Lakers’ new coach Darvin Ham ready to form alliance with Russell Westbrook

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham holds a microphone while addressing the media Monday.
New Lakers coach Darvin Ham addresses the media Monday during an introductory news conference with Rob Pelinka, the team’s general manager and vice president of basketball operations.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers formalized one of their biggest offseason decisions on Monday, introducing Darvin Ham as the team’s new head coach. And with Russell Westbrook in attendance, Ham and the Lakers made it sound like they had an idea for how they were going to deal with the next big choice ahead of them.

Standing off to the side of the makeshift stage inside the team’s El Segundo facility, Westbrook — along with Austin Reaves, Wenyen Gabriel and Stanley Johnson — heard Ham say that he expected the veteran guard would be with the team this upcoming season.

“Don’t get it messed up. Russell is one of the best players our league has ever seen,” Ham said. “And there is still a ton left in that tank. I don’t know why people continue to try to write him off.”

Russell Westbrook, right, listens to new Lakers coach Darvin Ham during his introductory news conference Monday.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Westbrook has to exercise the $47 million player option, which is considered a lock.

Ham’s introduction on Monday comes as the Lakers head into a period of great change within the organization — the roster set for yet another churn for the fourth straight offseason since signing LeBron James.

Ham laid out a general vision for what his Lakers ideally will look like.

He said former NBA player Rasheed Wallace, who was an assistant with the University of Memphis last season, is under consideration for a spot on his coaching staff, though the situation is still “fluid.”

Ham also said he wants the Lakers to mimic some of the style played in Milwaukee and Atlanta, where he was an assistant to coach Mike Budenholzer with players spreading the court on the perimeter to open driving and cutting lanes.

While he preached about tightening the Lakers’ defense first, he said ideally the team wouldn’t have a singular identity.

“You hear about these offensive gurus or these defensive gurus — both sides of the ball affect one another,” Ham said. “If you’re able to play great defense, then your offense is going to look great because you’re not playing against a set defense. If you’re allowing people to score, then your offense is going to struggle because you’re playing against a set defense. So you just have to be well-rounded.”

Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, said Ham’s hiring was unanimous among the team’s decision-makers.


NBA Finals participants Draymond Green, Mike Brown and Al Horford say the Lakers ‘are really lucky to have a guy like’ new coach Darvin Ham.

June 2, 2022

“It’s easy to be grateful when you find a candidate that you feel is the ideal fit for what the franchise is looking for. And that’s what coach Ham represents to us,” Pelinka said.

He cited Ham’s journey — from a career as an NBA role player to a minor-league coach to work with the Lakers under former coach Mike Brown before working with Budenholzer.

Ham was visibly emotional when discussing his former boss after spending the previous nine seasons on his coaching staffs.

“Having started out with him in Atlanta his first day as a head coach and now getting to leave, I thanked him,” Ham said. “I said, ‘Well, at least you dropped me off where you picked me up at.’ Because he picked me up from here in L.A. So the fact that I’m coming back to L.A., he was thrilled, super thrilled.”

While he was vague, Ham did say he viewed Anthony Davis as “the key” to what the Lakers should look like if Ham is able to implement his vision.
He said he wanted to lessen the “wear and tear” James has undergone.

Asked specifically about Westbrook, Ham said his conversations with the embattled guard made it clear that there was a desire from Westbrook to sacrifice.

El Segundo, CA - June 06: New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham speaks to the media.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham speaks to the media at the team’s training facility in El Segundo on Monday.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“We have to start on the defensive end in terms of what his role is going to be,” Ham said. “I’m going to expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been all his entire career. A lot of now may have him without the ball in his hand. Most of it now may have it on the defensive end. But, again, we have to sacrifice.”

In early June, all of this is easier said than done. Yet Ham made it clear that he wasn’t intimidated by the job, feeling zero pressure because of a perspective earned in Saginaw, Mich., where he was once an innocent bystander affected by gun violence.

“I was shot in the face by accident, April 5, 1988,” he said. “You go through something like that, it’s going to be one of two things. It’s going to make you fearful or fearless.

“It made me fearless.”