Luke Walton just completed his second season as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, leading a young team to a 35-47 record.
That was a nine-win increase from Walton’s first year, and now the Lakers have an intriguing offseason ahead of them.
They are rumored to be contenders to sign top-flight free agents like LeBron James and Paul George, as well as a trade candidate for disgruntled Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard.
And if the cards fall in the Lakers’ favor, Walton could be at the helm of the next great superpower in the Western Conference (aside from Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, of course).
But before free agency rolls around in July, we wanted to find out more about the job Walton has done with the Lakers, so we asked Christian Rivas, a senior writer at Silver Screen and Roll, for some insight.
Here is our Q&A.
What’s been the fanbase’s overall impression of Luke Walton so far?
When the Lakers first brought on Luke Walton in 2016, you would have been hard pressed to find a more popular guy in Los Angeles not named Kobe Bryant or Magic Johnson. However, now with two years under his belt, Walton has more than a handful of doubters.
It’s a mixed bag, really, but I’d say that the fanbase is hopeful, which is more than they could have said two years into Byron Scott’s coaching tenure. With an 18-win improvement over the last seasons, I’d argue Walton has earned Lakers fans’ attention.
The Lakers have a really young team but improved by nine wins this season. How well has Walton meshed with L.A.’s young core, and how much credit do you give him for the team’s improvement?
A term you often hear used to describe Walton is “player’s coach” and for the young players on the Lakers’ roster, I think it’s resonated pretty well. It can be really hard to keep a group of young players together through adversity, but I think Walton has done a fantastic job of doing that. You can say a lot of things about Walton, but you can’t say he’s not a leader (unless you’re LaVar Ball, of course).
Walton had never been a head coach before coming to the Lakers. He was only an assistant for two seasons. How has he handled that transition?
Walton has said this several times before, but I think his brief stint as the interim head coach with the Warriors helped with his transition a ton. He was in the locker room when the Warriors were at their highest in 2015 and when they were at their lowest in 2016. He’s seen it all from a coaching perspective and that’s helped him a lot.
Every coach has a style. Has Luke developed one yet? If so, what is it?
That’s probably the fanbase’s biggest criticism of Walton to date: his style, or lack thereof. Now, if we’re talking about “style,” I have no problem saying Luke is a handsome guy that knows how to dress himself, but if we’re talking about “team style,” Walton has a lot of room for improvement in that regard.
When the Lakers brought him on, the expectation was that he’d bring a modern, Warriors-esque offense to Los Angeles. In his defense, the Lakers do play small and fast, but beyond that, his offensive scheme leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully by bringing in more talent this summer, Walton will be able to implement a more complex offense.
Is Walton the kind of coach that you could see sticking around the Lakers for a long time, or is he just the right person for the team’s rebuild?
If Luke Walton can will a banged-up band of misfits to a 35-win season with a struggling offense, I’d be interested to see what he could do with legitimate NBA talent and I imagine the front office feels the same way.
If the Lakers do make some big-time acquisitions this offseason and go into win-now mode, how do you think Walton will handle a team full of superstars?
The easiest answer here is “the same way he did with Golden State” and frankly, it might be the best one. Although he was only with the Warriors for two seasons, Walton seemed to have made a lasting impression on them, particularly Draymond Green, who credits Walton for pushing him to become the player he is now.
Even players that haven’t played for Walton respect what he’s done with the Lakers, like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. We’ll see how much of that praise was hot air this summer and the summers that follow.
Like Walton, Miles Simon is an Arizona graduate. What type of impact has he made in the organization?
Miles Simon was tasked with working with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Kyle Kuzma this past season and if their individual success is any indication of the type of impact Simon made, he’s off to a great start. But the real place Simon can show his value is this summer, where he’ll have the opportunity to work alongside the three aforementioned rookies in their first NBA offseason.
Jud Buechler is leaving Walton’s coaching staff, so which UA alum are the the Lakers going to hire to replace him? This is a joke. Kind of.
Richard Jefferson. This is also a joke, kind of.
Thank you Christian for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Silver Screen and Roll for in-depth coverage of the Lakers and the exciting offseason they have ahead.