Los Angeles Lakers newcomer Christian Wood has coach Darvin Ham in his corner — Andscape
Time and time again as the offseason progressed, Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham had a question for general manager Rob Pelinka about one of his “basketball children.”
What’s the latest with forward Christian Wood?
While NBA teams oddly passed on the proven scoring forward in free agency, Ham eventually was able to get Pelinka to sign Wood late in the process. And with his old mentor by his side, Wood is back home with his childhood team hoping to not only rejuvenate his career but finally win.
“I worked Rob Pelinka. I didn’t call him every day. It was every other day with calls, texts,” Ham told Andscape recently. “I was on him. And then I was just checking on [Wood], letting him know, man, ‘We here, bro and we have an opportunity to do some good s— …
“But [Pelinka] responded well. And finally, we bagged [Wood] up and he has been great.”
Wood averaged 16.6 points on 51.5% shooting and 7.3 rebounds in 67 games primarily as a reserve with the Dallas Mavericks last season. The 6-foot-10 forward also has averaged at least 16 points in each of his last three seasons, including a career-high 21 points per game during the 2020-21 season with the Houston Rockets. But shortly after free agency arrived on July 1, the Mavericks acquired veteran forward Grant Williams in a trade and signed him to a four-year, $53 million contract instead of re-signing Wood.
No other NBA team landed Wood during the first two months of free agency either. The Lakers eventually signed Wood to a two-year, $5.7 million contract on Sept. 7 with a player option in the second season. It was a major pay cut since he earned $14.3 million with the Mavs last season.
After agreeing to the Lakers’ pact, Wood texted Andscape that he was “motivated after what Dallas did.”
When asked recently about the Mavericks, Wood said, “I can’t talk about that now. It’s going to come a time where I’ll talk about it.”
Ham’s relationship with Wood helped him look past the rumors challenging the versatile forward’s work ethic and defense.
“I don’t know what happened in Dallas and that’s not my business,” Ham said. “I don’t know. People say s—. ‘He’s lazy. He doesn’t play any defense.’ I know the kid. I know what he’s going to do for me and he’s done everything that I expected him to do up to this point since camp has been going on.
“And so, I don’t judge my relationship based off other people’s opinion of certain individuals. I deal with you directly and I have my own relationship with him and I know what he’s capable of and what he’ll do for me.”
Ham and Wood’s connection dates back to 2015 when Wood went undrafted out of UNLV after his sophomore year. Ham was an Atlanta Hawks assistant coach at the time who became acquainted with Wood while coaching at Tim Grgurich’s summer basketball camp in Las Vegas in 2015.
“I’m looking at this kid. He looks kind of lanky and loose, but just getting stuff done on the court on both sides of the ball,” Ham said.
Wood said: “That’s how we first connected. He was a fan of mine. He said I had a lot of games ahead and to stay patient. ‘Let the game come to you.’ It was a while ago, but it’s funny how things work.”
Wood had a tough start to his NBA career as he played sparingly for the Philadelphia 76ers (2015-16), Charlotte Hornets (2016-17) and Milwaukee Bucks (2018-19). Most of his playing time was spent in the G League, including with the Bucks’ Wisconsin Herd during the 2018-19 season. It was during that time with the Bucks’ franchise that Wood got true mentoring from Ham during his tenure there as an assistant coach.
Ham told Wood then that there were three stages he needed to reach as an NBA player.
“First, just him solidifying himself, his spot in the league,” Ham said. “And then in the second stage showing that he’s just not a roster fit. He’s actually excelling and playing above and beyond what anybody thought and just a double-double guy who can stretch the floor. So now he’s impacting stats and he’s putting up these huge, beautiful stats. And, third, when you are around a bunch of great players, the stats may go down a little bit, but your impact on winning will go higher.”
Wood reached the second stage as an NBA player from 2019 to 2023. After being claimed on waivers by the New Orleans Pelicans on March 14, 2019, he solidified that he was an NBA player by averaging 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in eight games. Even so, Wood was still waived by the Pelicans after they signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick on July 15, 2019.
In his first full season with an NBA team, Wood averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds primarily off the bench for the Detroit Pistons during the 2019-2020 campaign. He averaged 19.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in two seasons with the Houston Rockets from 2020-2022 before playing for Dallas last season. Wood was a heralded signing for Dallas, but never lived up to the expectations.
Ham landed his first NBA head coaching job with the Lakers last season. Over the years, he has said he has gained several “basketball children” to his family in Wood, new Lakers forward Taurean Prince and Toronto Raptors guard Dennis Schröder. And as Ham and Wood changed jobs through the years, they’ve always maintained a kinship.
“He will tell you, I always checked on him. He was in Detroit, New Orleans and went on to other places, Dallas even, I tapped in with him,” Ham said.
Ham preaches that the next phase for Wood is winning. At the age of 28, Wood has never played in a postseason game. That should change with the Lakers as he is joining a storied franchise that advanced to the Western Conference finals with veterans LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“Winning, that is my next thing,” Wood said. “I’ve already proved that I’m an NBA player. I’m a rotation player and I could play in these games. My next step is trying to win as many games as possible. Trying to affect the game in a winning way. I haven’t been to the playoffs yet. Darvin knows that.
“So, he knows how eager I’m to try and do everything for his team and just get better day by day, take it day by day and keep getting better.”
Davis also is excited about adding some bench depth with Wood. And if Davis is injured, Wood could potentially fill in for him in the starting lineup.
“His ability to just get the ball and score at three different levels is going to be big for us,” Davis said. “When somebody doesn’t have it going, we can always throw him in there and have another threat on the offensive end.”
Wood said Ham’s presence, transparency, honesty and communication are part of the reasons he signed with the Lakers, and because the franchise advanced to the 2023 Western Conference finals. Shortly after Wood signed, Ham took him on a porch outside the Lakers’ practice facility for an honest talk one-on-one. Wood’s role was to add some scoring punch, rebounding and defense off the bench behind Davis. And if Wood is successful this season, perhaps he can earn a multiyear contract that he has yearned for with the Lakers or another team.
“I took him out there and I said, ‘Look, man, just trust me,’ ” Ham said. “‘You’ll always know where you stand. It’s me. I’m always going to shoot straight with you. [Expletive] up, I’m going to tell you you’re messing up, so on and so forth. You’ve shown that you can have a consistent spot on the roster in the league. Once you got past that level, you’ve shown you can be a double-double guy and really put up some numbers. Now, the third stage is to show that you can be an impactful player whether you are starting or not starting. If you’re in the rotation, you can impact winning. That’s the thing that’s going to take you to a whole different stratosphere.’ He agreed.”
Wood said: “I am going to try to affect the game in a winning way. Try and attack the game how I normally have been. I’ve always been an efficient player. I’ve always been a great pick-and-roll player, pick-and-pop player. Just keep doing what I’m normally doing. Now, I’m in a situation playing with one of the greatest players of all time [James] and Anthony Davis, which is great.”
Along with helping Los Angeles win with Ham’s guidance, the Long Beach, California, native also wants to make an impact off the court. Wood grew up a huge fan of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and the team. Wood said that being in a Lakers uniform can help him make a bigger impact at home and has some ideas he wasn’t quite ready to reveal.
“It’s going to come,” Wood said of his plans to make an impact in Los Angeles. “I can’t talk about it that fast, but it’s going to come. I’m going to do something and it’s important …
“I’m at home. This is my hometown. I’m trying to do everything to win as much as possible.”