Lakers’ Playoff Hopes Will Live Or Die With Rookie Head Coach Darvin Ham

5 min readMar 3, 2023

The Lakers’ win last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell was nothing short of a ‘must win’ game Los Angeles needed to keep their playoff dreams alive.

With LeBron James out for at least half and possibly the rest of the regular season, the Lakers’ rapidly diminishing hopes of making the playoffs and enjoying a championship run are now hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Realistically, the Lakers’ only remaining path to the playoffs is an inspired Davis taking the baton from an injured James and somehow, someway finding a way to win enough games to make the Play-In Tournament.

With LeBron’s return uncertain, the season is now in the hands of Darvin Ham. The Lakers will live or die on his ability to motivate players, play the right lineups and rotations, make the right adjustments, and win a title.
Frankly, it will take a perfect storm of good-news wins and injury-free games for Ham and the Lakers to even have a shot at making the playoffs but the parity in the West still leaves the door open for a Lakers run.

So let’s take a hard look at how Darvin Ham has grown over the past year and see if his coaching strengths as a motivator, lineup and rotation creator, and in-game adjuster have become good enough to win a ring.

Ham’s Motivational Ability?

Darvin Ham’s greatest strength and asset as a basketball coach is his ability to build strong personal relationships with his players and convince them to buy in to his vision of how the game of basketball should be played.

Earlier in the season, we saw Ham’s interpersonal skills first hand as he convinced Westbrook to come off the bench and motivated Davis and then James to elevate their games and carry the team while the other was out.
More importantly, Ham was able to motivate the players on the Lakers’ roster to play hard and compete. There were very few of the blowouts that marked Frank Vogel’s last season. Lakers were gritty bunch under Ham.

We saw more of the kind of job Darvin Ham has done integrating the six new Lakers players in the big win over the OKC Thunder last night without their top three stars in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell.
Ham played basically a 9-man rotation with a few throw-in minutes for Max Christie. The Lakers won 123–117 with Schroder, Brown, and Reaves all playing big roles and 9 of the 10 Lakers who played scoring over 5 points.

Despite six new players and missing his three best players, Darvin Ham had the Lakers ready to win last night and his ability to get players to buy in and play hard for him bodes well for the Lakers’ LeBron-less stretch run.

Ham’s Lineups and Rotations?

It’s hard to fairly evaluate Darvin Ham’s early lineups and rotations because of the flawed roster given him by Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office. Having said that, Ham’s rookie rotations likely cost the Lakers a few losses.

While Anthony Davis will be the key to whether the Lakers can finish the regular season and make the playoffs without LeBron James, rookie head coach Darvin Ham’s lineup and rotation decisions will be just as critical.
The hope after the trade deadline was the new-look Lakers would be able to finish the season with a consistent starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Anthony Davis.

With James possibly not returning until the playoffs and no timeframe set yet for Russell’s return, Ham will be responsible for deciding who replaces James and Russell to start and close and who will be in the main rotation.
Hopefully, the new-look roster is better balanced and has more options for size, shooting, and defense at every position that Ham should find it much easier to develop a solid starting and closing lineup and related rotations.

Ham will need to shake his rookie jitters and make sound decisions on who will start and close games and be in his middle of game rotations, which should be much easier now that the roster has been completely rebuilt.

Ham’s In-Game Adjustments?

Making in-game adjustments is clearly Darvin Ham’s greatest area that needs improvement. While it is an expected weakness for a rookie head coach, it’s also what Ham needs to improve most for the Lakers to win.

It appears part of Ham’s coaching philosophy is to focus on doing what the team should be doing before giving up and changing strategy or scheme, which has been a criticism his mentor Mike Budenholzer has also heard.
Ham was justifiably criticized for waiting until the fourth quarter to try having Jarred Vanderbilt defend Ja Morant after he torched the Lakers for 28 points in the third quarter. Or for having AD stop playing drop coverage.

Lately, however, there have been some good positive signs that Ham is starting to be less reluctant to try changes to mix things up. He went to the zone against the Thunder and the players he closed with won the game.
Darvin also deserves credit for how he handled Schroder’s embarrassing quitting in the middle of a play in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. Ham immediately pulled Dennis and got him ready to go last night.

Darvin Ham’s still going to make rookie mistakes but he’s learning fast and has increasingly shown to be capable of handling what is obviously a very challenging head coaching job. His in-game adjustments are improving.

Ham’s Chances To Win Championship?

The one thing that gives Lakers fans the most hope Darvin Ham can lead this team to the playoffs and beyond ishow hard players play for him and how they never quit, whether superstars and back-end-of-rotation guys.

Last night Lakers win over the Thunder without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell and with five new players who weren’t here a week ago in the rotation was a tribute to the hard work of Darvin Ham.
The Lakers were not only ready to play but ready to win without their stars. Game balls to Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown, Jr., and Austin Reaves, who bounced back great after tough games in the Grizzlies’ loss in Memphis.

There’s been considerable controversy about the Lakers having Anthony Davis take a long-term planned ‘load management’ game off last night after Darvin Ham had said all of his players would play every game unless hurt.
In the end, critics thought the Lakers should have had AD sit out against the Grizzlies but play against the Thunder. The alternative, which makes more sense, is the Lakers played Davis against Denver hoping to win both games.

The Lakers are understandably moving towards more load management for James and Davis to keep them fresher and heathier. Ham’s development of the rest of the roster could be the key to the Lakers winning #18.

If you enjoyed this article and ant to share your ideas and comments with other Lakers fans, please join us at Lakerholics.Com.




Lakers fanatic since 1971 when team traded for Wilt Chamberlain. Founder, editor, and publisher of, a community for smart informed Lakers fans.