The Lakers are down to three finalists for head coach and one of them reportedly has the approval of LeBron James. Meanwhile, a meeting at the draft combine between the two leaders of the front office for the Lakers and Nets certainly could raise some eyebrows.
Let’s take a look at all the headlines and rumors.
Darvin Ham is LeBron’s pick
The Lakers are down to three finalists in their search for a head coach in Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham, Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Portland head coach Terry Stotts. Of the trio, Ham is the only former Laker and the candidate that seems to be the current frontrunner.
A report from Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic indicated that Ham had made the strongest impression of the candidates so far. Now, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report cited a league source that detailed a very important backer of Ham’s.
The Lakers may be willing to take that leap of faith because Ham spent two years with the organization. His personality isn’t easily forgotten. Ham brings a lot of energy to a gym. He’s arguably the best fit for the locker room, with veterans like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and possibly Russell Westbrook in need of a coach they can relate to and respect.
“He’s the guy LeBron wants,” a competing source said.
It will be up to Ham to spell out his basketball vision, in general and in context to the Lakers’ roster makeup. He could be the hire if he can sell that side to the team’s front office.
This isn’t the first time LeBron James has reportedly signed off on Darvin Ham. Back in 2019, Ham had the support of LeBron and Klutch Sports during that search for a head coach by the Lakers. The team ultimately landed on Frank Vogel who was more than qualified, but this also shows how long Ham has been in consideration for head coaching jobs.
Now, Ham isn’t the only person nor the first person LeBron has signed off on. Early on in the process, LeBron’s pick was Mark Jackson, who is also the only candidate the Lakers have interviewed who has been eliminated.
Clearly, LeBron’s seal of approval doesn’t mean everything but it will likely mean something. What seems to be clear is that Ham is the favorite for the job right now.
An interesting meeting of the minds
The Lakers are going to be busy this offseason even after they make the final decision on a head coach. The Russell Westbrook situation is going to loom and the team is multiple roster moves away from getting back into contention after missing the playoffs and play-in this season.
It should be intriguing, then, that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka appears to have met with Nets general manager Sean Marks at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
Nets GM Sean Marks and Lakers exec Rob Pelinka had a meeting at the Marriot Marquis this week at the NBA Combine.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) May 21, 2022
Unclear what they discussed. Potential trade? Dinner plans? Comparing superstar headaches?
As intriguing and exciting as this sounds and before you race off to the trade machine, things like this are a fairly common occurrence at the combine. It’s one of the few chances, along with the SUmmer League, for front office types to get together in one central location.
Now, having said that, what type of package is Brooklyn going to part with to trade for Westbrook? Who says no to a Kyrie Irving-Westbrook swap? The Nets? Kevin Durant?
There has been a bit of a public smoothing of the waters between Kyrie and LeBron. Their time in Cleveland together ended rather abruptly but Kyrie recently talked about the regret he has with leaving the Cavs and not having a relationship with LeBron.
Was that step one before a potential reunion?
Lakers planning on a Westbrook return
Having planted the idea of a Kyrie-Russ trade in your minds, allow me to play the spoiler now.
In the same piece Charania and Amick reported that Ham may be the frontrunner for the Lakers job, a little nugget at the bottom about Russell Westbrook also felt particularly noteworthy.
The Russell Westbrook factor continues to loom large here. Candidates have been asked to discuss how they would use a roster that includes Westbrook, with Lakers officials operating under the belief he will be part of their program next season. Westbrook has a player option worth $47 million for the 2022-23 campaign.
As for the prospect of Westbrook being waived or sent home (a la Houston’s John Wall last season) if he is not traded, those are not considered viable options, and all indications are that he will play. With that in mind, the Lakers are focused on hiring a coach who is capable of navigating these types of sensitive situations.
The bit that the Lakers are asking candidates how they would utilize Westbrook isn’t new information, but the expansion into the Lakers mindset is interesting.
For now, it makes sense the Lakers are planning for a team or season with Westbrook next season. No matter how many options it feels like the Lakers could have in trading him, you can’t count your chickens before they hatch. It’s easier for the Lakers to operate as if Westbrook is around, which still is the most likely scenario, and adapt accordingly than the alternative, at least for now.
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