The Lakers and their fan base finally got a win yesterday with the hiring of Luke Walton. It's a move that the staff at this site supported, even if by the slimmest of margins, and it's the first time in a few offseasons that this franchise hasn't swung and missed.
Nevertheless, it's a little odd that after firing Byron Scott and claiming that the team was unlikely to hire a new coach within two weeks, general manager Mitch Kupchak has hired a new coach in less time than it took to axe the old one. That's not the only worrisome aspect of this move. No matter how wonderful Walton may turn out to be - and I'm thrilled with the prospect of him shepherding this team for years to come - it doesn't ease every concern about how the front office went about this decision.
Firstly, there's the swiftness of this hire. The Lakers took 11 agonizing days to fire Scott while other qualified coaches went off the market, including Tom Thibodeau, Scott Brooks, and even Kenny Atkinson, who may lack head coaching experience but is highly regarded for player development. Deciding to part ways with the coach of the two worst seasons in franchise history should have been a much easier decision than choosing who should helm the next great Lakers team. And yet, seemingly more thought was put into the former.
Even if the franchise had its heart set on Luke and saw no trouble in other top candidates taking jobs elsewhere, there's no excuse for having only one interview. There's a long-running joke among Laker fans about how many interviews it took for Scott to get the job two years ago, so perhaps thoroughness shouldn't always be rewarded, but like Anthony Irwin discussed, there's value to be gained from the process.
Even with Walton as the frontrunner, the Lakers could have benefited from at least having a conversation with European coaching legends such as Ettore Messina and David Blatt, even if only to confirm their decision. The fact that the Lakers requested permission from the Spurs to interview Messina and then apparently didn't grant him a meeting stinks of organizational ineptitude. The Lakers will still have to fill out Walton's staff with quality assistants, so maintaining good relationships within coaching circles should be a priority.
Chasing Walton also has the bad taste of how the Lakers have approached their offseasons since 2014. Rather than pursue under-the-radar free agents, this franchise has continuously gone after the big fish, be it Carmelo Anthony or LaMarcus Aldridge, while lesser names who would have fit the team's timeline better were devalued. Think of Isaiah Thomas or Ed Davis.
No other available head coaching candidate had the pizzazz of Luke Walton, coming off a 39-4 stint as interim coach on the greatest regular-season team in league history. Is it possible that the Lakers were seduced by winning the headlines rather than making the smart hire for the team's future? L.A.'s rivals, the Boston Celtics, scooped up a relative no-name in Brad Stevens three years ago (as noted by Henry Abbott on ESPN) and he's already one of the finer coaches in the league. This isn't to diminish Walton's credentials, who sat in on meetings with Phil Jackson, did a stint on the bench at the University of Memphis, and even spent a year coaching in the D-League before Golden State. But it's hard to say name recognition didn't play a role. The Lakers go after stars, and that's a label that Messina, Blatt, and even Kevin Ollie didn't possess.
There's also no denying that part of Walton's appeal is the Laker blood. But after sitting through two years of rants about what it means to don the purple and gold, I'm not sure the Lakers needed to pick from the same pool. Admittedly, departing from the Showtime era is a welcome and needed change, but it might have done the franchise some good to get a fresh perspective, rather than someone who played the majority of his career in Los Angeles. Laker blood doesn't necessarily equate with success.
Finally, hiring a coach this offseason was always going to present a long-term problem with Jim Buss's theoretical timeline set to expire next summer. If Buss does in fact step down next year, then the next general manager would inherit a coach that he didn't hire - and as the Sacramento Kings can attest, that is not an ideal situation. Most people assume Phil Jackson would land in some front office role, so it seems the Lakers were backed into a corner to pick a coach who would be approved by both Buss and Jackson, leaving Walton as the default choice. This is mostly speculation, but it wouldn't be good practice to hire someone to fit the next regime.
Ultimately, I think Luke Walton is a fine hire. He's a young coach who can grow with the team; he brings a diverse set of experiences from his time with Phil, Steve Kerr, and even Lute Olson; and his willingness leave a historic team for a rebuild amid organization instability speaks to his commitment to this job. As a fan, I'm thrilled to have him back on the Laker sideline (though I managed to talk myself into Byron Scott in the summer of 2014, so take that with a grain of salt).
However, the ends don't completely justify the means. The way the Lakers got their man still suggests that this front office isn't operating at optimal capacity, and that's a problem worth keeping an eye on.