Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton got his first introduction to the hoopla that comes with coaching LeBron James when his job security was called into question after a reportedly fiery meeting with Magic Johnson over the team underperforming out of the gates.
Walton is reportedly safe — for now — but the whole episode fully emphasized that coaching the best player in the world is a double-edged sword; Walton will get to do a lot of winning, but he’s going to be the first person blamed by the fanbase (and apparently, the front office) if the team is losing.
Erik Spoelstra dealt with similar drama at the beginning of James’ tenure with the Miami Heat — including James reportedly asking for Spoelstra to be fired — and he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN that he thinks that Walton is uniquely suited to the pressure cooker James’ presence creates for a team’s head coach:
Spoelstra, though, gave Walton an emphatic endorsement as “the perfect guy to coach” the Lakers and James.
”I told [Walton] the same thing I’ll tell everybody else,” Spoelstra said before James returned to Miami for the first time as a member of the Lakers on Sunday. “He’s the perfect guy to coach that team. He has purple and gold bleeding from him. He is a Laker. He did a tremendous job with Golden State when he had to take over for Steve [Kerr].
”And if you look at his whole professional career, all of he has been involved with are teams like this with great expectations, with a lot of pressure and a lot of noise,” Spoelstra continued. “He doesn’t know any different. I don’t think you can find a better fit than to coach that team.”
It’s important to note that coaches will always stand up for other coaches, but that caveat aside, Spoelstra makes a few good points. Walton has been around basketball greatness his whole life, all this extra pressure isn’t anything totally new or unpredictable for him.
That experience has been obvious in the poise Walton has showed when questioned about his job security. Walton doesn’t give of the vibe of being panicked, or like he didn’t foresee that drama like this would come. He even told the Lakers these types of rumors would surface eventually during training camp!
There is also the reality that Walton has long been lauded as a strong communicator with skill for being able to reach and build a relationship with just about any player. Those are qualities that would serve any coach under fire well, and qualities a coach that was actually fired while coaching James — David Blatt — seemed to obviously lack while oozing insecurity about his position all the way out the door.
None of this is to say that Spoelstra’s endorsement is a job-saver for Walton, or that Walton won’t eventually be fired. The latter is totally possible, but it also seems to be far from a foregone conclusion, both for the reasons Spoelstra listed and more.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.