NBA Weekend Dime-dropping ...
Our around-the-league weekly notes package leads off with a look at a few coaches just getting started
LOS ANGELES — There are only three head coaches in today's NBA doing the job as a Year 1 first-timer: Utah's Will Hardy, Boston’s Joe Mazzulla and the Los Angeles Lakers' Darvin Ham.
Their names have come up a lot lately during the opening thrust of the season even though, especially for Hardy and Ham, their situations could scarcely be more different.
As covered here in May, Ham interviewed for nine head coaching vacancies before scoring the opportunity, at age 48, to coach 37-year-old LeBron James and the Lakers.
It has quickly become obvious that Ham couldn't have landed a much more challenging assignment. Despite one significant triumph on his résumé already — he has managed to sell former MVP Russell Westbrook on a sixth-man role few envisioned Westbrook ever accepting — Ham awoke Monday with a record of 3-10 ... and with James already dealing with a worrisome adductor strain ... and with the daily task of managing a roster woefully short on the trusted shooters and wing depth ideally suited to lifting the Lakers out of their considerable hole.
On top of everything, because head coaches function as team spokesmen in the modern game more than they ever have before, Ham is the one who is asked to explain, over and over and over, why the Lakers and their various future Hall of Famers avoided slinking into Week 5 of the 2022-23 campaign with a share of league's worst record only by beating Brooklyn on Sunday night to halt a five-game skid.
There is already a palpable fear inside (what I still like to call) Staples Center that the Purple & Gold are careening toward a draft in June in which the New Orleans Pelicans are gleefully positioned to swap picks with L.A. as a condition of the Anthony Davis blockbuster deal in July 2019.
Give Ham this much, though: He never shies away from the mic or the glare whenever he's thrust into spokesman mode. It’s doubly impressive when you remember he’s a rookie coach who pretty much never found himself in the spotlight as an NBA role player for eight seasons, followed by 11 seasons as an NBA assistant coach with three teams, before taking over the club that might be under the most unrelenting microscope in #thisleague.
Can it last? Can he maintain that sense of optimism if the hole gets deeper? I spent the week in Los Angeles and went to several Ham news conferences — almost all of which included some form of insistence from the now 49-year-old that this treacherous initiation can't wound him.
When asked at one of those media sessions how he was coping with the team's struggles, Ham loudly scoffed at the idea that he's in a troublesome spot, bellowing with pride: "I'm the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers."
"I’m thrilled," Ham continued. "I’m blessed, man. I wake up every morning, I see the sun in L.A. and I get to go to work with a bunch of beautiful people, man. I get disappointed, but I never get down. I never get that frustrated where I’m like, 'Woe is me.' Nah.
"We got some things we need to fix and we’ll fix them. And that’s the challenge of sitting in this seat. I’m thrilled to be here in front of all you beautiful people and I have a beautiful job. I get to work with beautiful human beings and coach beautiful human beings. I’m good, man. I’m good."
That was Ham on Wednesday night after a loss to the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers. On Friday night, after a loss to Sacramento that squandered a four-3s night from Westbrook, Ham conceded that "it sucks now taking these Ls" … only to make sure to slip that "now" in to convey his belief that, despite against all the evidence to the contrary, it won't stay this way.
True to form, after Anthony Davis rumbled for 37 points and 18 rebounds against Brooklyn’s size-challenged front line to spark a win that the beleaguered Lakers really needed with LeBron sidelined by that adductor strain, Ham said he came away "super-duper encouraged."
Now contrast what's happening in Lakerland to Salt Lake City. Hardy's first month's worth of regular-season games has been absorbing for circumstances that have a whole league flummoxed.
During training camp, more than a few of Hardy's peers in the coaching business could be heard wondering aloud if he was secretly regretting his acceptance of the Utah job, given what happened to Ime Udoka in Boston. Had Hardy stayed as an assistant coach with the Celtics, he presumably would have been elevated to head coach rather than Mazzulla once Udoka was suspended for the season for a relationship with a female co-worker that Celtics officials deemed to be in violation of team policy. Hardy's departure to succeed Quin Snyder with the Jazz, at age 34, positioned Mazzulla, also 34, to take over for Udoka.