Luke Walton has been coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for two full seasons. In those two years, he’s been saddled with a couple of the worst rosters in franchise history. So it makes sense that he’s looking forward to actual NBA depth next season, even if it might lead to a different set of problems.
In an interview with Chris McGee of Spectrum SportsNet, Walton was asked about the Lakers’ depth and versatility across the roster and sounded like he was chomping at the bit to start working with his new players, who he’s said he called around to former coaches and teammates and asked for scouting reports on:
“Yeah, this is a roster that as you get through the heart of the season, I feel comfortable no matter who’s out there on the court. Whoever’s playing out of that group is gonna be able to get the job done if we’re doing it the right way, and we’re playing to a certain level, if we’re sharing the ball. If we’re doing all the things that are going to make us a championship caliber team, than whoever is on the court out of them, we’re going to be fine.”
What strikes me as interesting here isn’t necessarily the roster (though I’m obviously as ready for everyone to see it take the court for the first time), but those responsible for putting it together. Namely, Magic Johnson.
Magic has watched over the last few years as the Los Angeles Dodgers have won five of the last six division titles and might very well be on their way to their sixth in seven years. They’ve done so through organizational depth so as to overcome the obstacles that are unavoidable during a 162-game season. Sure, the Lakers might play just over half as many games in their regular season, but the value of depth remains.
Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Young guys might not develop the way the team hopes. Veterans might take a step back. The Lakers, as Luke points out, are prepared for all of that.
McGee followed up by asking Walton if he’s concerned about the common refrain about this team having too many mouths to feed, and query Walton answered with a question of his own:
“Would you rather not have players to fill those minutes? To me this is awesome. We have 10, 11, 12 guys who can honestly play NBA minutes, and we’re trying to get up there and compete with these teams that have been there for years now and they have really good players on their team, so we’re going to need our five, six, seven, eight guys on that depth chart to outplay their five, sixth, seventh, eighth guy on their depth chart to win.
“I think, like I said about competing against each other, you get 5-on-5 with guys who are competing against each other for minutes and just pride, it brings up the level of play on your team. And we’re going to need all of these guys. At some point during the season between — knock on wood — injuries, and guys going through slumps, and guys needing time off, every single person, we’re going to need them and they’re going to have their opportunity. I think when you have that kind of depth, you can withstand a long NBA season.”
Now it’s time to look back on a sentiment echoed endlessly by Rob Pelinka. He (and Magic) have spoken at length about the value of competition, especially with such a young core. In a perfect world, the veterans would push the young guys who would, in turn, reinvigorate their older teammates. As one goes down, another stands up in his place.
The thing to keep in mind here is how insane the Western Conference is going to be, even with the stench emanating from Minnesota. Every single game is going to come with the weight of the playoff chase, so any minutes played by someone we wouldn’t necessarily consider NBA-caliber (as has been commonplace the last few years) could legitimately affect this season’s outcome.
Walton will have all kinds of options based on the team’s health, matchups on any given night, hot hands or whatever. He’s openly accepting the challenges that come with depth, having seen firsthand what the alternative is.