The Los Angeles Lakers' search for their next head coach continues, and the organization is wisely taking its time with the endeavor. This is perhaps the one big change that Los Angeles can make this offseason with no first-round draft pick and limited trade and free-agent options.
And change is necessary following a 33-49 season punctuated by the firing of former coach Frank Vogel.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, L.A. has found its finalists in Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts and Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham:
Of this group, Ham is the most logical choice, and there are multiple reasons why.
A few days ago, we examined the value a rookie head coach could bring to the Lakers. It starts with the current roster, which is likely to include the core group of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. According to The Athletic's Sam Amick, the Lakers are have planned to move forward with Westbrook during their coaching search:
"Despite the widely held belief that the Lakers would find a way to trade Westbrook before the start of next season, sources say their coaching candidates have been asked to discuss how they would use him in their system during interviews. The takeaway for candidates, it seems, is that maximizing Westbrook's presence after his disastrous 2021-22 season is considered an important part of this job."
James, Davis and Westbrook are prolific players with big personalities who didn't mesh in Vogel's system. A new coach is more likely to bring a clean slate and an open mind ideally building something new around the players instead of forcing them to adapt.
Ham is the only one of the finalists who has never been an NBA head coach before. He's also an eight-year NBA playing veteran, which checks another reported box on L.A.'s wish list.
"Several of the first-year candidates they've been linked to are former players that are known to command respect," Jovan Buha of The Athletic wrote.
A 6'7" forward, Ham went unclaimed in the 1996 draft but managed to win a ring with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
The Texas Tech product's coaching style as an assistant also fits what the Lakers are reportedly looking for, as Amick and Charania detailed for The Athletic:
"Sources say team officials have prioritized a coach who can command respect and authority from the locker room and who has a strong enough presence and voice to manage the varying roles and relationships across the roster. ... Ham has been known for his no-nonsense style and ability to resonate with his players—attributes that have stood out in his communication with the Lakers thus far as well, sources said."
According to Amick and Charania, Ham has made "the strongest impression yet" during the interview process.
In Ham, the Lakers have a candidate who doesn't possess an established and rigid system that might not suit Westbrook and Co. He would likely be willing to work with them but not allow them to run the show. For these reasons, hiring Ham makes perfect sense. However, there's one more factor that could tip the balance in his favor.
"He's the guy LeBron wants," a competing source said, per Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus.
While the Lakers shouldn't hire their next coach based solely on James' opinion, his voice should be valued in the process. The 37-year-old might not be the dominant force that he once was, but James is still the veteran leader of this roster and an incredibly effective player when healthy.
This past season, James averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He's not going anywhere in 2022, even if the 18-time All-Star decides not to sign an extension. Amick reported this month that president Jeanie Buss is content to keep James regardless of his contract status.
So, James will be the on-court leader of the Lakers again next season. If he and the next coach are in lockstep regarding the game-planning and overall direction of the franchise, it bodes well for everyone involved. In just about every conceivable aspect, Ham seems like the best candidate to make that happen—and to get the most out of L.A.'s current roster.
This isn't to say that the other finalists can't be successful in Los Angeles. Ham also lacks head coaching experience. Of course, Ime Udoka lacked that experience too before joining the Boston Celtics this year, and he has Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the Lakers are willing to follow suit and take a chance, Ham is the perfect candidate to lead this team into the 2022-23 season.