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Is Darvin Ham now frontrunner for Lakers coaching job?

Los Angeles Clippers v Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 01: Assistant Coach Darvin Ham of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on against the LA Clippers during the second half at Fiserv Forum on April 01, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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With a championship-or-bust mentality and strong personalities in the locker room led by LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers are a rough spot for a first-time head coach who will have some learning to do on the job.

However, as a former player with a no-nonsense attitude that players respect and connect with — and even fear a little — Darvin Ham has the presence to command in that Lakers’ locker room.

That personality may make Ham the person to beat heading into the second round of interviews to be the Lakers’ next head coach, report Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

In terms of the Lakers’ preferences, sources say team officials have prioritized a coach who can command respect and authority from the locker room and who has a strong enough presence and voice to manage the varying roles and relationships across the roster. Those characteristics bode well for Ham’s candidacy. Throughout assistant coaching stops with the Lakers, Hawks and Bucks, Ham has been known for his no-nonsense style and ability to resonate with his players — attributes that have stood out in his communication with the Lakers thus far as well, sources said.

More importantly, Ham is the guy LeBron wants as the Lakers’ next coach, according to Eric Pincus at Bleacher Report. While GM Rob Pelinka and Lakers brass will make the final decision, LeBron’s voice holds sway in the Lakers’ organization heading into the final year of his contract, with extension talks looming this August (although LeBron’s voice is somewhat muted after he pushed for the Russell Westbrook trade a year ago).

Ham, Kenny Atkinson (the former Nets coach and current Warriors assistant), and former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts are the three finalists for the Lakers’ job (the Lakers had slow-played their search waiting to see if Quin Snyder, Doc Rivers or another coach in the playoffs became available, but that didn’t happen). Those same three coaches also are in the running for the Charlotte Hornets coaching position (and Mitch Kupchak and company in Charlotte may feel pressure to move fast if they are leaning toward Ham). In the coming week, those three will have in-person interviews with Lakers’ upper management, including owner Jeanie Buss. Expect the Lakers to step up with a fair offer for whoever they choose — after losing Tyronn Lue because the Lakers lowballed him (leading to Frank Vogel, who did win a championship for the team), Los Angeles is said to have learned its lesson and will come with the years and money any of these three would demand.

Ham, a long-time top assistant, deserves a shot as the head coach. He’s earned it. There comes a real risk putting a first-time head coach into a high-pressure situation, but it can work — look no further than Ime Udoka in Boston.

With a lot of cooks in the kitchen, predicting which way the Lakers’ coaching search will turn is impossible (Vogel was not one of the three finalists last time around). But Ham may have finally found his fit, and maybe the Lakers have found theirs.