Luke Walton has taken plenty of criticism for his coaching this season, both from inside the Los Angeles Lakers organization and from fans who are unsatisfied with his rotations, offensive system, how he’s using Lonzo Ball, or whatever the current complaint du jour is.
But while it should be noted that players usually refrain from criticizing their head coach, the Lakers as a whole have been incredibly supportive of Walton. They had one of their biggest wins of the season against the Charlotte Hornets hours after another report about Walton’s job security surfaced, and players have also gone somewhat out of their way to praise Walton’s abilities as a coach.
Tyson Chandler recently complimented Walton on the “great job” he’s done coaching amid difficult circumstances, and his fellow veteran Rajon Rondo told reporters recently that he’s loved playing for Walton:
“I’ve been learning from Luke. I love his coaching style. He’s not overbearing, he doesn’t talk all the time. He talks a little trash on the side, but I don’t mind that.”
Rondo doubled-down on that point to Marc Spears of The Undefeated:
I love playing for Luke Walton. I am glad he was raised by some hippies. He has a chill, laid-back personality. I wasn’t raised by a hippie, but my mom was really reserved and quiet. There are a lot of similarities from that aspect. He’s a player-first coach. He’s not overbearing with his voice. He doesn’t talk all the time. I love how he uses his assistants to let them voice their opinion. And then when he needs to step in, he does. He reminds me of a way chiller Doc.
Again, players usually don’t go out of their way to say bad things about their coach. That has to be noted and emphasized.
That said, they also usually aren’t this effusive in their praise of a coach if they don’t actually like playing for them. Maybe a coach that has lost the locker room will get a few dry platitudes or non-committal endorsements, but this would seem to extend beyond that.
Does this praise make Walton infallible, or necessarily indicate he’s a great head coach? No. It also doesn’t guarantee he’s safe beyond this season, but what it does demonstrate are the skills Walton possesses at his job that aren’t always visible during games, including gaining the ear of veterans in the locker room, being able to bond with various personalities and getting players to want to play for him.
Walton isn’t perfect as a head coach, but his X’s and O’s issues can be aided by additions to the assistant coaching staff. His skills as a communicator, relationship-builder and motivator are valuable, and will be especially useful if he has to coach a team without LeBron James for any length of time in the wake of a groin injury leaving James “day-to-day.”
It will also be interesting to see how much Walton’s abilities in the above areas are prized by the Lakers front office once this season is over, and how many more Lakers players endorse Walton before then. One would think that some affirmation from James would go a long way in ensuring Walton sticks around past this year, but it also isn’t clear such comments are on the horizon from James. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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