The Los Angeles Lakers are entering a new era under recently hired head coach Darwin Ham. On Monday, they officially introduced Ham with a press conference where he shared his insights on his plan for the team heading into next season. Ham touched on how he envisions the Lakers finding their identity on the defensive side of the ball, how he views Russell Westbrook’s fit on the team next season, and expectations he has for Anthony Davis.
Here are some highlights from Ham’s press conference.
1. Ham’s commitment to defense
If you watched the Lakers last season then you know that they struggled heavily on the defensive side of the ball. A year after finishing with the top-ranked defense in the league, LA stumbled to 21st in the 2021-22 season, struggling to stop anyone from scoring on them. Prior to this season, the Lakers ranked in the top five of defense for two straight years, so this season’s complete fall off was jarring to witness.
Some of that drop off has to do with personnel, but that’s not an adequate enough reason for the defense to surrender 138 points to a Houston Rockets offense that ranked 26th in the league this year. During Monday’s press conference, Ham made a point to consistently talk about how he plans to revamp LA’s offense next season.
“Defensively is where you’re going to see us make our biggest leaps and bounds,” Ham said. “We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball or we don’t have a chance to do anything. The offense won’t even matter if we don’t get stops.”
Ham also touched on accountability on the defensive side of the ball for everyone on the roster, from LeBron James all the way down to the last guy in the rotation.
“My goal is continue with the development of our younger players, and make those guys comfortable,” Ham said. “Everything has to be a team effort. If there’s mistakes made I have to be able to coach [James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook] like I do the rest of the roster. We have a saying, ‘facts over feelings.’ Once you see the film and it’s a fact that you missed your assignment, then that has to be pointed out. If I can’t point that out to one of our Big 3, then the last man or someone in our rotation won’t take what we’re doing seriously. It has to be consistent across the board. “
2. Westbrook’s fit with the team
Westbrook’s first season with the Lakers was disappointing to say the least. He struggled to adapt to a new role alongside LeBron, and it resulted in a heavy amount of criticism – some deserved, some not! – from almost everyone on the outside looking in. It has led to rumors about his status with the team heading into next season, but for right now he’s still with the Lakers. Ham vouched for Westbrook – who was in attendance at the press conference – and his illustrious career in the league, while mentioning some small details about conversations they’ve had since he was hired.
“Don’t get it messed up, Russell is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there’s still a ton left in that tank,” Ham said. ‘I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off … Russ and I have had some really, really great 1-on-1 conversations, and the biggest word that came out of those discussions was sacrifice. We’ re gonna sacrifice whatever we have to do, and it’s not just Russ. There’s gonna be sacrifices LeBron has to make, that AD has to make, all the way down the line of the rest of our roster. “
Ham also touched on what type of role he envisions Westbrook having next season. Though he was asked about the possibility of Westbrook coming off the bench, Ham did a good job evading that specific question.
“In terms of what his role is gonna be, I’m gonna expect him to be the same tenacious, high-energy player that he’s been his entire career,” Ham said. “A lot of it now may happen without the ball in his hands, most of it now may happen on the defensive end. But again, we have to sacrifice. There’s no achieving anything without all parties sharing the load, sacrificing and depending on one another. “
3. Anthony Davis at the center of it all
It was a down year across the board for the Lakers, and Davis’ season was certainly a part of that. It wasn’t that AD had a particularly bad season, he was still a scoring and rebounding force, while being impactful on the defensive end. However, he played in just 40 games, after coming off a season where he only suited up for 36 games. Since the Lakers won a championship in 2020, Davis’ health has been a concern. While Ham can’t control if Davis gets injured, he recognized how important his production is to LA’s success.
“We’ve all seen what can happen when he’s healthy, when he’s playing at a high level, when he’s in a good rhythm,” Ham said. “We saw it in the bubble. His skillset, size, versatility, defensive acumen, his relentlessness. His ability to give multiple efforts defensively is key. It’s going to be the foundation of the type of standard we set within the ‘Darwin Ham era . ‘
“… LeBron is going to be LeBron, Russ is going to be Russ, but we need consistency out of Anthony Davis. We need him to be healthy, we need him to be in a good mental space, and we need him to be as consistent as possible, back to playing that championship-type basketball. “
When Davis is healthy he has the ability to play like one of the best players in the league. The issue is that AD isn’t always healthy, and sometimes when he is, there’s a tendency for him to be ineffective on offense. There’s also the argument over what position he should be playing. Though Davis has primarily played power forward for most of his career, the last couple of seasons in LA made it clear that he should be the team’s starting center. Not because he can’t play power forward, because he absolutely can and has been an All-Star at that position, but because the Lakers don’t have a quality center to stick alongside Davis for that to make sense.
Last season Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan suited up next to him in the starting lineup, two guys who are nowhere near the caliber of a starting center anymore in this league. If LA got someone this summer who could be a serviceable starting center, then putting AD at power forward makes sense. But if not, then Davis should be the team’s primary center, and Ham alluded that the system he plans to deploy will necessitate Davis at the center.
“It starts on the defensive end, and from there we’re gonna build back towards the offense,” Ham said. “I think the type of spacing, a four-out, one-in style, which I’m gonna implement, is gonna help all parties.”
Running this type of offense, which will feature four players out on the perimeter and a post-up player in the paint, will give Davis the space to operate from the mid-range, and make decisions out of the post. It sounds like a great plan, we’ll just have to see if Ham and the Lakers are able to execute it well next season.