The cameras are officially rolling on a new Los Angeles Lakers season as media gathered in El Segundo. A young core led by D’Angelo Russel may be the identity of the purple and gold on the court once the first tipoff flies through the air, but the true signification landmark of the new era starts on the sideline with rookie head coach Luke Walton.
Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott being taken out of the equation means it’s a whole new world.
“There was definitely butterflies but, you know, all about excitement. This is beautiful. This is an opportunity we've been waiting for,” Walton said during the annual first day of class. “I know technically it doesn't start until tomorrow, but this is why we wanted to get away for training camp. Start the bonding, start the togetherness; the brotherhood.”
Walton was comfortable taking the reigns in front of the camera as Chris McGee and James Worthy drew out the state of the Lakers from the man leading the team. Coach Luke, who’s been on the court with the kids while being the youngest head coach in the league, sounds ready to learn and develop with his new family.
“Every day is a learning opportunity, and that's how we're going to take it as a staff,“ Walton said.
There was no question as to whether the franchise was ready to turn the page to a fresh take as Walton spoke about the road ahead for a team that’s been in flux over recent seasons. The new coach sounds prepared to take on his new challenge head on, getting a taste of what it meant while he led the Golden State Warriors. The insight gained from that chance may have been instrumental in giving Walton a head start into his new role.
“Until I had that experience I had no clue all that came with being a head coach,” Walton said. ”I was able to spend this summer approaching it and preparing for it from a place of experience, even though I've never really been the head coach before...
I think honestly that it is a big difference but that I'm ready to do it. “
A big difference fans are hoping for is the development of the young players on the roster, especially with incoming No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram rounding out a formidable group of talent. Luol Deng was brought in to stabilize the wing rotation as a veteran, but Walton clarified his role in the starting lineup is up for grabs. This is a clean slate for everything.
“We're going to go to training camp and if [Ingram’s] the best player, he's going to start,” Walton said when asked if reports that Deng is slated to start are true. ”I'm just speaking more generally from what I know about the NBA. It takes young kids some time to figure this game out. “
Queue the “Kobe didn’t start” anecdote. No, Walton didn’t miss a beat anywhere, and it was nice to soak in the optimism of what could be for the Lakers. Whether Ingram starts or plays behind Deng is inconsequential at this point; that it’s an open discussion and the coach is clear about where things stand is a leap in the right direction after mystifying Byron Scott quotes.
Walton’s job is to lead and develop, and he painted an aesthetically pleasing picture to digest for Lakers fans. The youth are the focal point, and the veterans serve as great complements to lean on players who know how to grind out 82 games of hardwood hell 48 minutes a night.
“This is a grown man’s league. You need to go through the tough times,” Walton said. ”You need to grow from making mistakes and learning how to do it better the next time. We're going to try to do that as a group. “
And while Ingram’s place as a starter may be one of the many “up for grab” aspects of the roster heading into training camp, Walton was adamant about one thing: D’Angelo Russell is the leader of the team and building a relationship with him is important.
“That's the natural leader,” Walton said of the point guard role. ”That's the guy who has his hand on the ball.
“I think it's very important that the point guard and the coach are on the same wave length.”
Let the journey begin.
*All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet