When the Los Angeles Lakers put out a press release on Friday afternoon announcing that Luke Walton wouldn’t be coaching the team next season, the only surprising thing was that he and Rob Pelinka were saying that they had agreed to mutually part ways, rather than Walton outright being fired.
However, it seems that summation of events may not have been entirely accurate, as Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN are reporting that Walton felt less than mutually about the Lakers’ desire to separate:
The Lakers announced Friday afternoon that the team and Walton had “mutually agreed to part ways.” But make no mistake, no matter what the media release said: Walton was fired.
Despite whatever challenges existed, Walton wanted to remain the coach of the Lakers, sources said.
That lines up with something Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported earlier in the day on the radio:
(cont)— TheLakersReview (@TheLakersReview) April 13, 2019
for him to stay, there would have to be a major public show of support. An extension. Changes in the ways things were running ... it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen ...”
After an entire season’s worth of rumors about Walton’s job security, that extension was never going to happen, and Walton’s side probably had to know that, but in the always-turbulent coaching market, it doesn’t hurt to try and work it out in a place where the owner likes you as much as Jeanie Buss clearly appreciates Walton.
And even before that attempt to work things out didn’t, well, work out, it sounds like Walton was probably surprised he even made it to Friday without being let go anyway:
Walton had a sense that the Lakers’ final road trip of the season could also end up being his final road trip as the head coach, sources close to him said. He spent some time before L.A.’s season finale hugging staffers and chatting with his parents, presumably there to see their son’s final game and sendoff.
None of this is particularly surprising, even if it is notable it came to light. And even if Walton was less willing to leave the Lakers than the initial press release made it seem, the team still did him a favor by at least not letting him hang in the wind too long — well, at least not too long after the season. The way the organization let him deal with rumors that he was on the hot seat all season with very little support was fairly tactless, even if you don’t like Walton, but I digress.
At the bare minimum, Walton got the boot with enough time to look for opportunities elsewhere, and it’s probably not a coincidence that a day after the Sacramento Kings floated that Walton would be the front-runner for their head coaching job if he was let go, he was let go and soon setting up an interview:
Just landed in SF and was told that Vlade Divac has contacted Luke Walton about Sacramento Kings job and is trying to set up meeting with the former Lakers coach, per source— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) April 12, 2019
Was told Vlade Divac was glad to hear Luke Walton and Lakers had mutually agreed to part ways today, per source— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) April 12, 2019
Regardless of the circumstances, though, the Walton era is over. Maybe now that Rob Pelinka — the only remnant of the front office that let Walton hang in the wind all season and the man reportedly leading the team’s coaching search — gets to make his own hire, the next coach-management pairing will have a little more synergy and function at a higher level.