It took some time, but the Lakers finally tipped off their pivotal offseason by officially hiring Darvin Ham to take over Frank Vogel’s seat. Now that the first piece of the puzzle is in place, it’s time for them to fill out the rest. The Lakers still have a long to-do list to accomplish in the next three months, most of which will determine not just the blueprint for this season, but also the coming years.
OFFICIAL: Welcome to Los Angeles, Coach Ham! pic.twitter.com/V91QyME7EI— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) June 3, 2022
That said, hiring Ham was just a layup compared to the other assignments the Lakers will have to ace. The elephant in the room — Russell Westbrook’s tenure in Los Angeles — remains unaddressed. What’s next for Westbrook? Is his banishment worth giving up the team’s precious draft picks? As for Ham, which assistants should sit beside him? How should Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka approach this summer? And most importantly, how do the Lakers keep LeBron James satisfied?
The enormous pressure surrounding this offseason is far greater than ever, as so many crucial questions have yet to be answered. And like almost every other Lakers fan, bloggers Nicole Ganglani and Donny McHenry are waiting restlessly for all of the pieces to fall into place.
Below, Donny and Nicole share their thoughts on the Lakers’ offseason so far. Think of this as a conversation between two fans over beers/a couple of adult beverages who just can’t help but think about the Lakers as they begrudgingly watch the NBA Finals.
How do you feel about the Lakers’ offseason so far?
Donny: Well, we really only have the Darvin Ham hire and the scattered reports and rumors about Russell Westbrook to talk about in terms of the offseason so far. One of those things I love (the former), and one of those things I hate (the latter).
It sounds like Ham will inject some life, competitiveness and grit into an organization that so desperately needed it last year. As for the increased likelihood that Westbrook will stay, I’m going to stay patient with that, with the belief that he will ultimately be dealt. Even if free agency is less than a month away…
Nicole: You’re right, those two headlines have been the main talking points of the offseason so far. I personally am really happy about the Ham signing, I thought he was the best choice amongst the candidates the team interviewed. To piggyback on what you said about Ham, besides my excitement for his noted ability to command a locker room, I’m most curious about how he approaches the team from an Xs and Os standpoint.
It’s been reported that Ham is a defensive-minded tactician who played a vital role in creating the Milwaukee Bucks’ scheme during their 2021 title run. The Gregg Popovich protégé was also one of the minds responsible for building the Bucks’ “blue box” offense around their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The offense maximized space for the two-time MVP to create high-quality 3-point shot attempts for his teammates.
So yes, I’m excited and curious about what the Ham era has in store. There’s a lot of promise with this hiring, but also a lot of unknown given that this will be his first head coaching gig. As for the Westbrook storylines, I don’t want to think about it too much because I get way too nervous when I do, but I also told myself that I won’t panic until after the NBA Draft, when trades usually happen. Right now, I’m going to practice finding my inner zen, like Lakers advisor Phil Jackson would.
Which assistants would you like to see alongside Ham?
Donny: It was reported that Ham would meet with existing staff members, and out of all them I really hope Phil Handy is convinced to stay. He could even end up becoming lead assistant, a move that would hopefully propel him towards the future head coaching role he so desires.
However, I’m still holding onto hope that Terry Stotts can be convinced to take the job as lead assistant with Handy right next to him. Ham’s defensive acumen combined with Stotts’ offensive knowledge could prove to form a dynamic duo.
Nicole: I want more established offensive and defensive-minded assistants to join Ham. They might be hard to pry away, but the news about Ham getting to handpick his staff gives me a lot of hope. Hopefully, Ham’s well-established reputation in coaching circles could convince promising assistants like Kevin Young (Phoenix Suns offensive coordinator), Charles Lee (Milwaukee Bucks offensive coordinator), James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets assistant coach), or as you mentioned, Terry Stotts to join him in L.A.
Now that the coach’s seat has been filled, how would you want the Lakers to handle their situation with Russell Westbrook?
Donny: I’m honestly open to ANY deal that gets rid of Westbrook… short of using both the 2027 and 2029 first-rounders to do so. That would cause the total cost of the Westbrook experiment to be three first-rounders, and that’s just not something I can stomach. I’d also prefer to steer clear of the deal with the Rockets involving John Wall as I just have no confidence in him being able to be a key contributor for a team over a full season anymore.
Nicole: The Lakers must do everything they can to trade Westbrook, even if that means giving up one of their precious draft picks. I know surrendering picks would be costly, but there’s just enough tape and data to prove that Westbrook’s fit on this team alongside James and Anthony Davis won’t work. What is the point of running it back?
Running it back with Westbrook will not only be a waste of another year but it could also rub James (whom the team has admitted they have to find a way to placate this offseason) the wrong way. For as long as Russ is on the team, the Lakers will not be able to contend for a title. I don’t care what #Brodie stans tell me, the Lakers must overhaul their roster with new faces and quality players that actually fit alongside their (real) superstars for a fresh start.
Aside from moving Westbrook, what else should be on the Lakers’ to-do list in terms of roster construction?
Donny: Call me Rick Ross because I need wings, wings, and MORE wings.
But seriously, the biggest issue with the Lakers’ roster last season (aside from being far too old), was that its supporting cast consisted almost entirely of small guards and lumbering bigs with little in between. The teams in the 2022 NBA Playoffs have far more versatility on the wing, and I hope the Lakers try to replicate that with the little amount of money they will have to spend in free agency.
Nicole: I agree, they need wings. It won’t be easy given their tight budget, but the organization needs to spend what they can on quality role players. Aside from wings, I think they need to get younger and quit chasing high-profile names. They need to go back to their 2019-2020 roster-building formula, develop homegrown talent (scout players from the South Bay Lakers if they have to), sign the ones who they know can do the “dirty work” (something they significantly missed this season) and find players who will thrive within Ham’s system.
Should the Lakers let go of their picks this summer if they really need to?
Donny: Yes! Screw it. The rebuild is going to suck when LeBron James leaves, whether or not they part with their 2027 and 2029 picks. Like Rams GM Les Snead says…
Nicole: Yes. Go all in. How many teams in the league would die to be in the position the Lakers are in now? Trying to bridge the present and future doesn’t always work (unless you’re the Golden State Warriors) and they need to keep in mind that another LeBron James may not fall in their lap so easily again. It’s now or never for the Lakers, and the only way they can cater to their current franchise player — one who, by the way, saved them from basketball purgatory — is to maximize his last few years in the league.
How do the Lakers persuade LeBron to sign an extension?
Donny: I don’t really think they can do anything. They’re going to try and build a championship contender regardless of what LeBron is telling them regarding his intention to sign or not sign an extension. I think they can only just hope LeBron accepts. And the more I think about it, the more I think he will sign.
That way, he can spend more time in Los Angeles with his family (even if it’s just for one more additional year) while he waits for Bronny to enter the league.
Nicole: By assuring James that the team is serious about contending this season and making the most out of his last few years in the league — whether that’s by finding the right trade package for Westbrook or spending more (I still can’t believe this has to be said) to improve the roster — the organization has to regain James’ trust. These next three months are going to be as crucial as it gets.
And finally, who are you rooting for in the NBA Finals? Should this even be a question?
Donny: It shouldn’t, and it’s not. #DubNation.
Nicole: As someone who’s been a Lakers fan for over 16 years now, I’ve understood that our No. 1 unwritten commandment is to never root for the Boston Celtics. Not a single bone in my body likes the color green or whatever leprechaun logo they have. So for the next few days, all I’m going to say is go #DubNation and #StephBetter.