How Spoelstra, Heat put Lakers coach on the hot seat

While Darvin Ham makes excuses, Erik Spoelstra finds solutions.

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Following their loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen below .500, prompting questions about head coach Darvin Ham's job security. The comparisons to Erik Spoelstra don't help.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Thursday morning, “There’s currently a deepening disconnect between Darvin Ham and the Lakers locker room, six sources with direct knowledge of the situation say, raising questions about the head coach’s standing.”

The Heat, playing without Jimmy Butler and other rotation players, beat the Lakers, 110-96, in Los Angeles. The loss dropped the Lakers to 17-18, below .500 for the first time since Nov. 11. The Lakers have lost nine of their last 12, including three in a row.

After losing to the Heat, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the Heat being without Jimmy Butler was actually easier to deal with than the Lakers being without a few minor rotation players.

After the game, Ham said that missing multiple rotation players is more difficult on the team than being without one of “your big dogs,” a reference to the Heat being without Butler. While the Lakers did have LeBron James and Anthony Davis available, they were without D’Angelo Russell, Gabe Vincent and Rui Hachimura.

“I think the multiples (rotation players) are more impactful,” Ham said. “If you lose one of your big dogs, you’re going to figure out how to try and manage without them.”

Injuries to, let’s face it, minor and even questionably helpful rotation pieces were the subject of Ham’s postgame press conference. Even with LeBron and Davis available, the Lakers turned the ball over 21 times and gave up double-digit scoring nights to eight of Miami’s rotation players, which included a starting lineup with rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. and sparingly-used Nikola Jovic at the forward spots.

“When you’re dealing with different guys being in and out of the lineup that frequently, it’s damn-near impossible to find a rhythm,” Ham said. “That’s just being real.”

Ham’s statements come in stark contrast to Spoelstra’s following Monday’s loss to the Clippers. When asked about missing several of his best wing defenders in a game against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden, Spoelstra dismissed the question.

“I don’t care about that,” he said. And that was that.

The Heat, who with Wednesday’s win improved to 20-14 and moved into fourth place in the East, have been without Butler (10), Bam Adebayo (10) and Tyler Herro (18) for a combined 38 games. Only three other teams have had players miss more games due to injury, per Spotrac’s injury tracker.

Though the Lakers are also high on that list, most of their injury absences have come from Vincent (30), rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino (22) and Jarred Vanderbilt (21). The Lakers' tentpole stars -- LeBron, Davis and Austin Reaves -- have missed only five games combined.

Another stat: The Heat have had 19 different starting lineups this season. The Lakers have used 10, and a lot of that is because of Ham’s tinkering rather than injuries to key starters.

Here’s more from Charania: “Those sources have described that the disjointedness between the coach and team has stemmed from the extreme rotation and starting lineup adjustments recently from Ham, leading to a fluctuating rhythm for several players across the roster.”

The Lakers problems are somewhat personnel based, but the coaching hasn’t helped either. Spoelstra and the Heat are proof that leadership can help navigate injuries – even ones to star players – and stack wins in the regular season.

“We’ll do whatever we have to do. Everybody’s ready,” Spoelstra said after Monday’s loss to the Clippers. “Nobody cares if we have guys out. We had enough guys to get this win tonight.”