With more drama swirling, let's not ignore the obvious: The Lakers' roster just isn't good enough

We are 19 months removed from Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James tweeting, "So damn EXCITED," about their hiring of first-year head coach Darvin Ham, six months from Anthony Davis telling us, "We definitely have a lot of respect for him in that locker room," following their surprise run to the 2023 Western Conference finals, and three weeks from James declaring, "Right now, where we are in December, I would take it," in the wake of their championship victory in the league's inaugural in-season tournament.

Yet, Lakers players, it seems, now want Ham fired. Or, at the very least, they want to run Ham's team.

The Athletic's Shams Charania and Jovan Buha on Thursday cited "six sources with direct knowledge of the situation" in reporting, "There’s currently a deepening disconnect between Darvin Ham and the Lakers locker room," stemming from what they described as "extreme rotation and starting lineup adjustments."

Let us get this out of the way: Six locker-room sources do not leak "questions about the head coach's standing" unless they want his job hanging in the balance of their current homestand, and they do not go public without the backing of James and Davis. Pay no mind to the fact fellow Klutch Sports Group clients Jarred Vanderbilt and Cam Reddish are among those most impacted by Ham's adjustments, right?

How fickle the NBA can be.

Austin Reaves, whose start in Wednesday's loss to the Miami Heat marked his second since being moved to the bench in early November, has also been frustrated with his role, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Reaves should start. This should not divide a locker room. He is their third-best player. It does not need to be so complicated as six starting lineups in 12 games since the in-season tournament wrapped on Dec. 9.

(Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports illustration)

Then again, arthroscopic left knee surgery will prevent Gabe Vincent from playing until after the All-Star break. His grit and unselfishness could complement Reaves in a starting backcourt. The minutes limit since Vanderbilt's December debut was just recently lifted, and a series of injuries has moved Rui Hachimura in and out of the lineup, leaving in flux a fifth Lakers' starting spot manned mostly by veteran Taurean Prince.

This is not an easy rotation to manage, but locker-room frustration with Ham's handling of it is real, sources said. So, what changed since Lakers executive Rob Pelinka announced at last season's end, "I'm incredibly grateful for Darvin"? Expectations, always outsized in LA, grew once Ham helmed a conference finalist.

The arrival of James in 2018 and the championship he delivered in the Orlando bubble two years later restored the exceptionalism the Lakers lost somewhere during their six straight lottery showings. They still expect to contend every year, when in reality they are 135-136 over their last four regular seasons. They needed play-in tournament victories to sandwich playoff appearances around an 11th-place finish in 2022.

The Lakers' 18-9 record following the trade-deadline acquisitions of D'Angelo Russell and Vanderbilt built a house of cards. How quickly they forgot that both practically became unplayable as the postseason progressed.

Their run to the conference finals was not made without smoke and mirrors. They needed overtime to earn a No. 7 seed, and then beat the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, two teams in utter disarray, before the Denver Nuggets swept them from the playoffs. The in-season tournament raised expectations to another level, even though wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, (injury-ravaged) Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers do not exactly constitute a murderers' row of actual contenders.

The Lakers' 17-18 start to this season should be a surprise to few outside LA. It is astounding how well James is playing at this point in his career, but he is 39 years old. Defense is a burden on him. Davis has not made an All-NBA or All-Defensive team since 2020, largely because injuries and effort have made him a mark of inconsistency. On no other team but the Lakers is Reaves considered a third star for a contender. Most everyone else in the rotation, save for the injured Vincent, has built a career on underwhelming teams.

Firing Ham, who is not a month removed from lauding James as the MVP favorite, feels like more finger-pointing at everywhere but the front office and the roster it built. Frank Vogel served as the Lakers' scapegoat in 2022. Russell Westbrook assumed that mantle last season. The last few weeks alone have seen the Lakers blame fatigue from the in-season tournament, a road-heavy schedule and officiating for a recent 3-9 slide.

Now, it's Ham, who may not even have the rest of this month — during which the Lakers play 11 of their next 12 games at home — to save a job that seemed secure at season's start. Then what? Whether Ham stays or not, the one thing we learned from Thursday's report is that the players have assumed control of the Lakers, and neither the team's owner nor its executives seem all that interested in operating otherwise.

Is this really how James' twilight years will play out on the Lakers? Looking everywhere but within for reasons why a championship is beyond their grasp? This feels beneath a legendary player and franchise.

Then again, there is no more room to fall for the 10th-place Lakers but to another lottery appearance.