(Photo: MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The Los Angeles Lakers announced the hiring of Luke Walton as their next head coach on Friday. The decision came swiftly and without any other known candidate interviews taking place.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 30, 2016
Everything considered, the Lakers making a decisive move in a particular direction is beneficial for the organization who have had the cloud of uncertainty over the last few years since the passing of Lakers’ owner Dr. Jerry Buss. The organization’s level of indecisiveness was most prevalent during their last coaching search in 2014 when it took numerous interviews with Byron Scott before agreeing to him becoming the team’s next head coach.
The Lakers now move forward with Walton at the helm and while the future looks a bit clearer and we have many positives to point out, there still are a lot of questions and concerns with the hiring. We’ll try to weed through both.
Positive – Deeply ingrained knowledge of the game
- Walton is widely considered as one of the brightest young coaching minds in basketball; not my words but that of Mitch Kupchak when releasing his statement about the hiring.
“one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game” said Mitch Kupchak about Luke Walton.
- Walton’s immense knowledge of the game has been ingrained since birth having been born as the son to one of the all-time greatest basketball players ever in Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton. Luke Walton continued his b-ball 101 studies by playing his college ball at Arizona for Hall-of-Fame coach Lute Olson then playing 9 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, 8 of them under 11 time champion as a coach Phil Jackson, 2 of those championships coming with Luke Walton on the squad as a contributor. Luke then moved up the coaching ranks instantaneously follow the end of his playing career in 2013 becoming the lead assistant coach under Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors who are currently on a direct path to back to back championships.
Negative – Zero head coaching experience
- While possessing a great basketball mind is certainly an advantage as a head coach it is just one aspect of being a successful head coach and the league is filled with great minds in the assistant coaching ranks. Ettore Messina of the San Antonio coaching staff is one of the most highly regarded basketball minds for example but is yet to nab a head coaching gig in the NBA. What can keep great minds from ever becoming the main man is their ability to manage diverse personalities that have multi-million dollar contracts, a ton of outside interests & in some cases are difficult locker room figures, and then getting them all on the same page and work their butts off for a singular goal. In his time Phil Jackson was one of the best at managing superstar talents and crisis in a locker room. At this point we have no clue as to Walton’s ability in this area. What he has working for him is he is a young 36 years of age and closer in age to the younger players of the Lakers team which would lead us to believe he can relate better but it can also go the other way with them not having the respect for him as a coach being he has not accomplished anything as a head coach at this point.
Positive – Franchise showing loyalty to old ties
- The Luke Walton hire is yet another example of the Lakers’ organization showing loyalty to the players of their past which can be a great sell to big name free agents.
- The Lakers continue to employ former players and coaches, either directly in their organization or with a business partner like Time Warner Cable. Former Lakers A.C. Green, James Worthy, Robert Horry and Antawn Jamison all have regular gigs with the Lakers cable network TWC Sportsnet; over the last few years coaching jobs have been given to former players such as Kurt Rambis, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley and Byron Scott; Jerry West son Ryan West currently holds an executive position and former head coach Rudy Tomjanovich is a scout for the Lakers.
- Another huge example of the Lakers taking care of their own is the massive two year, 48.5 million dollar contract extension they gave Kobe Bryant in 2013 without a long drawn out contract negotiation and him still not fully recovered from his torn Achilles injury and no certainty that he would ever be able to play anywhere near his normal level of play (which he never did.)
- The Luke Walton hiring shows once again that once you enter the Lakers family you are a Laker for life and that this will be a place for future opportunities well after your playing career is over which has to be an attraction for impending free agents.
Negative – Exposing a young, inexperienced coach to a very fickle and unforgiving fan base
- While the majority of Lakers’ fans were begging for the firing of Byron Scott we forget that it was just 2 years ago that same fan base had Scott as an overwhelming favorite to get the head coaching position. Two years later following a .232 combined winning percentage and back to back seasons of setting the franchise’s worst record in their history Scott was Lakers’ fans public enemy number one and being shown the door. The same act occurred with the two previous Lakers’s head coaches: Mike D’antoni and Mike Brown.
- The fanbase might be ecstatic now with Scott gone and the freshness and hope that Walton brings but as we have seen in the recent past they will turn quickly if the team struggles. With the team void of high end talent that’s ready to win now losing in high doses will likely continue in the foreseeable future and Walton might never get a chance to turn this team around if the fanbase bring out their pitch forks and demand change yet again.
- How will Walton handle the pressure of high expectations that come with the gig? How will the franchise respond this time around if the Lakers continue to lose being they’ve given each of their last 3 head coaches a very short leash. Do the Lakers actually allow Walton to grow as a coach & learn on the job despite team struggles or do they succumb to public pressure again and make a coaching change quickly?
- This is not an ideal situation for a young and up-and-coming coach and without a coaching history we have no way of knowing how or if Walton can handle it which is another reason why his inexperience is worrisome.
Positive – Change in approach from old & established to young & promising
- What’s the saying, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Well, that is what the Lakers had been doing with their last 3 coaching hires which were all massive failures. Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott were all coaches that had previous tenures as a head coach, all with resumes listing great success, but with some down periods as well. All 3 of the Lakers previous coaches flamed out quickly and their exit was unceremonious to be kind.
- In selecting the established coaches they passed on young and inexperienced coaches like Quinn Snyder who is having success in Utah and never even looked at one like Brad Stevens who is flourishing in Boston.
- Walton at the very least is not coming with a predetermined method of coaching or implementing some archaic system that was successful in a time where fitted mid-thigh high shorts were fashionable. Walton was part of the most modern and sophisticated offense and defense the NBA has to offer and he brings the knowledge of that system and how to run it successfully to the Lakers young squad which will be a refreshing change.
Negative – Free Agent Recruitment
- An area the Lakers need major help is in recruiting free agents where they’ve struck out in embarrassing fashion the last 3 off-seasons. Dwight Howard shun the Lakers and their 3 story #Stay banners for Houston, Carmelo Anthony opted to stay in New York and most recently the LA to L.A. campaign failed miserably to lure LaMarcus Aldridge.
- The big name free agents in the next two years will be Kevin Durant this coming off-season and Russell Westbrook in 2017 and both will be coveted by the Lakers along with every other NBA team with the cap space to offer max deals. It has long been reported that Kevin Ollie and Derek Fisher have great relationships with both Durant and Westbrook, having both been teammates with the Thunder, and both could have provided an edge in courting one if not both of them in free agency.
- Walton’s ability to attract free agents is completely unknown and could very well be a positive but with big name free agent acquisition being the key to the Lakers turnaround, the fact that we don’t know and that there were coaches out there that at least provided some advantages due to their solid relationship to the two biggest free agents coming up in the market we list this as a negative.