Luke Walton has been sitting on the hottest seat in the NBA for about as long as one can remember. It’s reached a point where his future with the organization (or lack thereof) feels like a foregone conclusion.
However, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic, Walton might have more allies than you might think.
For as long as these rumors and speculation about Walton has been around, the thinking was that Jeanie Buss had his back but few others did. The phrasing used below, though, might imply that she isn’t alone in supporting the third-year head coach (via Oram, emphasis mine):
Walton has a year left on the four-year contract he signed in 2016, and firing the 38-year-old would cause considerable heartburn for officials within the organization who, according to team sources, continue to advocate for him.
It’s important to not that “officials” could mean a lot of different people, so how meaningufl their advocacy is remains unclear. The other thing that stands out to me here is the mention of his contract and how, if he was fired, the Lakers would be on the hook for that and
Mark Jackson / Jason Kidd ’s deal whatever contract they hand out this summer. The Lakers, who had an open roster spot while the season spiraled downward the last couple weeks before filling it with Andre Ingram, might just be cheap want to avoid paying two coaches at once.
On the other hand, there might just be some loyalty towards a former Lakers champion and a coach who has watched the Lakers improve in each season he was at the helm. They might feel sorry for him given the caliber of roster he was asked to make work — apparently against his own wishes. These things are never so simple as to boil it all down to one easy explanation.
It has reached a point, though, where the Lakers need figure out how they’re going to handle this situation. If they merely bring Walton back next year without extending him (which seems completely out of the question), they run the risk of making him look like a lame duck coach who would be gone at season’s end anyway (basically how this year played out).
No matter what the Lakers decide to do with Walton, that decision has to be made for the right reasons. If they fire him, it has to be with the acknowledgment they saddled him with a hilariously ill-fitting roster, and they need to do better for the next coach. If they keep him around, it has to be for something more than “We don’t want to pay two coaches at once” or “we like him personally.”
Basically, no matter what happens next, it needs to be a unified move of an organization of everyone in lockstep, not the scapegoating of one side in a political battle.
Walton will likely be the first decision made this offseason. Whichever direction they go in will be incredibly telling, not just of where they might be heading next, but whether they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made that led to his dismissal.