Lakers Rumors: Darvin Ham’s Decision To Bench D’Angelo Russell & Austin Reaves Did Not Sit Well Within Organization
D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Lakers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers had a rollercoaster of a 2023-24 campaign. They won the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, a sign that head coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers could be a contender when the postseason came around, and played phenomenal basketball when their backs were against the wall at the end of the regular season.

That effort was led by resurgent performances by guards D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. But in between the two stretches, the Lakers simply couldn’t put anything together.

From Dec. 12 to Jan. 13, the Lakers went 5-12, including two four-game losing streaks. Ham decided to make some significant lineup tweaks during that stretch, including sending Reaves and Russell to the bench while starting more wing-heavy lineups that included Taurean Prince and Cam Reddish.

The Lakers’ late-season surge almost directly correlated with Ham putting Russell and Reaves back into the starting lineup in mid-January. Russell was placed back in the starting lineup on Jan. 13, and from Jan. 15 to the end of the season, the Lakers went 29-14.

Now that the season is over, reports are coming out that some within the Lakers organization were not just unhappy with the losing streak, but the specific ways that Ham responded to it, according to Shams Charania, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

During the 13-game skid, the Lakers used six starting lineups, including two variations of an all-wing lineup — James, Davis, Taurean Prince, Vanderbilt and either Cam Reddish or Hachimura — for five games (the team went 2-3). The decision to bench both Reaves and Russell, the team’s consensus third- and fourth-best players, did not sit well with many within the organization and locker room, according to team and league sources.

Ham’s decision was viewed as a panic move that backfired, a divergence from the team’s stated goals of developing reps and continuity with the core players and groups from last season. Instead, those lineups and groupings didn’t play as much as they could have, even as bench or closing lineups.

Benching Russell and Reaves seemed to not only set the Lakers back a few weeks on the season, but could be the ultimate downfall for Ham. Had he stayed the course, perhaps the Lakers finish higher than the No. 7 seed and avoid the Denver Nuggets in the first round, leading to a deeper run that could have potentially saved his job.

Now, it feels more than likely that Ham does not begin the next season as Lakers head coach, even though changes need to be made to the roster as well.

D’Angelo Russell ready to use leverage

Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has an $18.7 million player option for the 2024-25 season and he knows that this is a real opportunity for him to have leverage entering an offseason. At this rate, Russell declining the player option and becoming an unrestricted free agent seems to be by far the likeliest outcome.

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