The Lakers did what we all saw coming — so now what?

Darvin Ham’s seat was hot from the moment he touched down in Los Angeles to become the next Lakers head coach.

Or next scapegoat, depending on how one looks at it.

It’s never as simple as being eliminated in the first round a year after making an improbable run to the conference finals, never as simple as the expectations that come with coaching two generational players — each with their own particular sets of needs that complicates matters severely.

It’s never simple with the Lakers, never simple with LeBron James, who wielded his own leverage moments after the Lakers were eliminated Monday night by the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

But maybe it’s as simple as the Lakers fired Ham after two seasons because they wanted to, because it was set in their minds reasonably early, that they gathered enough evidence to say Ham wouldn’t be the guy moving forward.

You fire a coach because he loses a locker room, the players lose faith in him and the front office can’t instill confidence in the players — but nobody was going to be Ham’s advocate anyway.

Given how many teams in today’s league fancied themselves as title contenders only to be sent home before May, let alone June, it’s a predictable result. The coaches, while handsomely compensated, are easily disposable.

One could make the case, reasonably or not, that you could fire 20 of the 30 NBA coaches this season — if you really wanted to fire them. The Lakers rarely see reason to keep a coach, going all the way back to Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, guys on the short list of the greatest of all time.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham, right, congratulates forward LeBron James during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/John Munson)Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham, right, congratulates forward LeBron James during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/John Munson)

Lakers coach Darvin Ham was fired after two seasons in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/John Munson)

The coach isn’t the star. The players are, and then in a way, it’s probably Lakers governor Jeanie Buss. And for the star franchise of all-star franchises, this was bound to happen.

Assuming James returns for his seventh season in Los Angeles, this will be his fourth coach as a Laker, and 10th in 21 seasons. That’s an average of two years, then dismissal.

So perhaps Ham was right on time with this.

Coaching James, at this advanced stage of his career, doesn’t engender patience, even for the best tacticians.

But who looks at this roster and sees a championship team? Or a championship contender? Not in this NBA, not this year. And for that, every member of the Lakers’ braintrust should take a strong look in the mirror.

On its face, the Lakers were an inconsistent bunch. They won the in-season tournament in impressive fashion, but the 2-9 stretch that immediately followed the victory in Vegas, with the inconsistent usage of a roster that wasn’t as well put together as advertised, played a part in his doom. If that’s the case, if benching Austin Reaves for a stretch or playing Taurean Prince a little too long is the reason Rob Pelinka and Co. sent Ham his walking papers, it meant only perfection would suffice for Ham.

Perhaps he didn’t call timeouts at the right time, and maybe he should’ve shrugged off Davis’ comments about players not knowing what they’re doing during stretches of games as opposed to launching a decent defense of his own planning and coaching staff’s preparation, but he didn’t.

“Sometimes the plays don’t turn out the way we think they should and frustration sets in a little bit,” Ham said before Game 3 in Los Angeles. “But I don’t think this was not being organized. We have talented coaches on our staff, we pride ourselves on being highly efficient and organized. I’ll agree to disagree on that.”

But if he didn’t project confidence, if he gave Davis all the validation, we would be saying he isn’t fit to coach this team under these circumstances. There was no defense or explanation that would’ve sufficed because by then, everyone in Lakerland knew what was coming, and Ham would be the culprit.

And that goes to the crux of this very issue: If Ham had to be perfect to keep his job, as a first-time head coach for this franchise, he probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

There’s a margin for error that comes with guys sitting in that seat for the first time, no matter how well groomed they are for the moment. If an organization can’t allow for a coach to grow with his players and evolve on his own, then he shouldn’t be in that spot — let alone coaching an aging LeBron James, who already knows more basketball than most of the men coaching him.

Steve Kerr won 67 games and a championship during his first season coaching Golden State, and even he would tell you how much better of a coach he is now than 10 years ago. Tyronn Lue and Erik Spoelstra are, pound for pound, the best coaches in the game. Remember how someone tried to get Spoelstra fired during the first season of the Heat’s Big Three era? Luckily, Spoelstra was given space to grow and evolve and figure things out, all while being in a pressure-packed environment.

But there would be no such grace for Ham, who by his own admittance would say he didn’t do everything right.

Ham reunited with his former teammates in Detroit several weeks ago, for the 20-year anniversary of the Pistons’ 2004 championship. He seemed relaxed and talked with the guys about what it’s like being a coach for a franchise with all these outsized expectations. What was clear was, while knowing what a difficult task it was, he felt lucky to be in the spot and seemed to understand this could be a likely outcome.

On Monday, following the Game 5 loss, he was asked to capsulize his stint as Lakers coach. “It’s a great question,” Ham said before pausing. “It’s tough, my mind is all over the place. It’s been a hell of a two years, I’ll tell you that, sitting in this seat. Ultimately, we want to win. I know what that feels like. You control what you can control.”

However, Ham’s own margin for error was lessened by factors out of his control. Like the Russell Westbrook fiasco that he had to manage, which was only solved by the Lakers shipping him out and replacing him with D’Angelo Russell — when they could’ve traded for veteran Mike Conley.

Easy to put the blame on Ham instead of looking at this past year’s draft, when the Lakers took Jalen Hood-Schifino, who wasn’t ready to play. The next two picks, Jaime Jaquez Jr. (Miami) and Brandin Podziemski (Golden State), turned out to be valuable contributors for their respective teams, though.

Yes, Ham played Cam Reddish longer than he should’ve, but he didn’t sign him, or Christian Wood, another player the Lakers couldn’t unlock. But teams miss on draft picks or free-agent signings all the time, it’s baked into what comes with running a franchise.

Grace and growth, and accountability.

Those elements were not afforded to Ham, and maybe the Lakers saw some things in him that would indicate even with time and a better roster he wouldn’t be able to maximize the opportunity.

That again points to hiring him in the first place as opposed to someone more experienced, someone who’s been through the hard lessons that occur the first time around.

But perhaps the Lakers’ arrogance overestimated their run to the West finals last spring, maybe they indeed patted themselves on the back for the competitive four-game sweep by the Nuggets.

Or in all likelihood, the Lakers underestimated how much the league would grow around them, that continuity doesn’t automatically transfer from one year to the next. Some people saw Minnesota and Oklahoma City coming, or Dallas figuring things out with more time for Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving and a roster of workhorses behind them.

There was a four-game difference between the Lakers and fourth-seeded Clippers, indicating the margins were thin all around. As great as James is, he’s old and can’t rev it up all the time. As great and as transcendent a talent as Davis is, having his shoulder bump into Michael Porter Jr. can turn him from Godzilla to less than a mere mortal in an elimination game.

So the Lakers can throw Ham overboard and feel justified in doing it.

But if that’s the only change they’ll make, believing tweaks around the edges will elevate them to championship status, they’re sadly mistaken.