Luke Walton has made comments here and there to reporters, and obviously at his introductory press conference, but it’s fitting that his biggest interview so far would come with his literal biggest teammate. The new Los Angeles Lakers head coach went on the “The Big Podcast with Shaq” for an interview that came out Monday morning, and he confirmed something many had expected: this year’s young team won’t be judged on their record.
“The expectations, to me, aren’t going to be wins and losses, right now at least. The expectations are going to be the way we play,” said Walton. “It’s about having an edge when you play, it’s about competing every single time on offense and defense, it’s about playing the right way.”
Walton made it clear that rather than set a (relatively unrealistic) goal like making the playoffs, he will instead be leaning on his coaching staff to help develop a culture that can create wins down the road as the team gains more experience.
“I’m coming in here and I have Brian Shaw who also has experience on my side, and a great young coaching staff behind him,” said Walton. “It’s about setting the foundation for the future, because we don’t plan on this being a one-year thing. We plan on being here, and part of what’s so exciting is we get to start it this year, so the expectations and the focus for me are going to be how we go about practice and the details of the game.”
So exactly what kind of details is Walton focusing on?
“The fundamentals,” said the new head coach. “How we teach our guys to compete every single day, whether in practice or the game, and then eventually start focusing on the wins and losses.”
To develop that type of culture takes more than just an experienced coaching staff and an ability to communicate with players by having “hard conversations” about things like playing time, an ability Walton says he picked up during his time as interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers will also need leaders, and Walton says he thinks there are a few candidates on the roster to take on that role.
“I’ve spent the majority of my time with the young guys [at Las Vegas Summer League], and D’Angelo [Russell has] been phenomenal,” said Walton. “As far as being vocal in practice, and doing what we ask of him as a coaching staff, and coming in early and after practice and getting work in.
“So right now he’s shown that he’s capable of being a leader, and that he’s working on being a leader,” Walton continued, but Russell isn’t the only one who’s impressed him.
“I think Julius has a natural leadership ability about him, but I haven’t spent a ton of time with Julius yet, so it’s tough to say [for sure],” said Walton. “And then obviously we’re bringing in a few vets that have been around the game for a long time, so I would hope that at least one or two of them would step up into a leadership role, but that’s all part of the process.”
Walton’s last word of that sentence, “process,” is the key one to take away from his entire conversation with his former teammate. Instead of setting unrealistic goals like making the playoffs or recruiting multiple max free agents, the Lakers seem to finally be adjusting to the reality that this will not be a quick rebuild. Results on the court won’t be instantaneous.
The team needs to show progress this year, but it sounds like the Lakers have finally accepted that progress may be a gradual process, which is good news as they move forward with a more patient rebuild than they are accustomed to.
All quotes transcribed via “The Big Podcast with Shaq. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.