The Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced their 26th head coach in franchise history, bringing Luke Walton down from Oakland just days after after the Golden State Warriors' Game 7 NBA Finals defeat. Walton was focused on the road ahead with a franchise he loves, fresh beginning to his coaching career and embracing the challenges ahead.
"Now that [the Warriors] job's done I am absolutely thrilled to be able to come back down here and have my dream job," Walton said as he settled in to chat with media gathered in Los Angeles.
One of the recurring themes during Walton's press conference was how coaching the Lakers was an opportunity of a lifetime for him. Walton was drafted by the Lakers in 2003, enjoyed two championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and finds himself back home.
"I was planning on meeting with some other teams, but when your dream job comes and you feel like it's a fair deal, and a fair offer, you go home and you talk to your wife, and you kinda air out the pros and the cons," Walton said when asked about how quickly he made his decision to take the Lakers' offer.
"When it came to the Lakers it was a pretty short, simple conversation."
The Lakers have been seemingly stuck in the mud over the last two seasons, hitting back-to-back franchise lows while being mid-transition into a new identity as a franchise. That transition is now full force as the Lakers move on from two decades of Kobe and a new leader taking over as head coach.
"20 years, one of the greatest runs in any sport by any athlete, so he's obviously going to be missed," Walton said of Kobe retiring. "His departure also opens up this opportunity for the next generation of Lakers and the next movement that I think will be exciting. Not only to the young players but to free agents. It will be different and it will be strange."
Walton also pondered whether Kobe will be around the team, though he was speculating based on what he knows about the Black Mamba and the Lakers organization. Hiring Walton was all about the future for the Lakers, though, and that future is something he plans on nurturing. D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are the current pillars of the foundation, and Walton intends to build around what makes them top-tier prospects.
"I think it's a coach's job to build the system around what's best for the players you have," Walton said. "Obviously you can have a culture where competing at a high level no matter what is what you do. You can somewhat control the idea that we're going to play a fast tempo, fast paced style of game."
"We have skilled guards that can score, pass, defend. We have a young big man who averaged over 10 rebounds a game this year and is great at pushing the ball himself," Walton added. "These are all things that allow us to do similar things to what we were doing up in Oakland."
Besides building a system that lends itself to their strengths, he also emphasized the importance of building a culture that makes the team want to practice and take ownership of the process. Walton plans on making the game of basketball fun for the players, an aspect that seemed neglected while under former head coach Byron Scott's watch. His experience with the Warriors, and how loose they were able to keep their culture while plowing through the NBA, will definitely influence his job with the Lakers.
"[The culture] is gonna be joy, Walton said, "Our players are gonna like coming into practice every day. We're gonna play a brand of basketball that the LA fans will appreciate. We're gonna compete. All these things going forward, with my vision of how we're gonna do things, is what I can control."
"There's gonna be an emphasis on the culture going forward, and that's gonna be up to us and the staff that we bring in to hold the guys accountable and make them want to be a part of that."
Something else coming from Oakland is an open-mindedness to use analytics to help guide the process.
"To me [analytics] are great for supporting different ideas. I believe in having a staff give their opinions and building an idea or a game plan together, and then you can bring those analytics in to kind of support or prove something wrong. We used them in Golden State, I plan on using them down here."
The process begins now for the Lakers, who are set to make the second-overall selection in the draft for the second year in a row on Thursday. Walton acknowledged the draft pick, free agency money and internal improvements as reasons to project a "bright future" ahead for the franchise, but he was reluctant to put any kind of timetable on it.
"I have no idea," Walton said when asked when he expects the Lakers will play at the level he's hoping achieve. "There is work to be done, but that's, to me, exciting. That's why you do this. The timetable is who knows. It's us coming to work every day. It's us working hard. It's watching improvement in the young guys that's exciting. It's watching us get better as a team that I'm looking forward to doing."
"We are going to get better and in the process, if you focus on the process of getting better individually and as a team, and you don't worry about the wins, that's when the wins start happening."
The road ahead to turn around a Lakers team that went 17-65 certainly looks like a long one for now, but records aren't something Walton's worried about. Look no further than his own blank record, and the excitement around the organization as he takes on his new role, as all the proof you need.
"0-0 still helped me get my dream job."