How can new coach Darvin Ham help the Los Angeles Lakers get back in NBA title contention?
On Friday, just before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Lakers have decided on the longtime Milwaukee Bucks assistant as the replacement for Frank Vogel, who was fired on April 11.
Ham came with Mike Budenholzer to Milwaukee from the Atlanta Hawks and was part of the Bucks' overnight development into contenders, culminating in the 2021 title.
As recently as 2020, the Lakers were still center stage at this point of the playoffs en route to the 17th championship in franchise history. In the subsequent two years, they've won just two playoff games, missing out on even the play-in tournament by finishing this season 11th in the Western Conference.
Undoubtedly, the Lakers' problems began with a deeply flawed roster following last summer's trade for guard Russell Westbrook. How can Ham try to make the most of a group that looks unlikely to change dramatically? And how can the Lakers' front office put their new coach in better position to succeed than Vogel?
Let's look at the task ahead in Lakerland.
How Ham can maximize Westbrook
The first challenge for Ham and his coaching staff -- which will include assistants with NBA head-coaching experience, per Wojnarowski -- is to maximize Westbrook's value during the final year of his contract. Giving up draft picks to trade Westbrook or taking on bad longer-term contracts makes little sense for the Lakers, so Ham should plan to have him on the roster.
The best way to maximize the former MVP is to make sure Westbrook plays with four shooters at all times. Last season, lineups with Westbrook and either Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan were outscored by 8.6 points per 100 possessions outside of garbage time with an offensive rating that ranked in the 12th percentile league-wide according to Cleaning the Glass. And while the Lakers were always better off with smaller lineups, those with Howard or Jordan but not Westbrook were more competitive (minus-4.3 net rating with an offensive rating near the NBA average).
Having seen the way adding stretch-5 Brook Lopez opened things up for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Milwaukee offense, Ham probably doesn't need to be sold on the value of shooting. Since there's nobody like that on the Lakers' roster or likely to be added this offseason, starting Anthony Davis at center is the easiest way to accomplish this.