Throughout the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers season, one of the consistent themes has been an undercurrent of discontent with head coach Luke Walton, one that stems from the team’s front office — president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka — seeming to be dissatisfied with their coach.
There was a report in December that Walton “doesn’t fit the mold” of what Magic Johnson wants in a head coach, and that he’d prefer to get his own guy at some point down the line.
More recently, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that even the players in the Lakers’ locker room are well aware that Walton being replaced is an inevitability.
But despite their rumored discontentment with Walton, Pelinka and Johnson haven’t ever gone on record with their dissatisfaction, with Johnson saying he and Walton are “all good” and Pelinka recent telling Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet that he thinks Walton has been great for the Lakers this season:
“Luke’s done an amazing job, we’re totally unified. Magic, Luke and I talk all the time. (During) the trade deadline process, we would spend hours on the phone just going over different roster compositions, different skill sets we needed, and our communication is in lockstep.
“He’s been tremendous. I think he has a passion to get this team in the playoffs, and you’re going to see him aggressively coach us to the very end... We’re all going to stay together and support one another.”
This also seemingly vibes with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss’ recent proclamation that the organization is “100 percent” behind Walton, but the problem is that some seem to be lurking back there with a proverbial knife.
Pelinka saying stuff like this is nice. It theoretically would seem to indicate that maybe Walton isn’t as much of a goner as many seem to think he is at the end of the season. The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that it ignores how leaks work entirely.
All these NBA insiders didn’t just come to the conclusion that the Lakers — and Johnson most specifically — were unhappy with Walton by looking into crystal balls or reading tarot cards. The reason they’re so sure that this new front office wants their own coach is because people are telling them that this organization wants a new coach.
So who is telling them that? It’s probably not worth driving ourselves crazy with guesses, and I understand that a lot of Lakers fans aren’t feeling like they can trust NBA insiders very much in the wake of the recent “information wars” surrounding the Lakers’ attempts to trade for Anthony Davis, but no responsible journalist would make these types of strong inferences and assertions without them being at worst heavily informed speculation, and in all likelihood actually heavily reported facts.
That’s not really fair to Walton. The Lakers front office 100 percent has the right to hire whoever they want to coach their team and no one is disputing that, but how they’ve managed the information game this year has done a disservice to Walton and feels grimy.
Regardless of how one feels about Walton as a coach — he’s far from perfect — this still wasn’t the classiest way to lead up to what appears to be his nearly inevitable exit, and won’t be a good look for the Lakers with the best coaching candidates on the market. Thankfully for them, given all the buzz about their interest in Jason Kidd, at least they aren’t targeting those.
It’s possible that Walton could have a strong showing on the Lakers’ way to a playoff spot as Pelinka alludes to, and maybe even keep his job. But it doesn’t sound like things are heading that direction based on the fact that nearly every newsbreaker seems to think he won’t be around much longer. Pelinka saying the right things in interviews doesn’t really change that.