When Luke Walton signed on to be head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, the team was coming off of its worst season in franchise history and the front office had no clear plan for the future. Almost two years later, Walton will have the opportunity to coach the Lakers back to playoffs with the help of arguably the greatest basketball player alive in LeBron James.
In an interview on Spectrum SportsNet’s “Connected With,” Walton expressed his eagerness to coach the four-time league MVP this season and what his presence has meant for the franchise.
“What an amazing opportunity this is, not just for me as a coach but for the organization, showing that the direction that we’re moving is the right direction … An opportunity to coach somebody like that, that can do what he does on the court is something I’ve been looking forward to ever since he made that decision.”
Walton will be James’ seventh head coach in his 15-year career. While that might be cause for concern for most head coaches, Walton said he doesn’t feel any more pressure this season than he has in past seasons.
“No. The pressure for me is about wanting to do my job really well and wanting to win. I want to compete, I love the idea of a group working together to beat another team, and I’m huge on as a group, we block out the outside noise and the outside issues and we focus on what we need to do.
"Now if we don’t win as a group, then there’s pressure because I want to do better, but as far as because we now have the best player in the world on our team and some people say we’re going to win a finals, other that we’re not going to make the playoffs, I’m not going to tell my players to not pay attention to that if I pay attention to it.”
Going into his third season as head coach of the Lakers, Walton has the support of the front office and, for the most part, the fans. However, there’s no denying the expectations are exceptionally higher than they were in his first two seasons.
James hasn’t missed the postseason in over a decade and as talented of a group as the Lakers have put together, his chances of missing the postseason are the highest they’ve been in years for the sole reason that he now plays in the Western Conference. If James and Walton get off on the wrong foot, the front office won’t have to think too hard about who is easier to replace.
However, there’s plenty reason to be optimistic about Walton’s relationship with James.
For starters, the two got together almost immediately after James signed his contract and, from what we know, it went well. Walton is also no stranger to coaching a veteran-heavy team with star players, as he served as an assistant coach and interim head coach with the Golden State Warriors during their rise to power from 2014 to 2016.
Unfortunately, that won’t stop the rumors of Walton’s job security from coming. For Walton, though, it sounds like that's a small price he’s willing to pay for coaching James.
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