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The not-so-prodigal son’s return looks better than a 36-month lease with no money down. But Is LA a fail-safe move for Luke Walton? Not by a longshot.
By Andrew J. Pridgen
Luke Walton won’t have much of a commute from his Manhattan Beach home to Staples. The only hope is he doesn’t try to Uber it to the Gold Line. It takes fucking forever and there’s too many young Turks instagramming the fact that they’re using public transit…in LA.
Notwithstanding, LA is a perfect (re)fit for Walton and Walton is the coach the Lake Show has needed for the last half-decade since Phil stepped down to become Jeanie’s full-time courtesan.
Need a reminder?
Mike Brown. Congrats. You were the winningest coach in the Lakers’ post-Jackson deflated-ball era with a .417 winning percentage.
Things clanked off the basketball ring from there. Bernie Bickerstaff lasted five whole games. Mike D’Antoni, though one of the architects of today’s transition-heavy/small-ball offense, finished 20 games under. 500 in his truncated two-year Laker tenure. And then there’s Byron Scott. Poor Byron hovered right around the Mendoza line during the lugubrious multi-season Kobe farewell tour (38-126 for a .227 winning percentage.)
To put the Scott administration in perspective, Phil Jackson lost three more games…total—during his first six seasons with the Lakers.
Luke Walton seemed more destined to return to LA than Simon Cowell. The son of chief deadhead announcer and illusory flower child emeritus, Bill, Luke the player won a pair of titles with the Purple and Gold during the height of the Kobe iso administration. Beyond the pedigree, the man who acted as Lute Olsen’s player/coach during his final two seasons in Arizona, helped define the present-era NBA locker room glue guy. But he really and showed his worth this season taking the stick from Steve Kerr guiding the Dubs to a historic 39-4 start including rattling off 24 straight to start the season before finding themselves in the loss column.
To refresh, this year’s vintage Warriors was a team that had just won a title and, well, NBA title-caliber teams don’t really start paying attention to the box score till mid-March. That Walton kept the Warriors poised, focused and…winning every night is not only a testament to his coaching prowess but the fact that at 37—maybe he was liking putting on the best N.B.A. roadshow in league history as much or more than the athletes.
Is LA a fail-safe move for Walton? Not by a longshot.
What looks so good on paper can often go bad in real life: think of how many ‘perfect’ couples you married right after college who are still together happy. Part of what makes coaches great is being a bit of a red-ass and Walton is so polite, he’ll not even post on insta when the Starbucks barista spells his name ‘Loükes’. Even Kerr, who by all counts is a good guy/funny cat both on and off the court, took a minute to (*a-hem) curry the favor of his players as he put a klatch of potential All-Stars and champions through their paces during his first camp at the onset of the 2014-’15 season.
Walton has plenty of work to do. The Lakers have won 65 games over the last three seasons and only get to keep their first-round pick this year if it’s a top-three selection. In 2012, the Lakers sent their 2015 top pick to the Suns for Steve Nash, but that came with top-five protection. Last year the Lakers got that pick back with the second-overall pick which netted them sneaky Zapruder D’Angelo Russell. Now the pick, which moved from the Suns to the 6’ers, likely will belong to Philly.
Should the ping pong ball falls in Walton’s favor, the Lakers could grab multi-tool forwards Ben Simmons (LSU), Brandon Ingram (Duke) and Jaylen Brown (Cal), guard Kris Dunn (Providence) or center Skal Labissiere (Kentucky).
Assuming Russell and Nick Young can work out their off-court differences (and Young learns how to spell) and Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. continue to develop, there is a nice core in LA. And let’s not forget, Kobe’s absence gives Jeanie 25 million additional reasons to pursue KD or even LBJ in the offseason.
But it won’t be easy. Steve Kerr, as the N.B.A.’s newest kingmaker in only his sophomore campaign (he’s already sent two coaches from his bench to head coach gigs), said Saturday he’s got this advice saved for Walton when he leaves: “I’m going to say ‘it’s too bad you don’t have Steph and Klay and Draymond anymore. You’re on your own, pal. …No, Luke and I will have a lifetime friendship.”
…For now, it’s safe to say LA and Walton are more than just friends. But when the lights go down over the Staples crowd, there’s only one result that can keep them together long-term.