tweak, but his lineups have also left a lot to be desired. This goes beyond his starters, which will always get hyper-analyzed as it’s the first thing fans see every game, but extend throughout as his reliance on guards forces him to go extremely small. Those lineups have been brutal and it doesn’t appear they’re going anywhere even as more logical groupings haven’t gotten as much opportunity.
Put more simply:
Lonnie, Austin, Brown, LeBron and AD is the Lakers' best lineup and I feel like we almost never get to see it, whereas we're constantly subjected to three- and sometimes four-guard groups.— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) December 14, 2022
More proof we're in the bad place.
And look, all this criticism does have to come with a couple qualifiers. First, Ham has been more good than bad. Second, the context under which he’s making these mistakes matter. Of course a first-year head coach would rely more heavily on the veterans he’s trying to get to buy into his system. Of course he’s going to try to make some of the front office’s signings appear to not be wastes of roster spots. He can only coach the team he’s been given and this team is clearly flawed.
None of those disclaimers changes that the mistakes he’s making have cost the Lakers, though. Starting most games with a talent deficiency is difficult enough. But when the less talented team is forcing itself to have to come back from slow starts brought about by bad lineups, then something has to be tweaked. If not taking timeouts late in games is something Ham is aware of right after losses, then perhaps as those situations present themselves again, he can learn and adjust.
The situation he’s been put in is probably more than a little unfair, but he took the job and knew what he was getting himself into. Maybe help is on the way if Rob Pelinka ever gets around to fixing the clearly broken roster, but if it isn’t, it falls on Ham (like it did Frank Vogel before him) to make the best out of the tough situation.
Do I think this is just who Ham is from here on out? Obviously not. And like I said earlier, I think he’s been much more a positive presence than he’s been a detriment to winning. But the time has come and gone where the Lakers can afford to watch him learn and grow on the job. Ham seems more impressive than your regular rookie head coach, and he’ll have to be give the situation he’s been put in.
This week on the “I Loathe Basketball” podcast, I spoke to Harrison Faigen about Ham now that we’ve reached the quarter-point of the season. We also discussed the Lakers apparently being in on DeMar DeRozan and their willingness to wait for his potential availability. This led to us realizing that perhaps all this waiting is just an elaborate Ponzi scheme from Pelinka.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.