Luke Walton’s seat started warming up as soon as LeBron James inked his four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer. A few weeks ago the general belief was that Walton’s perch was the hottest it’s ever been, but according to the team’s controlling owner, Jeanie Buss, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In an interview on “The Lowe Post” with Zach Lowe of ESPN, Buss said that everyone in the organization — including president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka — is rooting for Walton to succeed:
“I can tell you right now, everyone, Magic, Rob, myself, everyone in the organization is behind Luke. There’s nothing more important to Earvin, to Magic — besides his family — than this Laker team. And we are doing everything we can to make sure that Luke is successful in his job. That’s our job.
“I think he’s doing a terrific job. Given the injuries that we’ve had, it’s a challenge. People forget, like, he’s had two of our starters taken away from him. And they’ve won really important games on the road, proving what is possible even without LeBron.
“It’s still difficult to lose the games you’re supposed to win when you’re at home to a sub-.500 team. It’s really hard to lose those games. But then you go out on the road and you get the wins over Oklahoma City, and these great teams in our conference that are where we want to be at the top of the conference, (and) I think that you can see that there is progress being made even without two of our starters. I think Luke’s done an impressive job.”
However, Buss remained non-committal on whether or not Walton was “100 percent safe” for the rest of the season:
“You’re asking the wrong person. The vision has to come from Magic. From where I sit, from what I can tell you, every single thing that we’re doing, every single person in the organization is here to make Luke successful.”
That little cliffhanger from Buss sounds ominous, but anyone that knows her relationship with Walton knows that there’s a small, small chance he’s going anywhere.
When the Lakers were in the midst of a losing streak without LeBron James earlier this month, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that Buss would “almost certainly” prevent Walton from being fired, and rightfully so, because in spite of all of Walton’s flaws as an offensive tactician, he’s done a decent job with the cards he’s been dealt.
For two consecutive seasons, he’s coaxed a group of so-so defenders to defend at a high level. Through 48 games this season, the Lakers are ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating, allowing just 106.7 points per 100 possessions.
They’ve also improved nine games every season Walton has been in charge. Only Tom Thibodeau’s Minnesota Timberwolves improved at faster rate over that time, and he had two All-Star players in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler.
But he also got fired, so there’s that.
Walton might be frustrating at times, to both the fans and management, but it sounds like the front office is willing to work with him through his growing pains and hope he develops into the type of coach it seems like he can be.