This is why Darvin Ham is the Lakers coach

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham, left, hugs forward LeBron James after an overtime win last week.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham hugs forward LeBron James after an overtime win last week against New Orleans.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike, beat writer for the L.A. Times, and welcome back to the Lakers’ newsletter, where you can win some good insight and listen to a great song even if the Lakers can’t seem to scare up a victory.

This week, let’s try to deconstruct this team’s mindset 10 games into the season, when things got dicey again after its eighth loss.

This, in part, was why the Lakers hired Darvin Ham.

No truth was too tough, no topic too toxic to address, no star too big to coach.

Yet here in Utah after another loss Monday, Ham’s honestly pushed him into strange territory, particularly for a first-year head coach — the constrictions of the team’s financial situation.


Asked about being able to share a big-picture message with stars who are in short-term phases of their careers, Ham said it comes down to communication and putting all his cards on the table.

“We can’t go out [and sign guys]. We’re in the [luxury] tax. We’re tax offenders, right? We just can’t go out and start spending money everywhere to build a team,” Ham said. “We have three big-time first-ballot future Hall of Famers that a chunk of our budget is being spent on. And there’s only so much left. So we have to do our due diligence and go out and establish the way we want to play — which I thought we’d been doing. We’ve regressed a little bit defensively and the offense has come around here as of late.

“Just keep fighting the good fight, pushing forward one day at a time, man. But just having an honest dialogue. Not sugarcoating anything. Looking at everything for what it is and being real. Like, being real. We’re not one of these teams right now — as of right now — where we have 30, 40, 50 million dollars in cap space. We don’t have that today.”

Discussions about luxury-tax implications and salary-cap situations don’t usually happen in postgame news conferences, and especially not 10 games into the season. But what Ham’s saying is the obvious truth that scouts and executives around the league have been noticing when they watch the Lakers.

For the second consecutive season, the team has no real middle class on its roster — the gigantic salaries for LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook forcing the front office to use salary exceptions to hunt for bargains in free agency.

Even if the Lakers pull off a trade — and that’s certainly still an “if” — Ham’s plan involves a hefty amount of internal improvement as the team discovers the best formula to maximize its current roster.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis dribbles the ball while posted up against Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis works in the post against Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen during a loss Monday night in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

“We just got to keep working, day in and day out. Keep working. We can’t get discouraged,” Ham said. “The season is too long. We can’t get discouraged after 10 games being 2-8 or whatever the hell our record is. It’s too early. And it should never happen, for that matter. We should fight until there’s no more time on the clock. But I think we’ll be fine and again, I know we’ll be fine. Because I’m not going to stop, my staff is not going to stop and our organization is not going to stop trying to be the best version of ourselves. As competitive as possible.”

One way that can be fixed is in the third quarter of games, when the Lakers have been the second-worst team in the NBA by being outscored by 17.6 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers have, strangely enough, the same minus-17.6 net rating in the first quarter.

“That’s what’s been killing us all year,” Davis said.

It’s not the lone issue — but it’s a big one. And with the Lakers limited in the ways they can address their talent, zeroing in on focus and execution will be a must.

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A new AD?

In between the Lakers’ last three losses, Davis went to Ham to discuss getting him more touches late in games.

“We’re just trying to be assertive,” Davis said. “Coming out in the second half, demand the basketball and make plays out of it. Try not to get lost in the game where I’m not touching the basketball.”

Davis has taken just 21 shots in the fourth quarter this season. James leads the team with 49 fourth-quarter attempts, with Lonnie Walker IV (25) and Russell Westbrook (24) taking more shots than Davis late.

“I love the communication. I love the openness,” Ham said. “I don’t get offended by that. If a guy says he wants more touches and he’s of the caliber of Anthony Davis, then yeah, my ears are going to perk up and I’m going to see how I can get him the ball more.”

Song of the week

Reflections” by MisterWives

Speaking of spacing issues, enjoy this recent indie dream-pop jam from inside the back of a van. Though it’s still early in the season, it does feel like the Lakers are about to hit some key points of reflection over the next few weeks, the schedule easing up and spreading out before a hellish December. At least this song is happy.

In case you missed it

Darvin Ham’s Lakers ‘excavation’ reaches new depths with loss to Jazz

Lakers-Cavaliers takeaways: Kendrick Nunn’s struggles continue

Plaschke: LeBron James says Lakers ‘are who we are.’ They stink

Lakers struggle again with shooting, offense in loss to Cavaliers

No rest for the Lakers’ defense, which went missing in action vs. Jazz

LeBron James condemns antisemitism amid Kyrie Irving controversy

‘We want Westbrook’ chants aren’t enough to lift lukewarm Lakers past Jazz

Elliott: Seven games into head coaching career, Lakers’ Darvin Ham wisely trusts his gut

Matt Ryan’s shot forces overtime as Lakers rally to beat Pelicans

Inside the biggest shot of the Lakers’ season: How Matt Ryan hit an impossible three

Until next time...

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