At the NBA Finals, the Lakers are viewed as winners after landing coach Darvin Ham

Milwaukee Bucks acting coach Darvin Ham watches during the first half of the team’s game against the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 8 in Charlotte, N.C. (Matt Kelley / Associated Press)

More than a decade ago, the Lakers handed Mike Brown the keys to their organization and he made a decision that will help shape its future.

Looking for an ex-player to join his staff, Brown thought about the people he had worked with — players who were tough, who were smart, who were loyal and who would work.

It didn’t take long for him to think about Darvin Ham.

And when he found out Ham had just ended his playing career and was coaching minor league basketball in Albuquerque, N.M., he knew he had his guy.

“The cherry on the top,” Brown told The Times. “This dude, he must really like basketball.”

Brown first worked with Ham when both were essentially rookies, Ham was a first-year player and Brown was sort of a do-it-all staffer with the Nuggets. It was less than a full season before Ham was dealt, but the two men forged a bond that led to Brown adding Ham to his Lakers staff in 2011.

Ham agreed to be the next coach of the Lakers, and no one is under any illusions about the challenges he’ll face in Los Angeles. Coaching, according to almost everyone in the NBA, was hardly the Lakers’ biggest issue a year ago.

But Ham’s supporters, like Brown, think he’s the right fit for the moment.

“Don’t like the hire,” Brown deadpanned, saying that he expected Ham’s presence in L.A. to make it harder on him now that he’s the future head coach of the Kings.

Here at the NBA Finals, where Brown is finishing his tenure as an assistant on Steve Kerr’s staff, the people who know Ham best are universally praising the Lakers’ decision to hire him to be their next coach.

Draymond Green, who like Ham grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and starred at Saginaw High, said the Lakers are in for an infusion of grit that’s a universal characteristic among people from their hometown.

“I think he’s going to bring a toughness, a blue-collar mentality just because that’s how he’s built. That’s how he’s raised. You have to be that way from…


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