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Luke Walton says the Lakers are prioritizing growth over wins

Los Angeles’ coach says he wants his players to learn this year so wins can come later.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn’t clear before their preseason drubbing on Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers are not the Golden State Warriors. D’Angelo Russell is not Stephen Curry, Brandon Ingram is not Kevin Durant, and Julius Randle is not Draymond Green.

This might seem obvious, and isn’t to say the Lakers can’t ever be good. It just sometimes seems to easy for many (this author included, as you can read in the links above) to compare the two franchises because of superficial similarities between their cores and the presence of Luke Walton.

While the sky is the limit for this young litter of Lakers, they are a long way off from reaching the Warriors’ heights. Some up and down preseason play aside, this team is likely going to be very bad this season. Possibly the worst team in the Western Conference, with a small chance to retain their top-three protected first round pick that would otherwise convey to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Luke Walton appears to have accepted this reality, and told the media he won’t be chasing a few extra wins at the expense of developing his inexperienced roster (via Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News):

“The priority is making sure we are getting things in correctly,” Walton said. “If that ends up costing a couple of wins here or there, then that’s something I think we have to live with as a group. In the bigger picture, it’s more important that we have those basics down and those fundamentals down.”

Could fulfilling that ideal become harder once the losses pile up and the challenge to ensure players buy into their role increases?

“It’s very hard,” Walton said. “You have a big picture plan and you have a staff and I have a staff that I trust and we talk about with things like that who know the approach we’re going to take. I’ll have them remind me of that when times are tough.”

Walton’s comments are important, especially given the Lakers’ lack of established talent and knowledge of how to win. All summer and preseason, indications have pointed towards Walton not benching his young players to chase a couple extra wins with more experienced, but less valuable for the Lakers’ future, players. Walton confirming he doesn’t plan to do that, and that he sees the bigger picture, is a big deal.

How could this play out on the floor? We’ve seen at least one example already. Walton drew up a potential game-winner for Russell on a night he was colder than the ice he claims runs through his veins. The Lakers would ultimately lose to the Denver Nuggets in overtime that night, but Walton reiterated that he wanted Russell to keep shooting as long as he was getting good looks.

Hypothetically, Walton could look at a night Russell is coughing up the ball too much the same way. Rather than benching him for a more risk-averse option like Jose Calderon, Walton’s comments point more towards him trying to help his young point guard make necessary adjustments during stoppages in play.

Maybe it entails leaving Brandon Ingram in against an elite scorer on nights when he’s showing promising signs defensively, but ultimately getting roasted anyway. Maybe it means sticking with a frontcourt of Randle and Larry Nance Jr. so the Lakers can figure out if the two can build chemistry together, even if it’s not leading them to victory that particular night.

Walton’s open-ended answer means the possibilities are essentially endless, but the main takeaway is that it appears this is finally the year the Lakers’ begin their rebuild in earnest, even if it means taking a few lumps along the way.

Medina’s whole piece on Walton is worth your time, and you can read it here. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.