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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Time to trade Russell Westbrook now that Lakers have a coach

This fixed what exactly?

The Lakers have replaced the coach they unceremoniously fired last month, but that coach wasn’t their problem.

No coach could save these Lakers.

Red Auerbach could have fallen out of the sky into their laps and they still wouldn’t be a championship team with the players they have. They still wouldn’t be a playoff team.

Whether Darvin Ham can coach in the NBA almost doesn’t matter at this point. For now, the first-time coach’s appointment is important mainly because it allows the team to address what has to be addressed.

The Lakers can now trade Russell Westbrook.

And look for defenders.

And shooters.

And ballhandlers.

And shot creators.

The Lakers aren’t as old now, at least, with several of their creaky-kneed players out of contract.

Rob Pelinka and LeBron James will now have to repair their Frankenstein roster that resulted in one of the most disastrous seasons in franchise history. The task could very well be impossible.

The Lakers basically have to rebuild a car and all they have is an old engine and a couple of worn-down tires.

Whatever shortcomings they successfully tackle, they will ultimately be dependent on the health of James, who turns 38 in December, and Anthony Davis, who is made of glass.

Which is probably why the hiring of Ham didn’t set off any fireworks in the greater Los Angeles area.

But the Lakers have to start somewhere. This unspectacular coaching search could be that somewhere.

They managed to not embarrass themselves again, which, sadly, counts as a step forward.

They got lucky the last time they were in this position, as a buffoonish process resulted in them hiring Frank Vogel.

But before landing Vogel, they lost one of their leading candidates when Monty Williams accepted an offer from the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers were later rejected by Tyronn Lue.

Vogel won them a championship, but the amateurish search was indicative of problems in the organization. The team’s lack of a vision and identity contributed to Pelinka taking James’ advice and trading for Westbrook. By the end of this season, the franchise’s culture was again in question, as Vogel learned he would be fired over Twitter.

The perception was that Pelinka or someone else in the front office put more value on gaining the favor of a well-known reporter than treating Vogel with the respect he deserved.

At minimum, in hiring Ham, they avoided making a spectacle of themselves again.

Three weeks before the NBA draft, they have a coach in place.

Ham will be granted a significant degree of autonomy, with The Times’ Dan Woike and Broderick Turner reporting that he will be allowed to choose his coaching staff. Ham was previously an assistant coach with the Lakers but will have an opportunity to introduce new ideas to an organization that has often operated incestuously.

Terry Stotts and Kenny Atkinson were the other finalists interviewed by the Lakers, who chose the coach who offered them the most flexibility in the 48-year-old Ham.

Ham won an NBA championship as a player with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks last year. He commands respect of veteran players, as evidenced by how James reacted to his hiring.

“So damn EXCITED!!!!!!!!” James tweeted. “Congrats and welcome Coach DHam!!”

James, who is under contract for another year, is eligible for a contract extension this offseason.

As a rookie coach, Ham can also grow with a young team in case James bolts after the upcoming season and forces the Lakers to rebuild.

This kind of worst-case scenario isn’t what the Lakers and their fans are used to thinking about. The vision of Ham in a Luke Walton-like role won’t inspire the Lakers faithful, nor should it.

But the Lakers can now start reconstructing their roster and restoring their reputation, which is a small but significant step in front of where they were a day earlier.

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