Insider Puts Lakers’ Darvin Ham on Hot Seat, Name-Drops Potential Replacement

Rob Pelinka, Darvin Ham, Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Rob Pelinka and Darvin Ham of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks will only exacerbate the arguments against Head Coach Darvin Ham, even though his team was missing players with injuries.

This time it was Anthony Davis, whose groin injury caused him to miss the loss to Atlanta. But the flow en route to the final result of the game was reminiscent of many other losses this season.

“It may not matter what acquisitions the Lakers make since Ham has also been one of the NBA’s worst coaches and it appears he has lost the trust of his roster,” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote on January 30. “Blame is shared by everyone in charge. Hiring an unproven head coach was a risk by [General Manager Rob] Pelinka and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss from the beginning.”

O’Connor believes the Lakers need a “better head coach”. He also believes that LeBron James could have an idea for a replacement for Ham in mind.

“If LeBron still had the power he did in Cleveland when David Blatt got fired midway through the 2015-16 season … Ham would certainly be a goner by now too, probably in favor of assistant coach Phil Handy,” O’Connor wrote.

O’Connor added that Buss was “too cheap” to hire Los Angeles Clippers head coach Ty Lue in 2019. Lue replaced Doc Rivers for the Clippers one year after the Lakers hired Frank Vogel.

But the idea that Handy could replace Ham is not necessarily new.

Darvin Ham’s Disconnect With Players Sparked Phil Handy Talk

The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Jovan Buha reported on a growing disconnect between Ham and the Lakers locker room. At issue was the head coach’s lineup and rotation changes – some of which were due to injury.

Ham insisted that the Lakers’ injuries were keeping them from developing any consistency either in the lineups or how they performed on the floor.

Players like Austin Reaves rejected that, saying they had enough to be better than they were.

“It doesn’t help Ham’s cause that his messaging has been so different from that of the players in the locker room,” The Athletic’s Sam Amick wrote on January 5. “The other factor here, as is always the case in situations like these, relates to a possible replacement.

“When you talk to people closer to the situation, it’s Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy who is more often brought up as a possible pick. But again, we’re not there quite yet.”

Who Is Phil Handy?

Handy is one of the most highly-respected coaches in basketball. He was a standout at the Univesity of Hawaii in the mid-90s. Handy is also a three-time champion as a coach at the NBA level, including the 2016 Cavaliers and 2020 Lakers teams that won it all with James.

He also helped unlock a new level of production for Lakers forward Rui Hachimura, whom the Lakers acquired ahead of the trade deadline last season.

James – who calls Hachimura his “understudy” – would join them during some of the exercises.

There is already a clear connection between Handy and the players, most notably James. But there are also a lot of the same potential pitfalls that threaten to befall Ham. Handy’s lack of experience as a head coach is chief among them.

Handy said he wasn’t pursuing a position with Vogel and the Phoenix Suns this past offseason, choosing to remain under Ham.

Perhaps there was always a chance that Handy could take over for Ham.