The Los Angeles Lakers endured a franchise-worst 17-win season in 2015-2016 as they said goodbye to a retiring Kobe Bryant. Despite their struggles, the team heads into the 2016-2107 campaign full of optimism, and much of it is due to new head coach Luke Walton.
Walton took over for Byron Scott, who struggled to connect with the team’s talented young core. Now, it will be Walton’s job to get through to the youngsters, and all reports indicate that he is doing a phenomenal job thus far.
Many of the Lakers have already given rave reviews to their new coach, but D’Angelo Russell has been particularly vocal about just how thrilled he is with the change. He sat down for an interview with SLAM’s Drew Ruiz and couldn’t contain his excitement:
Luke is a great dude on and off the court and we’re just excited. Every time I talk to him, it’s talking about the next way to be better as a whole, as a group. And he’s one of the most positive guys I know, too. My college coach [Ohio State’s Thad Matta] was the most positive guy I knew and Luke is right there in competition with him. I’m just blessed to have those guys.
Russell seems to appreciate Walton’s player-friendly approach, which is a stark contrast to Scott’s tough-love. It’s especially encouraging to hear Russell talk about the buy-in that Walton has already created:
I just know how good we’re going to be and we’re going to be going down the right path as far as being the best we can be. And I feel like everybody is all in and with his demeanor, mentality and the way he carries himself, the way he supports us, the way he is as a coach, I feel like if somebody walked in the gym and didn’t know who he was, they wouldn’t be able to tell that he was the head coach. He doesn’t come off like that. He comes off as a player, honestly, and a vet. I just know that’s the successful way to go in this league.
If Russell’s assessment is correct, then we should see the Lakers function as a much more cohesive unit this season. Whether or not that translates to more wins is yet to be seen, but at this point it feels as though the team is moving in the right direction.