EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Darvin Ham was introduced as the Los Angeles Lakers‘ new coach Monday with point guard Russell Westbrook standing off to the side in a public show of support for the hiring.

And Ham reciprocated that support right back to Westbrook, after a tumultuous first season in Los Angeles for the former league MVP.

“Don’t get it messed up, Russell Westbrook is one of the best players our league has ever seen and there’s still a ton left in the tank,” Ham said. “I don’t know why people tend to try to write him off.”

After trading for Westbrook on the day of the NBA Draft last summer, Los Angeles experienced one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. The Lakers went from being a preseason favorite to win the championship based on Las Vegas betting odds to missing the playoffs completely, finishing No. 11 in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka joined Ham for the occasion and expressed optimism in the 48-year-old Ham becoming the 28th head coach in the team’s existence.

“This is an incredibly bright and promising day in Laker history,” Pelinka said.

After an eight-year playing NBA playing career and a stint coaching and working in the front office in the NBA developmental league, Ham got his NBA coaching start in Los Angeles as an assistant on Mike Brown’s staff in 2012-13.

“The fact that I got my start as a coach here, this place will always be special for me,” Ham said. “It’s like a homecoming for me, in all seriousness.”

After Los Angeles, Ham spent nearly a decade on Mike Budenholzer‘s staff with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, winning a championship in 2021.

“As sad as it is for me to be leaving Coach Bud, sometimes you got to walk that walk on your own,” Ham said, getting choked up as he spoke about his former boss. “We went from colleagues, to friends, to brothers while all the while making history.”