February 27, 2024

The players don’t seem to believe in him. The fans are growing tired of him. There are factions throughout the organization that no longer endorse him.

These days it seems as if all of Laker Nation has coalesced against Darvin Ham, a coach whose job is suddenly in jeopardy just eight months after he led the Lakers to the Western Conference finals.

This is dumb. This is so dumb. This is dumber than the phony tournament banner the Lakers just raised at Crypto.com Arena. This is dumber than the way D’Angelo Russell shoots and Austin Reeves defends

Just when the Lakers organization seemed to wise up and settle down and eschew short-term wins for big-picture gains, here it goes panicking and plotting and going all Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels again.

Firing Ham would be dumb and dumber, and don’t do it, Lakers. Don’t even think about it.

Don’t listen to the murmuring of the discontented players, some of whom feel as if Ham has lost the locker room with his inconsistent lineup changes and refusal to hand out defined roles.

Those players, particularly the supporting cast, are the ones to blame here. They were great last spring. They mostly stink now. The Lakers won the in-season tournament because they played weaker or depleted competition. It was fool’s gold. As currently constructed, they’re just not elite, and it’s not Ham’s fault.

Don’t listen to the boos from the fans, some of whom were surely upset recently when Ham appeared to discount their pain by saying, “I’m tired of people living and dying with every single game we play. It’s ludicrous, actually. It’s like, ‘C’mon man, this is a marathon.’”

Ham was right. It’s a marathon. No team that has ever practiced load management lives and dies with each game. Ham is just being honest. That’s one of his strengths.

Lakers star LeBron James drives on Clippers center Ivica Zubac during the Lakers' 106-103 win Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.

Lakers star LeBron James drives on Clippers center Ivica Zubac during the Lakers’ 106-103 win Sunday at Crypto.com Arena.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers need to ignore the sound and embrace the fury they unleashed Sunday night at Crypto.com Arena in a 106-103 victory over the impossibly hot and constantly annoying Clippers. It was a victory forged by a fierce fourth-quarter defensive effort, deep contributions featuring points from nine players, and the sort of powerful teamwork that fueled their flourish last spring.

It was hardcore basketball. It was hell-raising basketball. It was Darvin Ham basketball.

“This was a huge, huge win against an elite ballclub,” Ham said. “It shows us what we can do once we band together and everyone just really focuses in on the job they have to do.”

The timing was so perfect, coming after the team had lost nine of its previous 11 games, that Ham openly heaved a genuine sigh of relief.

“Got real noisy,” he said. “Take a little deep breath.”

Now it is the Lakers’ turn to take that little deep breath and realize the coach for their long-term future is still Ham, or did you already forget last season’s 2-10 start? The Russell Westbrook saga? The four close playoff losses to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets?

Ham was one of the best coaches in the league in his rookie season — calm, savvy, inspirational — and he hasn’t suddenly lost his mojo. And the team’s current record is no reason to make a move because, well, the Lakers were in the same situation at this time last year.

After 37 games last season, they were 16-21. After 37 games this season, they are 18-19.

At least one notable person has noticed the similarities, and Clippers coach Tyronn Lue used his platform before Sunday’s game to declare the firing chatter around Ham is just wrong.

“It’s definitely unfair,” Lue said. “It’s a long season. A lot of different things go on throughout the course of the season, a lot of changing parts. And we said the same thing last year when they were 2-10 and they went to the conference finals … and I think D-Ham did a hell of a job last year by doing that. And the same thing this year.”

You want a repeat of last season’s resurgence? Rob Pelinka, it’s your turn.

Last year, Pelinka made major midseason moves to rid the team of Westbrook and bring in the pieces — Russell, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt, among others — who helped push them to within four wins of the NBA Finals.

This season, with that sweet story having gone sour, Pelinka needs to make a similar move, this time finding a legitimate third scorer to help James and Anthony Davis, both of whom are having remarkable seasons that must not be wasted.

Pelinka needs to trade whoever it takes — Russell, Hachimura, even fan favorite Reeves — to acquire someone such as Chicago’s Zach LaVine or Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray.

Chicago's Zach LaVine dunks against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 6.

Chicago’s Zach LaVine dunks against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 6.

(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

If Pelinka makes the trade and gives Ham the missing piece and the team still flounders … maybe then, you consider firing him. But not before. And certainly not now.

This entire situation shouldn’t even merit a discussion, but everyone knows the Lakers have a history of doing crazy things with their coaches, especially recently.

Mike Brown won 60% of his games but didn’t last two seasons. Byron Scott was given the specific task of keeping Kobe Bryant happy in his final season, and he did that well, yet he was fired almost immediately after Bryant’s final game. Frank Vogel won a bubble championship and lasted only two more seasons.

Ham wouldn’t be the first Lakers coach to be suddenly and surprisingly whacked, just ask Paul Westhead. But at some point the Lakers have to put down the hammer and let a man grow.

At Ham’s introductory news conference in June 2022, Pelinka explained his decision to hire a longtime NBA journeyman and esteemed assistant coach who lacked any head coaching experience.

“Our players and fans will immediately identify with Darvin’s no-nonsense and hard-working approach, which we feel will bring toughness and a competitive edge to all we do,” Pelinka said at the time.

Pelinka was right. Ham turned a disjointed team into something tough and competitive and changed the entire somnolent Lakers culture.

Is Ham a great strategist? He’s still learning. Does he make the best adjustments? He’s still evolving. Might he have started this season in a bit of a sophomore slump? Certainly, it happens to many coaches.

But none of these struggles is a reason that Ham should feel as if he’s already coaching for his job. He says that’s not the case. But judging from his reaction after Sunday’s win, one wonders.

“I feel like I’m coaching a hell of a franchise and it comes with the territory when you’re coaching this business,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of coaches come and go, good ones, and some that have some bad circumstances around them.”

When asked how he keeps things in perspective amid these tough circumstances, he grew emotional when remembering the beating and shooting death of childhood friend Chaka Euell on the streets of his hometown of Saginaw, Mich.

“I was a pallbearer, 16 years old, with a 16-year-old in the box with five other 16-year-olds carrying a casket out of the church, into the hearse, out of the hearse, to the gravesite,” he said. “So excuse me if I’m not frantic or panicking or anything. It’s a challenge that we definitely will overcome. … It’s unfortunate we’re on this slide, but we’ll work our way out of it. And best believe I’ll be at the forefront of trying to get this solved.”

There is one other basic problem with the potential firing of Darvin Ham.

Who would be hired to take his place? And is there any guarantee that person would be any better?

Some have guessed the Lakers would dip into the broadcast booth to finally hire Doc Rivers. That should be a nonstarter. The assertive Rivers would require a culture change that would be too difficult to manage in midseason.

Another option would be to name one of Ham’s assistants as the interim coach, but nobody on his staff is currently considered NBA head coaching material.

The best person to coach the Lakers is the current coach of the Lakers.

Keep him. Support him. You’ll see.

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