Luke Walton has spent much of this season and basically all of the games since the All-Star break seen as a lame duck head coach. Magic Johnson reportedly berated him seven games into the season. The year before, when LaVar Ball was still allowed near microphones, he took his shots with no response from the Lakers other than a couple tweets from Jeanie Buss.
Walton has also been at the helm of one of the more disappointing Lakers teams in recent memory, is one of a select few coaches who watched from the sidelines as LeBron James missed the playoffs and consistently relied on Tyler Ennis or Rajon Rondo when new cult hero Alex Caruso was sitting right there.
Walton hired one of the least inspiring coaching staffs of my lifetime. Frankly, only Brian Keefe has a legitimate claim to remain anywhere near an NBA sideline. Luke’s offenses have been offensive. He began last season starting Larry Nance, Jr. over Julius Randle. No matter the situation, he religiously plays 10 guys, even if the ninth and 10th guy have no business being on an NBA court, let alone in a rotation.
And perhaps most egregiously of all, Luke Walton speaks with this weird southern twang despite being from [checks notes] San Diego?*
Despite all that, however, there is still an outside chance Walton might actually be retained. Crazy, I know.
Jeanie Buss was recently asked about the third-year Lakers head coach and while she wouldn’t say whether or not he would be fired at season’s end (probably not a great sign) she only stopped just short of essentially describing Walton as some type of son by way of Phil Jackson.
“There’s a whole other chapter of my life where I was, for 15 years, the significant other of coach Phil Jackson. And Phil used to say, ‘Bill Walton may be Luke’s dad, but Luke is my son.’ ... It was a very Star Wars-y kind of thing...”
Look, if you’re going to have any ally in professional sports, any whatsoever, the absolute best person you can have in your corner is the owner of your team. Buss talking the way she did about Walton means she’s going to look for any reason whatsoever to keep him around, and Walton is finishing this season with consecutive wins over playoff teams with a rotation made up mostly of South Bay Lakers.
Magic Johnson may not necessarily operate with consistent logic, but if he’s going to claim at exit interviews this week that it was injuries and not the immensely flawed roster he put together that sank this Lakers season, that same line of thinking could be applied to keeping the head coach, too.
Now, that could also be called doubling down on a bad bet, but still, if Magic is going to give his experiment another year, Jeanie could argue he has to do the same for his head coach.
If Johnson and Rob Pelinka try to bring up the very idea of firing Walton, Jeanie will likely point to this recent stretch, as well as the point earlier in the year where the Lakers were the Western Conference’s fourth-best team. Yes, she’s said at just about every turn that she’s going to trust Magic with this decision, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t offer up her two cents.
(Quick tangent... Here’s the thing about her doing so: Good! The days of Jeanie running the Lakers from on high, completely separated from the basketball operations team, ended as soon as she ousted Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. Her plausible deniability ran out as soon as she went all mother of dragons and ended evil brother Jim’s reign. All right, back to the topic at hand)
Another thing to keep in mind under the current administration: The very possible scenario in which the Lakers are just cheap. The Buss family doesn’t have billions to spend from other revenue streams. If Jeanie doesn’t want to pay two coaches at the same time and has an excuse to keep Walton (whom, again, she considers damn near a son in a roundabout way) around, she’s going to keep Walton around.
I’m not saying it’s definitely happening. If anything, I’d probably predict that he’s given his walking papers at some point this week, and for decent reason. The list of reasons to oust Walton at this point outnumber the reasons to keep him. I mean honestly, what the hell is going on with that accent?* But if Jeanie decides to really go to bat for Walton (as Steph Curry and Steve Kerr recently did), she’ll have a few points to make.
Buss has flexed her muscle in order to save the organization her dad built from itself before. While she has said that she'll step aside to allow the people she entrusted do their thing, she has to know that the final word belongs to her. And if she really feels as strongly about Walton as she said she does, he stands at least a fighting chance to return next season. Weirder things have happened.
*[IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I do not remotely care about how Walton speaks, even if he talks like a Tennessee radio host stranded in the heart of Los Angeles whose agent told him to ditch the accent. I'm just trying to have fun.]