Darvin Ham‘s words were music to Lakers’ fans’ ears.
At his introductory press conference Monday Ham preached defense first. He talked about how much his relationship with Kobe impacted him as a coach and person. He spoke of organizational culture and the “Darvin Ham era.” He spoke of accountability and developing young players.
Darvin Ham said all the right things. Lakers fans were ready to run through a wall for him.
Now Ham needs that kind of buy-in from the Lakers players — and for Rob Pelinka to get him some defenders.
Ham has buy-in from the alpha in the locker room.
So damn EXCITED!!!!!!!! Congrats and welcome Coach DHam!! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 #LakeShow💜💛
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 28, 2022
However, Ham made it clear Monday that Anthony Davis is the key to making it all work.
“LeBron is going to be LeBron. Russ is going to be Russ,” Ham said, but added the Lakers returning to the top of the West will be about Davis.
“We’ve all seen what can happen when he’s healthy, when he’s playing at a high level, when he’s in a good rhythm,” Ham said. “We saw it in the bubble. His skill set, size, versatility, defensive acumen, his relentlessness. His ability to give multiple efforts defensively is key…. but we need consistency out of Anthony Davis. We need him to be healthy, we need him to be in a good mental space, and we need him to be as consistent as possible.”
Notice Ham said the word defense while talking about Davis. He used that word a lot during his press conference, emphasizing he wanted to build from the defense out.
“Defensively is where you’re going to see us make our biggest leaps and bounds,” Ham said. “We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball or we don’t have a chance to do anything. The offense won’t even matter if we don’t get stops.”
If that sounds like something former coach Frank Vogel would have said, well… yes. Which is why the pressure is now on GM Rob Pelinka — just running it back with a new coach will not change the outcome. The Lakers won the 2020 title thanks to a team built defense out, with a defensive coach in place. Then over the next two seasons, L.A. moved away from that model to chase stars and more offensive-minded role players. Ham can demand accountability and get better commitment from his players on the defensive end, he can get better luck with injuries than the Lakers had last season, but he’s still going to need peak Davis and better perimeter defenders. There is only so much a coach can do.
Where does that leave Russell Westbrook?
“Don’t get it messed up, Russell is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there’s still a ton left in that tank,” Ham said, with Westbrook hanging out in the back of the room. “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off.”
Again, Ham is saying all the right things — to the fans and to Westbrook himself.
“Russ and I have had some really, really great one-on-one conversations, and the biggest word that came out of those discussions was sacrifice,” Ham said. “We’re gonna sacrifice whatever we have to do, and it’s not just Russ. There’s gonna be sacrifices LeBron has to make, that A.D. has to make, all the way down the line of the rest of our roster.”
Vogel and LeBron were not able to get buy-in from Westbrook last season, Westbrook wanted to do things his way, and it became a distraction. Maybe this season will be different and the Lakers will find a role that works for him, but he has not been a strong defender for some time.
Darvin Ham may be a first-year coach, but the Lakers were not going to hire anyone better equipped to succeed with this team. He has the presence to walk into a locker room with LeBron, A.D. and Russ and hold everyone accountable. Players like and respect him. At his first press conference, Ham showed he knows what has to be done.
Now he just needs some help and this summer that has to start with Pelinka retooling the roster.