Well, that didn’t take long. It took the Lakers co-owner Jim Buss no time to end a quick coaching search, not playing it safe and instead rushing the process, keeping it in the family by calling Luke Walton to return to the Lakers’ bench. The Lakers — these players — the front office have dismantled a once-precious franchise and they so desperately needed a new voice, a new mentor, a new guy to warm up the Lakers’ bench and lead a group of young players in their new era.
But is he that guy? He’s not a flashy name, but he’s a likable guy. He’s not a veteran head coach with an intriguing resume, but he’s a respected dude who used the right tone when communicating and motivating his players as an assistant in Golden State. He has zero head coaching experience, sure, but he’s a youngster who is widely believed to be one of the smartest minds in the league. The Lakers are fragile, their players are young, their players need somebody who knows how to develop talent. The new face of the world’s most famous basketball franchise is embarking on a coaching career, getting his first start as the next Lakers head coach.
How good was this hiring? What do we know about Luke? He’s done a good job as Warriors interim coach, but he’s getting no credit for coaching them to an impressive 39-4 record, considering that Steve Kerr had already installed the systems and culture. That’s not to say Walton is the answer to the Lakers’ problems, even if he was terrific during his brief run coaching the Warriors. No one knows if he is bright and aware enough to revitalize a dysfunctional Lakers team that has gone downhill.
The hope that he would bring them back to national prominence might’ve been justified. Buoyed by his early success, he’s now taking the toughest and most demanding coaching job in the NBA, dealing with Jim and Jeanie Buss, two incompetent owners who are unsure what direction to take. It strikes me as insane, given the Lakers’ long history of dumping head coach after head coach, that they are reluctant to extend their search outside the Lakers’ family. It’s not easy to dismiss, to date, especially since Phil Jackson left town, that this team has gone through more than one coach when the Busses have not themselves put the right pieces in place for anyone to possibly take over a roster this abhorrent. With that in mind, it is absurd to assume that Walton would get so much right in one year.
He has absolutely been up for the challenge, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity when the Lakers met with him for nearly six hours on Friday. The Lakers thought enough of him to make him the antidote to the team’s inferiority and troubles the last two seasons, the two worst seasons in franchise history. There is, of course, no guarantee that he will hold things together, either. The past few years offered plenty of reasons to question Buss’ business acumen, as usual, especially after waiting too long to pull the trigger on popular names. It wasn’t long before Tom Thibodeau agreed to a five-year, $40 million deal to become the president of basketball operations of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Two days after Scott Brooks was named Washington Wizards’ head coach, the Lakers finally went to work having to settle for Walton.
The Lakers announced Friday they have yanked him from his assistant coaching gig with the defending-champion Warriors for a glamorous coaching job with Los Angeles. For almost a week, general manager Mitch Kupchak and his bosses deliberated the fate of Byron Scott. While Walton inherited a nucleus of young and limited talent, such as an immature guard D’Angelo Russell, one can argue he wasn’t given much of a chance. For one thing, he was not in the Lakers’ future arrangements because he wasn’t helping the young players develop. For another, he oversaw the Lakers finish their worst record in franchise history for two consecutive years during his regime.
So they are going to start the 2016-17 season with a largely entire new coaching staff, which has raise doubts about whether Walton can work wonders as Lakers head coach far greater than any of his coaching jobs in the past. Taking on a tough assignment may get him somewhere, though. This may be the jumpstart to his promising coaching career, but he has much to prove, even after the Warriors under Walton won their first 24 games, which set an NBA record.
Not at all is he a sure bet — not at all. But he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse to replace Scott less than a week after Scott’s firing. With an opportunity to legitimately get the Lakers back to the top, he has shown he knows how to handle young, rising stars. He couldn’t believe that the moment he had long dreamed of was finally here. At age 34, he’s running the show in L.A., and he’s only been an NBA assistant for two seasons. Last time he worked with the Lakers, he was coaching their developmental league team. Few believe he’s ready, but that’s up for debate, especially when he has not coached for an entire season and when he’s leaving a great job for one where he’ll have to attract free agents to a franchise that has not had much luck. He’s leaving a Warriors team with versatility, depth and plenty of talent for a Lakers team with a lack of leadership, maturity and a group of players who need a lot of growth.
It does not matter that he was only filling in nicely for the time being, the type of coach who was given the interim tag while Kerr was out with health issues. What matters is that Walton can help develop these kids and their potential top-three draft picks from this season. But, more importantly, what matters is that he can win basketball games.
There’s no doubt in our minds that he has the basketball smarts and pedigree, but who knows if he puts out the fire and don’t add fuel to it? This will either make the Lakers look like geniuses or fools. This will either make them or break them.