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    Alexander: Lakers firing Darvin Ham was predictable, but is that it?
    • May 3, 2024

    Darvin Ham was the definition of Fired Coach Walking for weeks, as it turns out. Even 47 regular-season victories, good enough only for the play-in round in a rugged Western Conference, weren’t enough to save a second-year coach from the expectations of a legacy franchise and its entitled fan base.

    But the shame shouldn’t lie so much in Ham’s dismissal, made official with a one-paragraph statement by vice president/GM Rob Pelinka at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, as it is in the process that reached this point. The view here is that Ham was undermined internally, and the torrent of anonymously sourced complaints about his strategy and personnel usage and command of the locker room appeared carefully calibrated as soon as the Lakers fell behind Denver in the first-round playoff series that ended Monday night.

    I don’t know who those sources were, and if I did I wouldn’t reveal them anyway, since it is a sacred rule of what we do as journalists that you don’t burn a source after agreeing to anonymity. But from the outside of that reporting process, I suspect a good share of the complaints originated from two places – the front office, i.e. Pelinka in an effort to deflect blame, and/or LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul.

    Pelinka, who had been a player agent before he was hired as Lakers general manager in 2017, inherited Luke Walton as his coach, fired him after three seasons and hired Frank Vogel in 2019, fired Vogel – who had delivered the team’s 17th championship in the 2020 COVID bubble – in 2022 after three seasons, and now has axed Ham after two.

    James has played for three coaches since joining the Lakers in 2018, and – assuming he picks up his $51.4 million player option for the 2024-25 season – would be playing for his fourth coach as a Laker and his ninth coach overall in 22 NBA seasons. (The last time in his career James seemed to have less than maximum leverage was in his four seasons in Miami, with Erik Spoelstra as the coach and team president Pat Riley possessing power equal to or greater than that of his best player. That’s unusual in the NBA.)

    Make no mistake. LeBron is seldom shy about using his leverage. The hourglass emoji he posted on social media after a midseason loss to Atlanta dropped the Lakers to 25-25 was a passive-aggressive reminder that time was slipping away. (Ham responded by saying, “I would’ve put out two or three hourglass emojis by now,” after which a rando fan posted on the Platform Formerly Known As Twitter: “Except the hourglass was for you, Darvin. Read the room.”)

    Similarly, following Monday night’s season-ending loss in Denver, James was asked if he had given any thought to that being his last game as a Laker, and he answered: “Um, I’m not going to answer that … appreciate it,” followed by a mic drop. That could be honest uncertainty or an unwillingness to commit immediately following a season-ending loss … or it could have been one more message in the direction of Pelinka and the rest of the front office.

    Much of the Lakers’ fan base likely celebrated Friday morning’s news. Ham was booed by some fans – though not a majority – during introductions before each of the Lakers’ home playoff games against Denver, but the “Fire Darvin Ham” chants at the tail end of their 112-105 loss in Game 3 were hard to miss.

    The viral video of D’Angelo Russell checking his phone while the rest of the team was in a timeout huddle during Game 3, or the comment from Anthony Davis after Game 2 that “(w)e have stretches where we just don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor” … those also fed the portrayal of a team in disarray or at least one that had stopped paying attention to or trusting its head coach. Only after the fact did the player gripes come out about how Russell and Austin Reaves were coming off the bench at midseason, how rotations were unsettled (injuries did play a part), and how Ham was slow to make in-game adjustments.

    (The blown leads in the Denver series – particularly in third quarters, as Reaves not so coincidentally made sure to point out in his postgame remarks after Game 3 – seemed to be vivid evidence of Ham’s failure to adjust.)

    As has been noted by This Space, Ham is likely going to be a far better head coach strategically a few years down the road. It was his misfortune, I guess, that his first opportunity was with a franchise and fan base that demand nothing less than competing for championships. This is the downside of Laker Exceptionalism: There is no patience and no time to ease into the job, especially when the greatest scorer in NBA history is on your roster at the back end of his career.

    There’s an adage – I believe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban came up with it – that fits this situation: If you’re going to fire someone, you’d better have a replacement in place, or at least in mind.

    Does Pelinka have a guy, or a plan?

    One popular notion among the fan base seems to be trying to steal Ty Lue from the Clippers, and never mind that the Lakers had their shot at Lue before hiring Vogel in 2019, but those talks broke down when the team demanded that Lue include Jason Kidd on his staff. Lue said no thanks.

    Then there’s the speculation that J.J. Redick might be a leading candidate. His main qualification, beyond 15 seasons as a player? He does a podcast with LeBron. Seriously. So to replace a guy who had zero head coaching experience but at least had been a high-level assistant, you’d hire a guy whose only coaching experience is with fourth-graders? Why not just make LeBron player-coach?

    As has often been the case with the Lakers over the last decade-plus, there’s been little to no accountability from the front office, from controlling owner/governor Jeanie Buss on down. Pelinka made the decision to run it back with most of the same faces that got the Lakers to the conference finals last season, but misfired with some additions to that core and did little to shore up the roster before the trade deadline.

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    Also, the pick of Jalen Hood-Schifino at No. 17 in June’s draft becomes even more of a failure when you consider the two guys drafted behind him: Jaime Jaquez Jr. by Miami and Brandin Podziemski by Golden State, both of whom were far more significant to their teams as rookies.

    So we go back to the premise above: If you’re going to get rid of someone, you’d better have a replacement in mind.

    And Bob Myers, former Golden State Warriors general manager (i.e., architect of championship teams), is available. Hint?

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    ​ Orange County Register