The Los Angeles Lakers beating the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night allowed for a sigh of relief from the fan base and organization alike. A loss would have marked the starting point of real chaos after losing to the similarly terrible Cleveland Cavaliers only days prior. Fortunately for all, Luke Walton and the Lakers got their much-needed win and quieted the doubters for the time being.
Perhaps, however, the amount of noise was more quiet than some believed. This tidbit from Ramona Shelburne of ESPN is worth noting:
As one Lakers insider put it, the Lakers hired Walton because they believed in his potential in the same way they believed in their lottery picks. While it was a different regime that hired him, the belief in his potential remains strong.
Coaches aren’t normally thought of as the kinds of investments players can be, where upside is a huge part of the analysis, but the idea that a young head coach is who they’ll be for the entirety of their career is a somewhat ridiculous proclamation.
Walton is 36 years old, the second-youngest head coach in the NBA, and has the foundational tools to grow with (communication abilities, work ethic, etc.), so it makes sense the Lakers would look at him as something of a project given his lack of experience when they hired him.
Just as with the young core, however, Walton’s timeline to figure things out sped up immensely as soon as LeBron James agreed to sign with the team. Just as with the young core, though, it’s on the Lakers organization to put Walton in the best situation they can so he reaches his potential in the same way as the youth he is trying to develop.
If Walton can take those steps forward (as an offensive tactician, for example), the Lakers can collectively move forward in the LeBron era. If Walton’s growth stagnates, the front office will move on with a coach more readymade for this specific situation.
It’s somewhat ironic, isn’t it? Walton has tended to prefer veterans in big moments because their production is more predictable. If we’re to roll with the Lakers’ line of thinking when they hired him, a veteran (in this case LeBron), might prefer someone of similar standing for the very same reason. It’s a fascinating dynamic all the way around, and will certainly be worth monitoring going forward.