The days left in the Luke Walton era with the Los Angele Lakers appear to be numbered. The last day of L.A.’s 2018-19 season will be tomorrow against the Trail Blazers, and eyes are on the exit sign with Walton’s possible departure seen by most as all but assured.
The Lakers’ hellstorm of a season was filled with injuries for its core players and mixed messages for Walton from the front office. A losing record (3-5) that started the season led to a meeting between Magic Johnson and Walton, which started the turbulent time from then to now.
And despite Lakers owner Jeanie Buss saying Walton has done an “impressive job” as the Lakers’ head coach, she’ll be leaving his fate in the hands of Johnson.
But even as the ties between the Lakers and Walton start to unfasten, one of the best teams in the NBA is recognizing Walton as an important asset to a winning organization.
When Walton’s old team, the Golden State Warriors, arrived to shootaround before their game against L.A., they had a different sentiment about the coach who led them to one of the best starts in NBA history.
Before joining the Lakers in the 2016-17 season, Walton won a ring with the Warriors in 2015 and made history with them the following year, but Stephen Curry said it was more than the success Walton helped lead Golden State to that endeared him to the group (via Mark Medina of The Mercury News):
“I think the way that he’s kept his presence on the sidelines when I watch games and watch his body language. The way that, they might not be winning games right now, but the team is playing hard. I’m sure they appreciate his consistency. Honestly I wish the best for him in terms of the future because who knows what will happen, but he’s a great coach. Anybody would be lucky to have him leading their team,” Curry said.
Even though the relationship between Curry and Walton dates back to playoff runs, it’s worth noting that one of the most respected players in the NBA thinks highly of Walton. His casual and authentic style of coaching fit well with the 2016 Warriors team, when he took the helm of interim head coach while Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery.
“He’d come to shootaround in an Oakland A’s hat, literally every day. A t-shirt, sweatpants, but he’d know what he was talking about and he did his homework,” Curry said. “That was our experience and had it have been anything different, I’m sure we would’ve rolled our eyes a little bit, like ‘oh, he’s drinking the head coaching Kool-Aid,’ but he was just himself.”
Curry wasn’t the only person from the Warriors clan to stand up for Walton. Kerr, who remains close friends with Walton, commended the mindset Walton approaches the job of head coach with, and thinks that said mindset has allowed Walton to navigate a turbulent year as well as possible (again via Medina):
“He’s holding up fine. I mean, Luke is born for this job. He really is. Not only his basketball mind, which is top-notch, but the guy has as good a feel for the game as anybody I’ve ever been around. His temperament is perfect for this job,” Kerr said. “There’s just so many ups and downs that you have to be relatively even-keeled in this position, otherwise you’re just going to wear yourself out, so I think Luke has done a good job of just keeping poised and keeping his team playing, and just handling all of the storm that has been thrown their way.”
However, even if the Warriors see Walton as an asset to winning, the only thing that matters is if the Lakers do after watching him be with the team for three consecutive losing seasons. We’ll know a lot more about how they view him for sure in the weeks to come.