5 Darvin Ham replacements for Lakers if LeBron's season ends in disappointment again

If the Los Angeles Lakers flame out, we should expect a new head coach in purple and gold next season.
Darvin Ham, Los Angeles Lakers
Darvin Ham, Los Angeles Lakers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers have won seven of their last 10, but back-to-back losses with the postseason in view have the fanbase on edge.

It was the Golden State Warriors who came to town on Tuesday night in a game with serious Play-In Tournament implications. The Lakers didn't lose — they were run off the floor as Klay Thompson (27 points) and Stephen Curry (23 points, eight assists) negated an excellent performance from LeBron James (33 points, 11 assists).

Few Lakers caught more heat than Darvin Ham. Even with Anthony Davis sidelined, this was a must-win game and the Lakers' coach dropped the ball. It has been a season of baffling decisions for Ham, who has struggled to settle on a stable, consistent rotation. Los Angeles didn't figure out its starting lineup until recently, and Ham's rotations completely fell apart with Davis out of commission.

Tyler Watts over at Lake Show Life summed up Ham's most egregious misstep quite well. These are the sort of completely obvious, avoidable mistakes Ham has stumbled into all season.

"Los Angeles was down by a significant margin for most of the game but cut the lead to five with 3:10 left in the third quarter. They had some momentum when coach Ham pulled LeBron and went with a lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, and Jaxson Hayes to close the stanza. Golden State went on a 10-0 run over the final two minutes to push their edge to 17."

So, let's say the Lakers flame out again. It's distinctly possible. With LeBron James' future hanging in the balance, one has to believe Darvin Ham would get the boot. If that happens, here are the best realistic replacements.

5. Lakers can hire Gregg Popovich's right-hand man, Brett Brown

Brett Brown has served a combined 11 years as Gregg Popovich's assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. Sandwiched between two stints in the Alamo is a seven-year run as the Philadelphia 76ers' head coach from 2013-20. Brown wasn't the architect of 'The Process' in Philly — that title belongs to Sam Hinkie — but he was the executor.

On the surface, Brown wasn't very successful with the Sixers. His career record of 221-334 probably excludes him from any coaching search algorithm. But, Brown never got a fair shake in Philly. The record was poor by design. He coached some of the worst teams in NBA history. When he wasn't workshopping Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel lineups, Brown was tasked with squeezing consistent go-to scoring out of Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams.

Brown was a beloved figure in Philadelphia until the bright lights of the postseason intervened. After three flubbed playoff runs, Brown was axed in favor of Doc Rivers, who continued the tradition of second round exits. Maybe it wasn't a Brett Brown problem. Maybe Brown was the superior coach all along.

Whatever he lacks in the win department from his Philadelphia tenure, Brown makes up for with his winning experience from San Antonio. Brown also brings a ton of player development knowledge to the table. He was there to guide Joel Embiid to greatness. Ben Simmons played the best basketball of his career under Brown.

He's an odd choice for the Lakers, admittedly, but Brown has real chops and he should be able to command the respect of a locker room through the Pop connection. He's one of the more accomplished assistants in the sport and a better head coach than he will ever get credit for. Los Angeles would be wise to place a call. Brown deserves another shot with a competitive roster.

4. Lakers can hire Chris Quinn, A.K.A. 'Mini Erik Spoelstra'

Erik Spoelstra is the gold standard for NBA coaches. In addition to two rings from the 'Heatles' era, Spo is responsible to keeping Miami's head above water in the years following James' departure. We can credit Pat Riley for his deft maneuvering in the front office, but no coach more consistently gets his team to play above its means. The Heat went to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed last season, with Gabe Vincent starting in the backcourt. Los Angeles is well aware of the challenges inherent to such a setup.

The Lakers won't be able to land Spoelstra. He essentially has a lifetime contract lined up in Miami. He's going to stay on those sunny beaches and pester every single Eastern Conference coach for years, maybe decades to come. What the Lakers can do is hire Spoelstra's protege.

Chris Quinn has worked his way up the chain of command in Miami since he signed on as an assistant in 2014. Before that, Quinn enjoyed a nice seven-year NBA career at point guard. It's not a coincidence that most players-turned-coaches are point guards. Quinn thinks the game naturally, and he has thrived under Speolstra's wing in South Beach.

ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz once cited a league source who dubbed Quinn as Spoelstra's "mini-me."

"Quinn is a point guard's point guard who has excelled at every task en route to the lead assistant's chair in Miami. Ask Heat insiders who most embodies the team's culture, and Quinn is commonly the answer (one league source affectionately referred to Quinn as Spoelstra's "mini-me" for his temperament and organizational skills). He's an emotionally stable leader who inspires confidence in players, as revealed when he filled in for Spoelstra as head coach for a stint in March and April. Quinn received his first interview for a head-coach job with Indiana in 2020, while Washington gave him a look in 2021."

That is the type of person every organization needs. Not only has Quinn learned from the greatest coach of the modern era, but he was in Miami for the LeBron years. He knows James well, and one has to believe James — ever the proponent of Spo nowadays — would welcome his understudy with open arms.

