After taking on one of the highest-profile, most turbulent coaching gigs in all of sports this offseason, it’s not a coincidence that everyone wants to hear from Darvin Ham. All summer, Ham has been on a media tour, taking stops at every high-profile podcast and primetime sports talk show willing to chat with the rookie head coach. With all eyes on Ham — expected to lead the most prestigious basketball team in the world after they just concluded their most embarrassing season in franchise history — he’s gone out of his way to make himself available for comment.
As Ham states his goals and visions on how he plans to turn the Lakers around, his well-known commanding presence has proven as captivating as advertised. Starting with the day he was announced as the team’s new leader, Ham has been nothing but positive and determined to prove that he has what it takes to do the impossible. Primarily, he’s preached a bullishness regarding the idea of being able to unlock the potential of his Big 3 — a lopsided puzzle that has proved unsolvable to date.
“I’m built for this!” Ham convincingly claimed in his latest public appearance, a stop on the “All The Smoke” podcast.
Nobody is doubting whether or not Ham is qualified for what is arguably the hottest seat in the league. If there’s a person that can handle all the pressure and obstacles that comes with the tough job, it’s the man who isn’t intimidated by a single soul on earth. Ham, who was born and raised in the streets of Saginaw, Michigan, has battled through all kinds of pressure on and off the basketball floor and earned his money by grinding his way up the league’s hierarchy — the same mentality he wants every single one of his players to embody, from top to bottom.
But for as inspiring and convincing Ham has been all summer, there’s a reason why the task ahead of him — turning the Lakers back into contenders — is widely viewed as a futile one. The Lakers still employ Russell Westbrook, arguably the most inefficient volume shooter in the league. With a change of leadership, can the Lakers still hope to salvage what is currently considered the worst trade in franchise history?
And in addition to their clunky on-court fit, there’s the elephant in the room that is the tension between LeBron James and Westbrook, who both no longer seem to be excited to share the court together.
So the question for Ham moving forwards is, can he really practice what he preaches given that the Lakers’ problems are largely out of his control?
If this Lakers roster remains as is, the biggest challenge Ham has in front of him is getting Westbrook to buy into his system and the team. Ham has mentioned multiple times that he wants the nine-time All-Star to commit to the defensive end and be a “pit-bull-like” two-way contributor, which we frankly haven’t witnessed from Westbrook throughout his career. How does Ham get a leopard to change his spots?
Also, the current lack of depth on the roster, especially in terms of shooting and wing defense, desperately needs addressing. How can Ham impose his well-established philosophies and 4-out-1-in offensive system if the team still lacks two of the most important ingredients in modern basketball? As currently constructed, this team has plenty of fresh legs and defensive-minded athletes, but it remains to be seen as to whether Ham can get his supporting cast to perform at a high level against higher pedigree opponents when it matters most.
And last but not least, how will Ham himself perform in the most pressurized moments? What if it’s he’s in the middle of an adjustments battle in a do-or-die Game 7 against a Western Conference rival? Can the defensive-minded coach hold his ground or even outduel the best head coaches in the league today? Ham’s 11-year NBA assistant coaching experience will certainly come in handy, but the asks of a head coach go above and beyond those of his supporting staff.
Thankfully for the Lakers, Ham seems to be more than prepared to conquer all these challenges. Even if the mission of returning to contention is impossible, Ham has demonstrated that he’ll do everything within his power to succeed anyways.
We’ll know in a few months means if Ham can make good on his lofty promises, but for now, we’ll have to take his word for it — at least the Lakers’ new head coach believes he is indeed built for the pressure that comes with the brightest of lights.