Someone call Skylar Grey because Luke Walton is coming home.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced on Friday that they have hired Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton as their new head coach. Walton has been considered the front-runner for the job ever since the team parted ways with Byron Scott last Sunday night.
It had appeared that once again the Lakers were being passed by, as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards signed coaches Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks, respectively while LA continued to deliberate over Scott’s future.
Unbeknownst to nervous Lakers fans, Walton was their man all along. Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers brain trust didn’t even bother interviewing anyone else, instead scheduling a meeting with Walton shortly after the Warriors’ playoff series with the Houston Rockets came to an end on Wednesday. They knew what they wanted, and quickly closed the deal.
So what does Luke Walton bring to Los Angeles?
First and foremost, this is a big win for the Lakers. The 36-year-old Walton was perhaps the hottest coach on the market after leading Golden State to a 39-4 record while head coach Steve Kerr was out attempting to manage his ailing back.
“I have always dreamed of being a head coach and the chance to do that for an organization like the Lakers doesn’t come around very often.”
-Luke Walton via ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne
The New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, and Houston Rockets were rumored to be interested in handing the keys to Walton, but it was the Lakers who landed him. In these dark times, when the purple and gold have struck out on one free agent after another, winning the race to sign Luke gives a much-needed boost to the Lakers’ brand.
The entire vibe around the team changes (for the time being). Should the basketball gods allow them to keep their top-three protected pick on May 17th, the purple and gold will have some serious momentum behind them heading into free agency.
Walton may not have much experience as a head coach, but the perception is that he is something of a wunderkind on the sidelines. The Lakers will have more money than any other team in the league to spend in free agency (somewhere around $60 million), and that kind of moolah combined with Walton’s mojo and the team’s other assets will certainly make a few ears perk up.
In fact, in may be enough to level the playing field to the point where the famed Los Angeles market becomes a factor again. Free agents want to win first and foremost, but something potentially very exciting in sunny Los Angeles holds appeal as well.
Of course, there will be some legitimate concerns over Walton’s lack of experience.
There is no denying that Walton isn’t the coach that brought the Warriors to the next level, that accolade rightly belongs to Curry. However, Walton was able to safely steer the ship. He had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green clicking as though Kerr never left, and in a league where chemistry and continuity matter that can’t be overlooked.
Meanwhile, the Lakers’ young trio of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle often looked out-of-sync this year, occasionally flashing brilliance as individuals but not quite playing as a cohesive unit.
This is where Walton’s experience in Golden State should serve him well. While Russell, Clarkson, and Randle are nowhere near the level of the Warriors vaunted big three, there are enough similarities (pick and roll guards, a versatile but undersized big) that some things will translate, especially once they start truly playing together.
“He’s one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game, and we feel fortunate that he’ll be leading the on-court future of our team.”
Frankly, a Lakers roster built around those three players seems tailor-made for an offense similar to the one that the Warriors run, and there isn’t anyone better suited to install it than Walton (aside from Kerr himself).
Moving towards a more fan-friendly style has been a goal of the Lakers organization for some time. Part of the reason why the team chose Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson in 2012 was out of a desire to return to the running days of Showtime. While the D’Antoni days ended in catastrophe, an exciting, flashy offense is in the Lakers’ blood.
It’s part of the reason why they drafted D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor or Kristaps Porzingis last summer. Unfortunately, by that point, D’Antoni was gone, and the Lakers had replaced him with Scott, whose offense didn’t have the same zest to it in spite of his Showtime connection.
Scott, a defense-first coach, just couldn’t connect to the players or bring in an offensive system that would maximize their talents. Walton goes a long way towards rectifying that.
Of course, Scott was brought in not because of his offensive chops but because there was a desire to have someone in charge who knew what it meant to be a Laker. Someone who remembered the glory days when putting on the Golden Armor truly meant something, and could relay that to the new generation.
Therein lies the beauty of the Luke Walton hire. He used his basketball savvy to get Shaquille O’Neal the ball in all the right spots, and later won two championships with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Walton knows what it feels like to win as a Laker, knows what it’s like when the entire city is electrified by a dominant Lakers team.
Passing on that legacy is important, but so is building a team ready to adapt to the new and changing world of the modern NBA. The Lakers needed a coach that could walk in both worlds.
Luke Walton is a young, new-school coach with a link to the glorious past of the Lakers. He understands what lays ahead because he understands the past, but he isn’t stuck in it.
For the Lakers and their massive fan base, you simply can’t ask for a better fit.