The Los Angeles Lakers were a very bad team last season. Their 17-65 record was good for second-worst in the NBA, but arguably more toxic was the atmosphere around the team.
The cloud of negativity was in large part responsible for the dismissal of former head coach Byron Scott, and the team brought in Luke Walton to help bring a dose of positivity and better relate to the team’s young core. The first-time head coach told Chris McGee of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet that improving the Lakers’ culture will be a “huge” part of working with such a young team, and that it’s part of why the team targeted so many high-character veterans in free agency.
“That's not an accident,” Walton said of the Lakers bringing in respected locker room presences like Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, and Jose Calderon. “Obviously everyone in the NBA is going to go after LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That's a no-brainer, but only two teams are going to get those guys. So then you start working your way down your list, and it's what's more important to you at this time, and we felt like we got guys that are very good basketball players and very good people.”
Walton hopes the work ethic of those players will start to rub off on players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance, Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and the rest of the team’s young core. He’s optimistic about what he’s seen from that group so far this summer.
“When you're developing young players, I think having an environment that makes the players want to come in, that makes the players want to get better is everything,” said Walton. “Because it's a business now at this level for the most part, and there's young players making millions of dollars and a lot of times they can just come in and get their shots up and do what they need to do and get out of there, and that's not what we want.
”We want them coming in, staying in, having fun, going at each other, making each other better,” the Lakers head coach continued. “Honestly since I've been here our young guys have been phenomenal. They've been in that gym every day not because we make them come in, but because they want to be in there, and you can already see some of the progress happening."
Social media has revealed that the young Lakers have been in the gym as often as Walton says, and that’s a positive change for a team after such a negative year. It sounds like Walton believes if the core continues to mix positively with the veteran additions, the rebuild will be on a successful path even if that growth does not contribute to major on-court strides this season.
“When you're building something and you want it to be special, it's about working with good people, working with people you like, and that brings out the best in everybody."
All quotes transcribed via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.