Lakers fire head coach Darvin Ham after two seasons

Lakers fire head coach Darvin Ham after two seasons originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham on Friday after two seasons with the team and two playoff exits at the hands of the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

Ham was hired in the summer of 2022 on a four-year deal, after the Lakers parted ways with former head coach Frank Vogel, following three seasons with the Lakers including winning the 2020 NBA Championship inside the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Ham was a first-time head coach when the Lakers hired him. He previously was an assistant coach with the purple and gold from 2011-2013, followed by stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Ham was informed of his release on a phone call Friday morning with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.

"We greatly appreciate Darvin's efforts on behalf of the Lakers and recognize the many accomplishments achieved over the past two seasons including last year's remarkable run to the Western Conference Finals," Pelinka said in a statement released by the team Friday morning. "We all want to thank Darvin for his dedication and positivity. While this was a difficult decision to make, it is the best course of action following a full review of the season. This organization will remain unwavering in its commitment to deliver championship-caliber basketball to Lakers' fans around the world."

Sources tell NBC Los Angeles that the Lakers would prefer a veteran head coach, with former Bucks championship coach Mike Budenholzer and former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts seen as primary candidates, but the team is open to all options.

They could promote assistant head coach and player-favorite Phil Handy, or look to steal Golden State Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, or Nuggets assistant coach David Adelman.

Regardless, of what they do, they will still owe the remaining $10 million of Ham's contract.

Ham was on the hot seat throughout his second season that saw the Lakers peak by winning the NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament in December, only to fall down the standings in the months that followed.

Reports surfaced that Ham had lost the locker room with team officials and players pointing to their head coach's fluctuating rotations, poor game plans, lack of in-game adjustments, and defensive principles as to why the team struggled from mid-December to early February.

Tension reached a fever pitch during a Feb. 28 matchup against the L.A. Clippers that saw the Lakers trail by as many as 21 points before players reportedly huddled together and made their own adjustments to get back in the game.

The player-led moves worked and the Lakers rallied from 19 down in the fourth quarter to win the game 116-112, a result that the players felt was their own doing and not Ham's coaching.

Things only got worse in the playoffs. The Lakers won their play-in tournament matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans and their reward was a rematch with the reigning champion Nuggets.

However, entering their first-round matchup, the Lakers had lost eight consecutive games to Denver, including a four-game sweep in the Western Conference Finals a year ago.

According to The Athletic, during their three regular-season losses to the Nuggets, players privately complained about the coaching staff not having them adequately prepared to stop Denver's late-game offense.

Nothing changed during the five-game playoff series that saw the Lakers lead for over 165 total minutes compared to just 50 for the Nuggets.

After the Lakers blew a 20-point lead in Game 2, Lakers forward Anthony Davis said that the team had moments "where we don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor.”

In an awkward exchange between Games 2 and 3, Ham vehemently disagreed with Davis' assessment and defended his coaches.

"I don’t think it’s [from] us not being organized," Ham said before Game 3. "I think I have incredibly talented coaches all along my staff. We pride ourselves, whether it’s a practice, a shootaround, a film session, a game or whatever, we pride ourselves on being highly efficient and organized. I just chalk that up to being frustrated. It’s an emotional game, the way it ended, and all of that. But I’ll agree to disagree on that one."

Ham's comments were just the beginning of contention between the coach and his players. In Game 4, there were multiple incidents in which LeBron James emphatically encouraged his coach to challenge a referee's out-of-bounds call. In both cases, Ham chose not to. In both cases, James was correct.

The final straw that may have broken the proverbial camel's back came in the third quarter of Game 5 in Denver. The Lakers led 69-60 with six minutes remaining in the quarter. With Davis nursing an injured shoulder, the Nuggets went on a 14-2 run to take a three-point lead. Ham waited over five minutes before he finally called a timeout. In the meantime, the crowd got back into the game, the Nuggets' confidence was sky-high, and the Lakers looked lost.

"After the completion of my second year in this seat, it's been a lot," said Ham reflecting on the last two seasons after the loss. "From the way things started last year, to the moves we made at the deadline, try and make a push on the fly, which we were able to do, fell short to the champs, this same team, we tried to retain our core, which we were able to do, then the injury bug hit us for the first half of the season, then once we started to hit our rhythm a key piece would get injured and have to come out of the lineup. It is what it is, I'm not going to make excuses. I've seen a lot in my first two years in this seat."

Despite the Lakers making the playoffs in Ham's two seasons, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in his first year in charge, the organization believed the Lakers had championship aspirations and realized that window closes as every year James gets older.

LeBron will turn 40 years old this December and may only have a few years left in his Hall of Fame career. Many believe that James can still win another title with the right coach and players around him.

James has a player option at $51.4 million next season but could opt out and become a free agent. The Lakers would like to re-sign James, making sure he ends his career with the Lakers. The team's decision to fire Ham could impact James' pending free agency.