March Could Determine Darvin Ham’s Future with Lakers
Darvin Ham, Lakers
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2023-24 NBA season, the bar was high for the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s natural with superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season under first-year coach Darvin Ham. Expectations were further raised early in the season when the Lakers won the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament. However, the Lakers have thus far fallen short of those expectations. That has raised questions about Ham’s job security, making March a critical month for his future with the Lakers.

In fairness, it hasn’t all been bad news for the Lakers this season. They won six of their last seven games before the all-star break, leading to a 9-3 record in February. That has created some semblance of optimism following losing records in December and January. The problem is that while the Lakers are a virtual lock for the play-in tournament, a guaranteed playoff spot is far away.

Not reaching the sixth seed before the end of the regular season could be a deal-breaker for the front office. Recent reports suggest that Ham isn’t at risk of being fired before the end of the season. However, his job could be in jeopardy if the Lakers aren’t among the eight playoff teams in the Western Conference. That means the Lakers must climb up to the sixth seed or perform in must-win games during the play-in tournament for Ham to secure his job for next season.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Ham is losing the locker room and doesn’t have the support of the team’s veteran players, most notably James. The NBA’s first 40,000-point scorer has reportedly told his teammates to ignore Ham’s instructions during time-outs and instead call his plays. While James is undoubtedly good at making friends and influencing people, it’s perhaps not a good sign that he’s doing it at Ham’s expense.

Of course, whether James will remain with the Lakers beyond this season remains to be seen. Ham would prefer to keep his job beyond this season, and for that to happen, the Lakers need to make a run in March. They need to build on what they did in February and perhaps reach an even higher level of play. The biggest obstacle may not be James’s prorated insubordination but rather the schedule the Lakers have to play.

March will end with the start of a six-game road trip that extends into early April. That road trip will begin with the Bucks, a legitimate title contender, and will also feature teams like the Pacers, Nets, and Raptors, who will likely be fighting for a playoff spot or a play-in tournament bid at that point in the season. Playing desperate teams on the road is never easy, even for a team like the Lakers with superstars.

Even before the Lakers go on that road trip, teams like the Timberwolves, Warriors, 76ers, and Pacers will visit Los Angeles. Among those home dates, there is also a challenging trip to Sacramento. Several of the teams the Lakers will face in March have a better record than Los Angeles currently has. That will make it challenging to string wins together as the Lakers did in February.

At this rate, would one place a bet on the Lakers to make the playoffs and secure Ham’s job for next season? Sports betting sites usually love to offer these types of future bets and offer close to even money on this play.

The excellent news for Ham and the Lakers is that they have shown something in recent weeks. The team’s brilliant February record included road wins against the Celtics, Knicks, and Jazz and a 4-1 record in home games. There is certainly a chance the Lakers can keep it going in March. Barring injuries, they certainly have the players to reach the playoffs and potentially make another deep run, just like last year.

The problem is a lot of pressure on Ham, who is clearly on the hot seat. There is much work left to do, and the second-year coach doesn’t have much margin for error. If the Lakers falter against a challenging schedule during March, it could seal Ham’s fate as a coach who will be out of a job at the end of the season.

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