With the Los Angeles Lakers starting to climb the Western Conference standings and going 10-5 in their last 15 games, it seemed the head coach Luke Walton would be safe from getting let go by the team’s front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
Johnson has also already guaranteed he won’t fire Walton this season — hardly a ringing endorsement — but it would seem Walton isn’t necessarily as protected from Johnson and Pelinka’s desire to bring in their own guy in the long-term.
On the “Woj and Lowe” special on ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski made it sound like Walton is far from safe from such whims, even if Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has thus far been reticent to make a change.
”Since Magic has taken over, they had been hoping to get their own coach in at some point. We saw it play out in the meeting they had earlier in the year where Magic really went after Luke,” Wojnarowski said. “If they’re going to be able to go to Jeanie Buss and sell her on replacing Luke Walton, they better be trying to do it off a season where they missed the playoffs or off of a long losing streak. Because she has been fiercely loyal to Luke Walton.
“That was her hire in every way, and so far she has kept management off of him. They’ve allowed Magic and Rob Pelinka to change everything there, they haven’t been able to touch Luke Walton.”
If Buss eventually relents and Johnson and Pelinka are ultimately able to touch Walton, it won’t be surprising. This is the way things always go in the NBA. New front offices almost always say the right thing about the current head coach on the record, but are almost always just waiting for a chance to bring in someone who more fits the image they have of what a head coach should be.
According to Wojnarowski, Johnson isn’t any different:
”Magic’s view of a coach remains Pat Riley. The fiery, old-school (guy). That’s his view. Luke Walton doesn’t fit the mold of what he sees in a head coach.”
This is all human nature on some level. Bosses who didn’t hire their current employees almost always think they can find a better option, even if that isn’t always true. Plus, being on the hot seat is just part of the reality of coaching a team with LeBron James that has win-now expectations. Walton knew he’d be in for constant whispers about his job security, over-analysis of James’ body language to see if he was happy with Walton and everything else that comes with coaching one of the highest-profile teams in the NBA.
But Johnson and Pelinka should be wary of dismissing Walton too early. They should be sure they’re going to be able to find someone better. Walton has very real flaws as a head coach, but he’s also shown he’s an excellent communicator that can get buy-in from across a roster with a variety of different personalities, and that he’s a guy that can convince a team to commit to the grind of playing NBA defense at a high level. The Lakers should potentially consider if Walton just needs harder-charging assistants who are more competent in X’s and O’s before making a drastic change at the top of the coaching staff.
All that noted, it sounds like Walton is still safe for now, and that this is more of a long-term concern. Barring something drastic, it seems he’ll be able to coach out the year. But if the Lakers don’t exceed expectations, all these rumblings — in combination with Johnson and Pelinka’s tepid endorsements — don’t make it sound like Walton will be around much longer than that.