On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers will play their final game of the regular season and the wide belief around the league is that it will also be Luke Walton’s last game as head coach of the team.
Walton still has two years left on the five-year, $25 million contract he signed in 2016, but after failing to end the Lakers’ six-year playoff drought and coincidentally ending LeBron James’ 13-year playoff streak, it’s hard to see a scenario where the front office brings him back for another season. However, that’s not to say that Walton is the sole reason the Lakers won’t be playing in the postseason this year.
The Lakers had to deal with injuries in different waves this season and the roster the front office constructed last summer wasn’t designed to weather the storm. It’s for that reason James told Allie Clifton of Spectrum SportsNet that he’s empathetic towards Walton, who James said did the best job he could given the circumstances:
“I mean, as good as you could. As good as you can. No one expects for a suspension to happen on opening night (Rondo and Ingram in the home opener). No one expects for injuries to happen the way they did with our franchise this year. Where your starting point guard is out for numerous games. Your starting small forward is out. Your starting two-guard, B.I., is out. Josh is hurt. Rondo is hurt. I’m not talking two or three games here, everyone is back in the lineup. We’re talking like 15, 20, 25 games. I saw something the other day where myself, B.I., Zo and Kuz only played 23 games together this year. 15-8. We had a defensive rating of fourth in the NBA, and we were like seventh in offense when we played together over 23 games. As good as that is, it’s not enough for Luke to even know what he has on a consistent basis, when you don’t have a consistent roster every night during the season. Like you said, control what you can control and you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt, and I think he played the hand as well as he could.”
These comments from James might not be enough to save Walton’s job, especially if James’ camp reportedly wants him gone, but it does give fans a little insight on how the locker room views Walton’s role in this disaster of a season.
Walton wasn’t a perfect head coach and one could argue that the lack of growth he’s shown as an in-game tactician and offensive strategist is enough for him to be fired, but he’s not the reason the Lakers were as bad as they were this season. In fact, he might be one of the biggest reasons the team didn’t fall apart after the trade deadline.
Will Walton be back with the Lakers next season? Probably not, but he’s show enough as a leader to warrant another look as a head coach in this league.
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