3. Mike Budenholzer is undeniably competent and would raise the Lakers' floor

Before landing his first head coaching gig, Mike Budenholzer spent 17 years on the Spurs' sideline next to Gregg Popovich. There isn't a more prosperous coaching tree in the NBA. Even as Pop passes the torch to a younger generation, smart NBA front offices are all over the Spurs' assistants pool. Or, more often nowadays, the assistants of a former Pop assistant.

Budenholzer has now accrued a decade of head coaching experience, split evenly between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. Budenholzer famously led Atlanta to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015. He transformed the league's ultimate underdog into a legitimate title threat, coaxing four All-Star berths out of a lineup without traditional star power.

In Milwaukee, Budenholzer helped Giannis Antetokounmpo realize his potential. The Jason Kidd era was a mess that Bud quickly cleaned up. He developed a reputation for stubbornness and inflexibility in the postseason, but Budenholzer, with the exception of his inaugural campaign in Atlanta, never posted a losing record in the regular season. His career record of 801-484 (.602) is flat-out elite.

Few coaches offer a higher floor and it's frankly embarrassing that Budenholzer isn't coaching somewhere this season. Well over half the league would look meaningfully better with Bud on the sideline. He has a knack for fashioning elite defenses. He would get the most out of Anthony Davis on that end of the floor, just as he did with Giannis and Brook Lopez in Milwaukee, or Al Horford and Paul Millsap in Atlanta.

Bud won the championship in 2020, so the "he can't win in the playoffs" argument falls flat. Sure, he wasn't perfect in Milwaukee, but Budenholzer's teams execute their principles at a high level and don't blow aimlessly in the wind like the Darvin Ham Lakers tend to do. So, this would be a meaningful upgrade. Ham is Bud's former assistant, but sometimes you need to go straight to the source.

2. Lakers can bring Mike D'Antoni out of near-retirement

Mike D'Antoni should have been able to line up his choice of coaching jobs after the Houston Rockets fired him. Just look at how Houston fared in his absence. And yet, D'Antoni has been on the brink of retirement in recent years, floating between various assistant or front office roles. He is currently a "coaching advisor" for the New Orleans Pelicans, which reads like blatant disrespect toward one of the great coaches of our generation.

Age is a factor here, as D'Antoni is 72 years old. He might not have the appetite to coach much longer and teams in search of building a sustainable culture could be disinclined to engage with him. Not to say the Lakers shouldn't be inclined to build a sustainable culture, but there isn't a more win-now team in the league. Los Angeles isn't "winning now" very well, but the pressure is on. LeBron James only has a couple years left in the tank and he deserves to go out swinging.

Los Angeles can justify the short-term nature of investing in D'Antoni, whose offensive mind is rivaled by few others. He is flawed, just as any coach is. D'Antoni has developed a reputation for middling defense, although that certainly wasn't an issue in Houston. He has also been criticized for his handling of big men in the past. Primarily during his brief stint with the Lakers, when he tried to coach Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, and it imploded in the most glorious fashion.

That less than ideal taste in the mouths of Laker fans across the world probably makes D'Antoni a controversial candidate. He might not want to dip his toes back in that scalding water. But, if the Lakers come with enough money and vow to let bygones be bygones, we know D'Antoni can coach.

Some will point to Anthony Davis and try to draw parallels to Dwight, but that would be woefully misguided. Davis does not require copious post-up touches to be happy. He's at his best deployed as a rim-runner and play-finisher, and LeBron would surely thrive as the decision-making fulcrum of the D'Antoni system. This is a fun match and D'Antoni would improve the Lakers' offensive execution tenfold — just admit it.

1. Becky Hammon is right there, and the Lakers should capitalize

Becky Hammon has been on the interview circuit for NBA head coaching jobs for a while. She has also been leading the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA for two years now, with a very impressive 60-16 record to her name. Oh, and she's two-for-two on WNBA championships. Having the Aces' loaded roster at her disposal helps, but Hammon has very clearly proven her coaching chops in a lead role.

Hammon is yet another disciple of Gregg Popovich. You've noticed the trend by now. Those folks tend to be successful. She's also a former player — a six-time All-Star and Hall of Fame point guard who has long been able to think the game at a high level. It's obviously past time to have a woman head coach in the NBA, but beyond that, Hammon is deeply qualified and has earned the requisite respect to coach in Los Angeles.

She spent time prominently on the sideline in San Antonio and coached in Summer League, where she also won the championship. She has been around NBA stars, worked in player development. There's really not much to knock her for at this point. How many repeat champions are coaching in the NBA today?

Hammon is perfectly content in Las Vegas. She has said she's not going to "beg for a job" anymore after years of being looked over by NBA teams. But, if the Lakers come knocking with a serious offer and the level of respect Hammon has earned, she could end up coaching basketball's prestige franchise with a chance to break a few barriers in the process.

Los Angeles needs to consider all its options if the season ends with another dull thud. Darvin Ham has proven time and time again that he's not the right coach for this Lakers squad. Hammon has all the requisite experience on winning teams to convince the higher-ups that she can lead Los Angeles where the franchise wants to go before LeBron hangs up his shoes.

THE WHITEBOARD. Warriors have a small-ball advantage on the Lakers. Warriors have a small-ball advantage on the Lakers. dark