Three Replacements For Darvin Ham as Lakers Head Coach

With Ham's job reportedly in serious jeopardy, who could the Lakers tab as their next head coach?
Darvin Ham
Darvin Ham / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, 108-106, and were eliminated from the NBA playoffs. It is not necessarily shocking that the No. 7 seed couldn't overcome the defending champion No. 2 seed but this series was particularly frustrating for Los Angeles.

That is because the Lakers were not overmatched by any means. They regularly outplayed the Nuggets for long stretches over the course of the five-game series, but faltered in crunch time nearly every game.

The blame will fall largely on the shoulders of head coach Darvin Ham, who faced repeated criticisms for his decision-making over the course of the season. Those same problems with rotations and timeouts popped up again in the postseason, and it seems quite possible he will be dismissed in short order. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Ham is "highly unlikely" to return to the Lakers next season, while ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported his job is "very much in jeopardy."

The writing is on the wall, in other words. Los Angeles is under a lot of pressure to navigate this correctly, given LeBron James' future sounds very much up in the air at the moment. If the franchise decides Ham isn't the coach to lead the team, what other names might the Lakers consider?

Here are a few possibilities.

Frank Vogel

Vogel is currently employed by the Phoenix Suns, but should the rumor mill prove true, that may not be the case for very long. He is feeling the heat following Phoenix's own early playoff exit. If Vogel ends up available, the Lakers would be wise to go after him. In fact, such a pairing makes all the sense in the world.

Vogel won a championship with the Lakers in 2020. He was fired following the 2021-22 season for failing to make the Russell Westbrook experiment work, which shouldn't really be held against him because the Lakers traded Westbrook six months later so clearly it wasn't all on Vogel. He wouldn't do much to fix the offensive issues facing the team right now but he can definitely shape up their defense and get the most out of Anthony Davis, which is critical for Los Angeles as LeBron enters his age-40 season. Plus, one has to imagine LeBron would approve of bringing back the coach that helped him win a title. A pretty good match, if Vogel does end up in need of a new job this offseason.

Phil Handy

Handy is an assistant on Ham's staff right now and was a popular name to step in as an interim head coach when the Lakers were really struggling earlier this year. Obivously Ham stabilized things and kept his job, but with everything up in the air once more, Handy has to be in consideration. He's been on the bench for Los Angeles since 2019 and has been part of three championship teams in his career.

Perhaps most relevant is Handy's relationship with LeBron. He was an assistant on Ty Lue's staff for the 2015-'16 championship and followed the future Hall of Famer to Los Angeles after his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Handy is unproven as a head coach, which will feel risky to Los Angeles given Ham was the same, but has been on the sidelines for nearly 15 years now. Should the Lakers want to bet on a relatively unproven commodity while keeping LeBron happy in the purple and gold, Handy is their man.

Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson interviewed for the Lakers job in 2022 before it was eventually given to Ham. It would make sense for Los Angeles to return to this particular watering hole. Atkinson famously helped revived a destitute Brooklyn Nets team floundering in the wake of the Billy King trade and received much acclaim for his ability to develop young talent. He eventually clashed with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and resigned in March of 2020; the former head coach has spent the last three seasons on Steve Kerr's bench with the Golden State Warriors.

Atkinson just checks a lot of boxes. He's got head coaching experience and championship experience as a member of the Warriors' 2021-22 title team. His schematic acumen would be a welcome addition after two seasons of "give the ball to LeBron and get out of the way." If the Lakers keep this core together for another season or two, Atkinson can work with the talent. If they need to pivot to a youth movement, Atkinson is good for that, too. A strong candidate should Ham be sent on his way.


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Liam McKeone

LIAM MCKEONE

Liam McKeone is a Senior Writer for the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. In addition to his role as a writer, he collaborates with other teams across Minute Media to help define his team’s content strategy. He has been in the industry as a content creator since 2017, and prior to joining SI in 2024, Liam worked for NBC Sports Boston and The Big Lead. In addition to his work as a writer, he has hosted the Press Pass Podcast covering sports media and The Big Stream covering pop culture. A graduate of Fordham University, Liam is always up for a good debate and enjoys loudly arguing about sports, rap music, books, and video games. Liam has been a member of the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) since 2020.