The Los Angeles Lakers parted ways with head coach Byron Scott on Sunday night, and they quickly compiled a long list of candidates they plan to pursue to fill the newly-vacant position.
One of those candidates is former Arizona Wildcats basketball player Luke Walton, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:
Our friends over at Silver Screen and Roll have been closely tracking the situation, and Walton not only is one of the team's preferred candidates, he appears be the favorite to land the job as of now.
Walton's appeal as an NBA head coaching candidate is no surprise. When Steve Kerr, who was just announced as the NBA's 2016 Coach of the Year, was recovering from back surgery, Walton stepped in and helped lead the Golden State Warriors to a 39-4 record to start the season. That strong start was obviously instrumental to the Warriors finishing with the best record of all-time (73-9).
But that's not the only thing Walton has going for him. Kobe Bryant, Walton's former teammate, once called Walton 'the next Phil Jackson.' Meanwhile, Jackson himself believes Walton has the makings to be a "great coach someday." In short, Walton has always been seen to have what it takes to be a head coach one day.
But he hasn't been coaching for long. He started back in 2011-12 during the NBA lockout, when he temporarily agreed to be an assistant coach under former Arizona Wildcat Josh Pastner, who was the head coach of the Memphis Tigers at the time.
Then, after Walton retired after the 2012-13 season, he was brought on by Steve Kerr to be an assistant coach for the Warriors two years later for the 2014-15 season. Once Alvin Gentry took the New Orleans Pelicans' head coaching job prior to the 2015-16, Walton was promoted to be Kerr's lead assistant and he filled that role remarkably well.
While the Lakers are a prestigious NBA franchise, they've struggled in the past three seasons, compiling a 38-181 record. Scott coached the team for two seasons, leading the Lakers to the two worst records in franchise history.
The Lakers are in the midst of a rebuild and it's not an ideal situation for a rookie head coach, but they do have some promising young pieces. Rookies D'Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. shined as rookies, while Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are solid second-year players.
Plus, L.A. will have a league-high $62.6 million in cap space this summer and, given that it is Los Angeles and the Lakers are, well, the Lakers, the team's ability to strike in free agency could allow for a quick rebuild.
Walton, 36, would not only give the franchise a much-needed change of pace, but he could grow along with the Lakers' young core (plus any free agent additions they might add), potentially putting Walton at the center of a rebirth of the NBA's premier franchise.
You have to think that's appealing for both sides, not to mention that Walton is from Southern California and once played for the Lakers, so there's already a sense of familiarity between both parties.
And, is it ever a bad idea to replace an Arizona State alum (Byron Scott) with an Arizona alum (Luke Walton)?
Still, there's still a long way to go in this process. The Lakers have yet to start interviews, and are planning to hire a coach by the start of free agency (July 1) at the latest, so this could drag on for a while. And Walton has yet to confirm his interest, citing that he's only worried about the Warriors' playoff run at the moment.
But it's nice to see that another Arizona Wildcat is on the path to a successful coaching career. Arizona may soon have to change its basketball program's motto to "A Coach's Program."