After reports of a meeting between Magic Johnson and Luke Walton to address the Los Angeles Lakers starting slow this season lit the internet on fire, Walton was forced to address the media as his seat looks increasingly hot.
But despite speculation about his future with the team swirling around him, Walton sounded confident that he still has time to turn things around.
“I have not read the article, obviously I’ve heard about it,” Walton told reporters after practice Friday afternoon. “I will tell you this, that Magic, myself, Rob, Jeanie, we are in constant communication, so this is no new (thing), like ‘oh, all of a sudden there is an emergency meeting.’ This is something we do all the time.”
“I feel like I have a great relationship with management,” Walton continued. ”I feel like I’m coming down here to do my job and coach, and I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.”
This is probably a key detail, though it’s highly doubtful details of any typical meeting would leak. Someone around the Lakers wanted it known publicly that the pressure is on Walton and leaked information about that conversation accordingly.
Walton wasn’t going to give anything up about the discussion he had with Johnson, though.
“What we discuss in our meetings is between us, but I’ve been saying (and) we’ve been saying since the beginning: We’re gonna be patient, we know where we’re going and we know how to get there. It takes time and it takes hard work, and right now our guys work extremely hard,” Walton said.
“We’ve had couple setbacks with some suspensions, but we’ve played some good teams and we’ve had a chance to win a lot of those games. Unfortunately we haven’t, but that’s the NBA. We plan on winning those in the future, and we’re going to keep working and getting better,” Walton continued. “We’re going to be just fine.”
Given the relationship between front office and head coach as it seems to currently stand, it’s fair to wonder how much pulling of the strings might be coming from above. Walton addressed that, saying “Magic and I talk a lot about basketball and our team and his opinions and my opinions, but again, what those conversations are is between me and the front office.”
When asked whether he has to explain any specific decision he’s made or will make to the front office, Walton again was dismissive of the idea and stayed away from going into detail.
“No, I don’t like to assume that people know what I’m thinking, so if I’m talking I’m going to explain myself no matter what the situation is but again the actual things being said in those.” Walton said. “I mean, that’s private front office coach stuff. Even if this article didn’t come out, I wouldn’t be telling you guys what our sessions are like and what we’re talking about in there.”
Front offices are always going to give their input on coaching, and vice versa. That type of communication is vital in ensuring an organization remains on the same page. But this obviously wasn’t the typical meeting, or else it wouldn’t have been made public. Magic is frustrated with how things have gone despite seeming to have understood how this season was probably going to start.
But the context Walton mentioned above is crucial to keep in mind. Thus far, the Lakers have lost two starters for around half the season to this point due to suspension. They started the year with another key part of the rotation on a minutes limit. They still only employ one NBA-caliber center.
And with all that (plus the circus that follows LeBron James around), the Lakers very easily could have won any one of the games that they’ve lost thus far — all of which have been against playoff contenders, by the way.
That makes the timing of this all the more concerning. frankly.
Let’s say the Lakers turn things around and win a few games. That should, in theory at least, lighten the pressure on Walton, right? But for how long? If Magic has a candidate to replace Walton in mind, what’s to stop him from pulling the trigger on bringing them in anyway?
Figuring things out on the fly with basically a completely new roster was always going to be tough, but with rumors and speculation about Walton coaching for his job swirling around, that simply isn’t the kind of environment anyone can hope to succeed in for very long.
The frustration here is that this specific distraction came from those directly involved with the Lakers. This was a meeting between the president of basketball operations and the head coach that went public. Walton and the Lakers have enough on their plate without having to deal with that.