Over the last week, there have been a lot of reports and rumors to surface about Luke Walton and his job security — or lack thereof — with the Los Angeles Lakers.
There have been rumors about the various candidates that could replace Walton, and that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss won’t stand in the front office’s way if they want to move on from the third-year head coach.
Walton responded to those whispers by saying that he fully expects to coach the Lakers next year, and Tyronn Lue — one of the most oft-rumored candidates to replace Walton — reportedly called him to let him know the Lakers haven’t reached out to him about the job.
But one of the most important factors in all of this — whether Lakers star LeBron James wants Walton around — has sort of gone under the radar amidst everything. And while we probably will never know for certain exactly what James thinks of Walton, a few leaks have certainly made it seem like he is at the very least not going out of his way to cool his coach’s warming seat.
The first such report came from Bill Oram of The Athletic:
Johnson is believed to want a coach of his choosing, rather than Walton, whom he inherited from the previous Lakers front office, while James’ camp has not-so-quietly pushed for a change as well.
Then there was more, via Tania Ganguli of The L.A. Times (emphasis mine):
On the other hand, Walton’s growth might not align with a franchise that has proven to be impatient. This is the sixth straight season the Lakers have missed the playoffs. Prior to this stretch the Lakers as a franchise had only missed the playoffs five times in their entire history. Jerry Buss only presided over two non-playoff seasons. Johnson and Rob Pelinka did not hire Walton and might want a coach of their own choosing. They have differing views on the Lakers’ lineups and playing time as the team has struggled through this season. There’s also the matter of how he meshes with LeBron James, whose camp has not been on board with Walton this year.
Anyone who covers the team has heard similar whispers, and all this also lines up with a report from earlier this season that used the same phrasing, that it was James’ camp that doesn’t like Walton, because we apparently have to pretend that their wishes don’t reflect James’, or that they don’t work for him.
I understand why reporters can’t make such a leap without hearing it from James himself. They’re just doing their jobs and trying to share facts as accurately and responsibly as possible — and rest assured, if James was going around telling the media he didn’t like Walton, this stuff would be even more public.
But here’s the thing we can say while using a little critical thinking: James’ camp does work for him, and in all likelihood would not be letting reporters know that they don’t think highly of Walton — or have “pushed for a change” — without some level of tacit approval from James himself. He at the bare minimum isn’t stopping them.
It’s easy enough to look up who likely qualifies as being in James’ camp — I’m not going name them, because I’m not going to claim to know exactly who leaked this, even if you can probably guess at it — and it’s extremely hard to believe that those views don’t at least on some level reflect James’ own if they’re this prevalent in various separate reports on Walton’s job security. That kind of stuff doesn’t come out unless someone wants it to.
The next month or so is only going to see more of these reports, as the various camps involved here — from James’, to Walton’s, to the Lakers front office and the several factions within — all ramp up public pressure on each other, attempt to set the narrative and control how this situation moves forward. It just seems like we can pretty fairly guess at this point where James and his camp are at with Walton, even if it remains to be seen how much the Lakers take such feelings into account heading into the summer.