Plaschke: Hasty firing of coach Darvin Ham is more Lakers madness

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham talks with forwards Taurean Prince (12) and Anthony Davis.

Less than two years ago, LeBron James loved Darvin Ham.

“So damn excited,” he tweeted when the Lakers hired their rookie coach.

Less than a year ago, Rob Pelinka was thankful for Darvin Ham.

“I’m incredibly grateful for Darvin, mostly because of just his character and makeup,” Pelinka said to reporters, later adding, “And it’s easy just to focus on Xs and O’s. But I think when you lead with character, and you get a locker room to rally around belief, that’s a special intangible skill that I don’t think a lot of coaches have. That was on full display for Darvin this year.”

On Friday, the Lakers whacked Darvin Ham.

Say what?

Read more: Lakers fire coach Darvin Ham in the wake of first-round playoff loss

“While this was a difficult decision to make, it is the best course of action following a full review of the season,” Pelinka said in a statement.

So Ham struggled in one season — his second season — and he’s already out? So Ham is less than one year removed from leading a newly formed team to within four wins of a spot in the NBA Finals … and he’s already gone?

The Lakers just fired a coach who was 90-74 and whose two playoff series losses came in competitive duels with the Denver Nuggets, the defending champions and best team in basketball.

The Lakers just fired a coach who held them together through two seasons of health issues and roster chaos, a coach who consistently sold the fan base on hope and belief, a coach universally beloved for his character and widely admired for his potential.

The Lakers just fired a coach who took over a 33-49 team two years ago and turned it into an in-season tournament champion and a team that basically outplayed Denver for most of their recent series loss.

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The Lakers didn’t just fire their current coach, they fired their coach of the future, and that’s just madness.

“I think Darvin Ham is a helluva coach,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said earlier this week. “That’s not an easy job. I think Darvin does it with class. He’s a good man, a good coach … and hopefully he’ll be around there a long time because he deserves to be.”

Nope. Not here. Not with an organization that has gone through seven coaches in the last dozen years. Not with a star player who has gone through three coaches in six years.

The Lakers are that rare family operation that continually lops off the head of the family for the sake of one of the whining kids.

The Lakers continually forget that the most important name is the one on the front of the jersey; they continually lack the patience to reestablish a competitive world-class Lakers culture at the expense of a me-first, me-now superstar culture.

Ham was taking big strides toward building culture, but he made the players angry when he benched some of them at inopportune times, and he made some late-game mistakes, and he suffered a bit of a sophomore slump the way many star rookie coaches do, so now he has been knee-capped.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, right, congratulates forward LeBron James during a game against the Nets last season.Lakers coach Darvin Ham, right, congratulates forward LeBron James during a game against the Nets last season.

OK, LeBron James, so who’s next?

Everyone knows this is ultimately about you, and who you think can perform the impossible task of winning a title in your final seasons, so let’s just be honest.

Make the hire, LeBron. Just make it and be done with it.

So who is it?

You didn’t buy Luke Walton, you didn’t like Frank Vogel, and you didn’t respect the basketball IQ of Ham.

You ultimately didn’t back a coach who won an NBA championship or a coach who nearly led a team to the Finals.

So who now?

Read more: How LeBron James, Darvin Ham and the Lakers reached a critical offseason crossroads

Tyronn Lue is the obvious choice. He is a long shot, he has one year left on his Clippers contract and Steve Ballmer probably will pay him plenty in an upcoming extension, but you never know. He’s one of the best coaches in the NBA and worth a shot.

Several years ago Lue should have been hired instead of Vogel, but the Lakers messed around with the issues of money and control. Here’s guessing they wouldn’t make the same mistake this time if given a chance.

Having already coached James to a championship in Cleveland, Lue is the only active coach who would get his full attention. The Lakers need to make sure that door is closed before pursuing anyone else.

And who is anyone else? After Lue, the prospective coaching list is filled with untested longtime assistants and heralded kids and nobody who appears to be noticeably better than or different from Ham.

You know what the Lakers should really do, right? If they can’t get Lue, they should go full rookie, full newbie, restart the culture, reset the foundation, and hire possibly the toughest and smartest candidate out there.

The Lakers should hire Becky Hammon.

The former San Antonio Spurs assistant is coaching the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but she’s ready for a top NBA job.

Aces coach Becky Hammon talks to players during the 2022 WNBA All-Star basketball game in Chicago.Aces coach Becky Hammon talks to players during the 2022 WNBA All-Star basketball game in Chicago.

She led a San Antonio Spurs team to a summer league title. She once coached in a regular-season game after Gregg Popovich was ejected. A couple of years ago she was a finalist for the Portland Trail Blazers gig that went to Chauncey Billups.

Hammon can do this. If James accepts her, everybody else will fall in line, and knowing that he’s still in charge, he’ll accept her.

The only problem is, would Hammon really want to be the next coach of the Lakers?

It’s a great job. It’s a horrible job.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.