How Darvin Ham landed the Lakers' head coaching job

·5 min read
Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday.
Longtime assistant coach Darvin Ham has landed his first head coaching job with the Lakers. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The Lakers hired Darvin Ham to be their next coach, sources told The Times on Friday.

The decision came after Ham met with the Lakers on Thursday in Los Angeles, capping a process that began April 11 when the team fired Frank Vogel following its 33-49 season. The deal reportedly is for four years.

Ham, 48, spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, winning a championship last year. He had an eight-year career in the NBA as a player, winning a title against the Lakers with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

The Lakers have not announced the hire and declined comment.

“So damn excited,” LeBron James tweeted Friday evening. “Congrats and welcome Coach Dham!!”

According to sources with knowledge of the process, Ham will be given a large amount of autonomy, including the ability to choose his own coaching staff. He’s expected to meet with current Lakers staff members next week.

Ham impressed the Lakers with his ability to communicate and hold people accountable, according to sources, a crucial element in their search to replace Vogel.

“In terms of what this team needs right now, we feel like with, obviously, superstars on our team, we want a strong voice that’s able to inspire the players to play at the highest level of competition every night,” general manager Rob Pelinka said after the team fired Vogel. “And I think that’s going to be one of the resounding qualities that we look for in terms of holding everybody from the top player on our team to the 15th man to a degree of accountability.”

Sources said the Lakers hoped to find a candidate that could receive organization-wide support, something that wasn’t always the case with Vogel despite winning the 2020 championship.

The Lakers, sources said, interviewed former Portland coach Terry Stotts this week and planned on speaking to Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson, but after meeting with Ham on Thursday, the Lakers decided they'd found their man.

In his almost 10 years as an assistant to Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, Ham built a reputation for his ability to relate to players with passion, honesty and competitive drive. He’s considered a well-rounded coach that has slightly more defensive expertise.

Ham’s journey to the NBA was unlikely, playing only his senior year of high school basketball. He attended Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., for one season before transferring to Texas Tech.

He achieved some national fame in the 1996 NCAA tournament when he shattered the backboard with a dunk against North Carolina. A photo of the slam landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Ham went undrafted but signed with Denver, beginning an NBA career that included stops in Indiana, Washington, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Detroit. In 417 games, he averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.4 minutes. Ham also played in Spain and the Philippines.

After working in the developmental league, Ham began his NBA coaching career with the Lakers as a player development coach in 2011, working for Mike Brown.

In 2013, Ham went to Atlanta to work for Budenholzer, beginning a relationship with him that would continue on to Milwaukee.

Darvin Ham is the 28th head coach in Lakers history.
Darvin Ham is the 28th head coach in Lakers history. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

His path from high school to the NBA as a role player and longtime assistant gives him a wide base of knowledge as he’s carved out a career in professional basketball.

He’ll be the 28th coach in Lakers history and the fifth Black coach. Ham is the second first-time coach the Lakers have hired in their last three searches. The team hired former Laker Luke Walton in 2016 following his successful stint as an assistant and interim coach in Golden State. Walton went 98-148 with the Lakers.

The search to land Ham was largely uneventful, a change from the drama-filled process of replacing Walton in 2019. During that process, one favorite, Monty Williams, elected to take the job coaching the Phoenix Suns. Another, Tyronn Lue, couldn’t agree with the Lakers on key points such as salary, contract length and coaching staff decisions.

Initially, league sources thought the Lakers would chase established coaches like Utah’s Quin Snyder, Toronto’s Nick Nurse and Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers. All three, however, are under contract, and with sparse draft capital, the Lakers lacked the compensation to acquire a coach from another team.

Snyder, sources said, wasn’t interested in a move to the Lakers. While Rivers seemed like a serious option for some Lakers decision makers, 76ers president Daryl Morey said Rivers would remain with the team after they were eliminated from the playoffs by Miami.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who interviewed with the Lakers in 2019, also was never a serious option because of his desire to remain with the Wolverines to coach his two sons.

In their search, the team spoke with Ham, Stotts, Atkinson, former NBA coach Mark Jackson, Milwaukee assistant Charles Lee and Toronto assistant Adrian Griffin before tightening the search to Ham, Stotts and Atkinson.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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