On Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers will be visited by a few familiar faces on the Sacramento Kings. Not only will they see Trevor Ariza, who won a champion with the Lakers in 2009, but they’ll also see Luke Walton — the team’s head coach in the previous three seasons.
The Lakers hired Walton in April of 2016 with the hope that he’d grow with the team’s young core and help them compete for a championship in the future. However, the future came much sooner than Walton expected when LeBron James signed with the Lakers last summer. Suddenly, Walton was tasked with managing players on two vastly different timelines.
While it looked like Walton was on the cusp of unlocking his roster’s potential, he was never able to put it all together due to a combination of poor roster building, locker room drama and Walton’s own shortcomings as a head coach. As a result, James’ active NBA-record 13-year playoff streak was cut short, but he doesn’t blame Walton for it.
While he was wary of the question — James cut short a previous query about Walton by calling it “a trick question” — at shootaround on Friday. James said that he thought Walton did well given the circumstances, and blamed injuries for his unsuccessful first season in Los Angeles.
“Throughout everything that was going on, (Walton and his coaching staff) tried to remain positive and patient, dealing with the circumstances they had,” James said. “We were right where we needed to be on Dec. 25, went up to Golden State, played a very good team and had a very good game and then the injury happened and I’m out six-and-a-half weeks. No one could have predicted that, including myself and including Luke. We were behind the eight ball.
“But throughout it all he tried to remain positive with the young guys and the older guys ... I think he did as good as a job as you could do under the circumstances.”
"I agree with LeBron," Luke just said pregame https://t.co/wlT6I7E22D— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) November 16, 2019
Perhaps things would have ended differently if James had never gotten hurt, but everything ended up working out for the Lakers in the end. If the Lakers made the playoffs, they wouldn’t have had the No. 4 pick to include in the trade package for Anthony Davis. In fact, had they snuck into the postseason, it’s possible they wouldn’t have even put a package together for Davis.
Obviously it was disappointing for James to miss the postseason in his first year with the Lakers, but they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in now — with the head coach they have now — if it weren’t for the disastrous end to last season.