LeBron James has a reputation for not getting along with coaches. One could argue whether or not he deserves that reputation, but it’s one that has followed him to Los Angeles with the Lakers.
But Luke Walton knew what to expect when James arrived. He talked to James’ former head coaches and teammates to prepare for it. He even cautioned his locker room about the “rumors” that might hover over them throughout the season.
And yet, the rumors about Walton’s job security have only heated up, and it might be because James and his camp have made it clear they want Walton out.
In an discussion on “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective,” Jackie Macmullan of ESPN said that James’ camp have made it no secret that they want a new head coach for the Lakers, and Windhorst — always plugged in to everything on James — said her wording was fair:
MacMullan: “There’s a lot of tension in that building. A lot of tension in that building, and I think people are wondering about Luke Walton even though Jeanie Buss came out very strongly and said ‘I want Luke to be here, I back him 100 percent,’ but then also made the point that has to be made, and that’s that she hired Earvin Magic Johnson to make these decisions, and if Earvin feels differently she gave him the power to make those kinds of decisions. It’s clear to me, and probably to you Brian, that LeBron’s camp would prefer a coaching change. They’re not too subtle about that.”
Windhorst: “LeBron publicly hasn’t talked publicly in a month.”
MacMullan: “Not LeBron, but all the people around LeBron, and they’ve made it known. I don’t think this a shock, is it? For me to say this?”
Windhorst “That’s a fair thing to say. That’s a fair thing to say.”
That’s something most people probably could have assumed, but to hear it discussed by people that are as plugged in as those two is interesting, to say the least.
While it should be noted that James’ camp feeling a certain way doesn’t have to mean James does, it would be fairly naive to assume they were speaking this (apparently) unsubtly about something on his behalf if James didn’t feel similarly. And regardless of all that, James’ camp reportedly aren’t even the only people that want Walton gone.
In December, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that team president Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been “hoping to get their own coach in at some point” because Walton “doesn’t fit the mold” of the type of coach they’re looking for.
One would assume that means Walton’s days are numbered, and while that might still be true, any decision regarding Walton’s future would have to go through Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, who has backed Walton since he was hired in 2016.
In fact, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Buss would “almost certainly” prevent Johnson and Pelinka from firing Walton, and Buss herself has said she believes the organization is “100 percent behind” Walton.
However —and while it’s not clear things will come to this — if it came down to choosing between James and Walton, who has his fair share of flaws as a head coach, it’s safe to assume that the Lakers wouldn’t sit on their decision for too long.
Is it fair? Probably not, but it’s the reality of the situation Walton is in. Unless he can lead the Lakers to a successful playoff run this season, there’s a decent chance he’s gone by next summer. Even then, the decision might have already been made.
We’ll see if how the rest of the season plays out when James is healthy, but all signs point to Walton being shown the exit door.