Luke Walton: The Man Behind The Lakers This Season

Luke Walton
Currently Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton. Photo Credit: Kim Raff / AP Photo

Luke Walton: The Man Behind The Lakers This Season

As the Lakers are off to a 2-3 start, there are many disgruntled fans and critics ready to push out Luke Walton. You have LeBron James, there should be instant results, right? Wrong. To turn this Lakers team into playoff contenders takes time and patience, as well as trust in the coaching style of Walton.

Luke Walton The Player

Walton’s college career began in 1999 playing for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Walton was a two-time First Team All-Pac-10 and also a Second-Team All American, in 2003, when Walton entered the NBA Draft.

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Walton in the 2003 NBA Draft, 32nd pick overall. Coincidentally, in that same draft, LeBron James was chosen with the overall number one pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the Lakers, Walton succeeded by playing selflessly and being a contributor by any means. He won two NBA Championships with the Lakers before being traded to the Cavaliers.

Assistant Coach at Golden State

After leaving the NBA, Walton began coaching. His first coaching stint was as an assistant coach at the University of Memphis. In 2013, he was hired as a developmental coach by the Los Angeles D-Fenders, now known as the South Bay Lakers. He stayed for just one season before joining the Golden State Warriors.

In 2014, Walton became an assistant coach for the Warriors and was taken under the wing of head coach Steve Kerr. Walton was part of a coaching staff “mixed with experience and youth.” Each coach brought their own unique coaching style to Golden State. It eventually led them to a championship, making Walton a champion for the third time.

The 2015-2016 season brought nationwide attention to Walton. He was appointed as the Warriors interim head coach. Kerr had to take a leave of absence due to medical issues, so Walton was left with head coaching responsibilities. Walton coached Golden State to 16 straight victories to start the season. He was a key contributor to the Warriors’ 39-4 record start, the second-best start in NBA history, but unfortunately would not get credit for the wins. Clearly, Walton had been absorbing the different coaching techniques and did an excellent job implementing the approach during Kerr’s absence.

Luke Walton The Head Coach

On April 24th, Lakers fired head coach Byron Scott, and shortly after announced their next head coach, Luke Walton. This would be Walton’s first official job as head coach and he was met with the predicament of improving the Lakers’ 17-65 record.

Walton brought much of what he learned at Golden State to the purple and gold. Although he was with the Warriors for a short period, he was in a rare situation that allowed him to absorb knowledge from everyone. There were elements of Phil Jacksons triangle offense, that both Walton and Kerr played under, that Walton brought with him to the Lakers. There was also the fast-paced tempo that came from Alvin Gentry, Warriors associate head coach, that Walton tried to implement that first season.

In addition, Walton surrounded himself with a staff much like Golden State’s. The coaching staff was composed of those with a short coaching resumes, alongside coaching vets; trying to look for the perfect combination of skill and experience. The team improved from the previous season with a 26-56 record.

How Will He Do It?

For his third season, Walton will be more laidback and let players deal with what’s going on, on the court. This is something that he learned from Steve Kerr and the Warriors. There have been times where Walton doesn’t call timeouts and lets the players on the floor figure it out. It can work great as it has with the Warriors and creates a fast pace. Yet, it can also make for a sticky situation where the team on the floor can lose a lead or momentum. Still, Walton will continue to perfect and implement this as the season progresses.

Another element that Walton will continue to apply this season is the development of the young corps that includes other players that are not Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, or Kyle Kuzma. That was a takeaway from Kerr. Kerr was able to evaluate his team and aid his starters with players like Shaun Livingston and Jordan Bell. In the Lakers’ case, there are players like Josh Hart and Johnathan Williams that support the starters and fire up the bench.

Another intricacy is the addition of LeBron James. A 3-time NBA Champion and probably the best player in the league brings a peculiar situation to Walton. Coaching a player of that caliber might be a challenging task because of the immense amount of experience that James brings. There may be times when James is the one conducting or leading the team, Cleveland Cavalier coach Tyron Lue can tell you all about that. Yet the Lakers are not worried about it.

“One of the beauties of Luke is that he’s low ego. He’s not trying to do anything besides what’s best for the team and what’s best for winning,” said Jerry Mermuys, assistant coach for the Lakers when asked about coaches’ need of control. With that being said, Walton will let James take the lead if it’s what’s best for the team.

Third Season Expectations

Much can be learned from Kerr, but Walton will incorporate his own plan that relies heavily on defense. Walton believes this will be the key to knocking down the current NBA champs. It’s something he’s been preaching since day one as head coach and something he will continue to carry out throughout the year. It’s a sermon that seems to be working. As of right now, the Lakers are 7th in the league in blocks per game and 3rd in steals per game.

While starting the season 2-3 might be painful to watch, the first three losses demonstrate that Walton has been able to step up. He continues to push defense, as well as, observe his team’s player development. In a short amount of time, Walton has been able to absorb and bring out the best from this Lakers team. So, although this might not be the start that was envisioned, this is the start of Walton’s legacy with the Lakers.