Credit: Darren Yamashita – USA TODAY Sports

Lakers coach Darvin Ham was introduced on Monday and shared his plan to bring the force back to Los Angeles.

However that plan plays out, as the Lakers seek renewal after a season that ended without a playoff ticket, Ham intends to keep Russell Westbrook in a critical role.

Westbrook, who owed $47 million on a player option in his second season with the Lakers, averaged 18.5 points per game last season and was widely criticized for missing open shots and playing so hesitant.

“Make no mistake: Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen,” Ham said on Monday. “There is still a ton left in this tank. I don’t know why people tend to try to write it off.

If there was any doubt about Westbrook’s interest in playing for Ham and new assistant manager Rasheed Wallace, it was cleared on Monday. Westbrook was one of four current players on the roster present at Ham’s introductory session.

Ham said in conversations with Westbrook recently that the focus was “sacrifice” and spoke about Westbrook playing the ball more in an offense modeled after the Milwaukee Bucks. Under Mike Budenholzer, Ham served as an assistant coach and helped incorporate multiple scoring options into the “four out, one in” system.

Wallace has already called Westbrook the best player in the NBA and will help contribute the edge and toughness that general manager Rob Pelinka has said he wants in the 2022-23 Lakers.

LeBron James reportedly pushed Pelinka to acquire Westbrook in a deal that became public in the 2021 NBA draft. When the experiment appeared to be a failure, James was reportedly very willing to let Westbrook go if John Wall, who shares an agent with James, could be acquired.

James said in his exit interview in April that he had no interest in wielding personal power in the front office.

“I don’t put any expectations on anything,” he said. “It’s about getting in, working and going from there. One thing that I love and always will love about Russ is his competitive spirit, which he brings to the game every night. And when you’re in a profession where so many injuries happen, and so many things happen, having a reliable guy, who can put on the uniform every night, is something I respect above all else. I’m not going to sit here and make front office decisions and things of that nature, but I love being a teammate to Russ.

–Field level media