Under newly recruited head coach Darvin Ham, the Los Angeles Lakers are starting a new era. On Monday, they held a news conference to officially introduce Ham, during which he revealed his thoughts on the team’s plans for next season. Ham talked about how he thinks the Lakers will establish their defensive identity next season, how he thinks Russell Westbrook will fit in with the team, and what he expects from Anthony Davis.
The following are some of the key points from Ham’s press conference.
Good Defensive Commitment
If you followed the Lakers last season, you’ll recall that they battled mightily on the defensive end of the court. After finishing the previous season as the league’s best defense, L.A. fell to 21st in the 2021-22 season, struggling to stop anyone from scoring on them. The Lakers had been in the top five in defense for two years in a row before to this season, so the full turnaround was shocking to see.
Some of the drop-off might be attributed to personnel changes, but that isn’t a good enough excuse for the defense to allow 138 points to a Houston Rockets attack that finished 26th in the NBA this season. During Monday’s news conference, Ham made a big point of emphasizing how he intends to overhaul Los Angeles’ 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.”
Everyone on the squad, from LeBron James to the last person in the rotation, is held accountable on the defensive side of the ball, according to Ham.
“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.”
He Gels Well with the Squad
To say the least, Westbrook’s first season with the Lakers was a letdown. He struggled to adjust to a new role alongside LeBron, which drew a barrage of criticism from practically everyone on the outside looking in some warranted, some not! It’s sparked speculation regarding his future with the team moving into next season, but he’s still with the Lakers for the time being. Ham spoke highly of Westbrook, who was present at the news conference, and his stellar history in the NBA, while also disclosing a few little facts from their chats 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 A.D. has to make, all the way down the line of the rest of our roster.”
Ham also talked about what kind of role he thinks Westbrook will play next season. Despite being asked about the idea of Westbrook coming off the bench, Ham deflected the topic well.
“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.”
In the Center of it All Anthony Davis
The Lakers had a terrible year overall, and Davis’ season was likely a contributing factor. It wasn’t that A.D. had a horrible season; he was still a scoring and rebounding machine who also had an impact on defense. However, he only appeared in 40 games after a season in which he only appeared in 36 games. Davis’ health has been a concern since the Lakers won the championship in 2020. While Ham has no influence over whether Davis is hurt, he understands how crucial Davis’ productivity is to L.A.’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 ‘Darvin 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 potential to be one of the league’s finest players. The problem is that A.D. isn’t always in good health, and even when he is, he may be unproductive on offense. There’s also the debate about which position he should play. Davis has spent much of his career as a power forward, but his last two seasons in Los Angeles have proven that he should be the team’s main center. Not because he can’t play power forward; he can and has been an All-Star there, but because the Lakers don’t have a good center to play with Davis.
Last season, he was paired with Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan in the starting lineup, two players who are nowhere near the level of a starting center in this league. If L.A. can find someone who can be a reliable starting center this summer, moving A.D. at power front makes sense. If not, Davis should be the team’s main centre, and Ham hinted that the system he expects to install will require Davis to play at that position.
“It starts on the defensive end, and from there we’re gonna build back toward 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.”