Lakers

The Lakers’ Ceiling is Darvin Ham-High

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Immediately following a grueling 114-124 loss to the Denver Nuggets, just one thing stood out for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It wasn’t Los Angeles losing its eighth straight game to the Nuggets or LeBron James becoming the first player in NBA history to reach 40,000 career points. It was the fact that Darvin Ham cost the Lakers yet another winnable game against a formidable opponent.

The reality of this Lakers season is simple. Despite the endless injury problems or heightened expectations, this team’s ceiling is limited as long as Ham is in charge.

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to understand all of Ham’s proclivities. Especially if you’ve followed the Lakers all season. Between undefined roles, questionable rotations and inability to be accountable, Ham is a better anchor than a propeller for this ship.

Before we go on, if you don’t like beating a dead horse, this column isn’t for you.

WHAT IS EVERYONE ACTUALLY DOING?

There’s a reason the Lakers are fighting to make up ground just as they did last season. Except this time it’s not because of a horrible roster. In fact, Los Angeles’ roster was heavily respected coming into this season. And to be clear, this roster is still talented. They just spent the first four months of the season trying to find out what their roles were.

Only THREE Lakers had a solidified role for the first half of the season — James, Anthony Davis and… Taurean Prince (talk about a dead horse). Prince started each of his first 47 games this year. Whether he played good or bad, his role stuck throughout.

You couldn’t say the same for players like Austin Reaves who was benched for nearly two months after just eight games. Or D’Angelo Russell, whose role was thrown around and usage was cut in December. Even Rui Hachimura, a staple in last season’s playoff run, wasn’t a permanent starter until the team’s 51st game.

Prince was granted immunity over the team’s third, fourth and fifth highest-paid players, with no consequence! And despite Prince now coming off the bench, Ham still gives him an inordinate amount of leeway in games.

Ham’s inclination to go with his ‘guys’ over his best players dates back to last season’s obsession with Dennis Schröder. It’s an all-too-glaring pattern of his tenure in LA.

Sometimes it’s not even about his ‘guys’. Sometimes his rotations make absolutely no sense, and everyone around him suffers because of it.

COACHES CAN LOSE GAMES TOO

Let’s refer back to that Nuggets game I started this column with. The most-recent game that I can confidently say Ham lost.

Tied at 89 through three quarters, the Lakers played the defending champs the best they had all season. Hachimura led the team in minutes (31:19) and points (23) up to that point in the game. Also through three periods, Russell was second on the team in points (17) and first in plus-minus (+6). Surely they were trusted down the stretch of the game, right? Wrong.

Hachimura, the Lakers’ most impactful player, sat for far too long. By the time he checked in at the 5:30 mark, not only was it too late, but he took just two more shots the rest of the game. He got iced.

Prior to that night, Russell spent the last 21 games proving his worth on the roster. Since being inserted back into the starting lineup, he averaged 22.6 points and 6.8 assists on 46.8/45.0/86.4 shooting splits. Those 21 games meant nothing, though, because Ham still didn’t trust him down the stretch against Denver.

Russell started the fourth quarter and subbed out at the 7:47 mark with the Lakers down 98-99. Ham instead opted for Cam Reddish over Russell during the most important stretch of the game. By the time Russell returned (1:34), the gap widened to seven points (112-119) and the white flag was nearly waved.

Reddish (10:26), in his third game back after a month-long injury, and Spencer Dinwiddie (6:30), who’s been with the team for three weeks, each played more minutes in the fourth quarter than Russell (5:47) and Hachimura (5:30).

This type of oversight is simply unacceptable. How are players supposed to trust their efforts will yield trust?

WHOSE FAULT IS IT, THEN?

Undefined roles and treacherous rotations have remained steady all season. Players are rarely put in spots to be optimized and unless they are James, Davis or Prince, aren’t sure if playing good will yield a more prominent role.

So, the Lakers are losing games and players are underperforming in spurts. Whose fault is that? Well, according to Ham, not his.

Quite possibly the biggest blemish in the way Ham has operated this season, according to Anthony Irwin of Lakers Daily, is his tendency to place blame on “‘work ethic, discipline and toughness — all things in the players’ control.'”

Find me a postgame interview where Ham takes accountability for a single mistake he’s made… go on, I’ll wait.

It’s a fatal flaw that loses a locker room.

If your star big man (Davis) takes the blame whenever he feels is just, why is that not reciprocated? Why aren’t you able to say you’re responsible for a bad night like Tyronn Lue so adequately did when the Clippers blew a 21-point lead against you? Were you the reason the team battled back from 21 points? I bet you think you were, Darvin. And that’s the problem.

Even something as simple as a postgame rant about LeBron’s horrific whistle this season can earn you some brownie points. Nevertheless, I fear it may be too late.

It’s hard to see this Lakers team overcoming anything so long as Ham is at the helm. How many players are going to stand for this?

Is his seat even warm?

About Connor Moreno

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