When the Los Angeles Lakers brought in Luke Walton in 2016, the team was coming off its worst season in franchise history. During that organization-worst stretch, they were led by an old school, hard-nosed head coach in Byron Scott, whose methods of player development — or lack thereof — drew heavy criticism from the fanbase and ultimately led to him losing his job.
In Walton, the Lakers were getting a young head coach — the youngest in the league, in fact — who could boast championship pedigree as both a player in Los Angeles and a coach up north with the Golden State Warriors, a team that set the standard for how modern basketball should be played.
In other words, Walton was the antithesis of Scott, and therefore the perfect coach to lead the Lakers to a bright future.
Unfortunately, the future Walton was looking ahead to came sooner than expected, and he doesn’t seem ready.
The arrival of LeBron James, who the Lakers signed to a four-year, $154 million contract in July, put pressure on Walton to figure out how to win games sooner rather than later. Now eight games into the NBA regular season, the Lakers are 3-5 and team president Magic Johnson isn’t thrilled.
Johnson reportedly “shouted and cursed” at Walton during a meeting that followed back-to-back losses for the Lakers on the road, and was particularly frustrated with the fact that Walton still doesn’t have an obvious offensive system implemented in his third year with the team.
It’s a grievance many fans share, but not one that is hard to understand.
For starters, Walton doesn’t have the personnel to run the Golden State-style offense the front office likely wants him to run, and a lot of that falls on them and the decisions they made in free agency.
Yes, this regime signed LeBron, something they should be given endless credit for. But beyond that? The Lakers can’t shoot threes at the same rate or with the same accuracy as Golden State. Why? Because they didn’t address the very clear problem they had with shooting in free agency.
The Lakers also can’t go small and run teams off the floor with a death lineup like Golden State. Why? Because Walton doesn’t have a reliable small-ball five. He barely has a reliable option at center.
Walton also hasn’t had the consistency the Warriors have enjoyed over the years. The Warriors have five players from their 2014-15 roster. The Lakers have none from that season or the following season.
If the expectation for Walton is to build the Warriors in L.A. overnight, the front office is going to be waiting a long time.
Beyond that, Walton has outright said on several occasions that the offense is at the bottom of his list of to-dos going into the season. Once again, he spent all of training camp focusing on the team’s defense, which is literally what he’s said to start training camp every year since he’s been head coach, and rightfully so.
The Lakers have a enough raw talent and athleticism to carry them offensively. Even with their often stagnant offense in the half-court, they’re still ranked No. 8 in the league in offensive rating, scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions. Defensively is where they’re struggling to stay afloat, allowing 112.4 points per 100 possessions.
Their offensive scheme is far from a non-issue, but it’s not as hopeless as their defense.
However, Walton doesn’t have time to build a team the way he wants to, or rather, the way he should. Now more than ever, his success as a coach will be judged by wins and losses, which is no different from any other coach in the NBA, but it feels like Walton’s leash is a lot shorter.
So now instead of letting his team, which has a core largely made up players with three or less years of NBA experience, work through their growing pains, Walton might feel pressured into taking shortcuts to get wins in the short-term. In a season where the reigning champions added another All-Star to their roster, that’s probably not the best idea.
Walton has his faults and areas he can improve in, but overall he has done the right things to build a team with a winning culture. Unfortunately. due the impatience by a new front office regime that didn’t hire him, he might not be around to see the fruits of his labor.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.