Luke Walton: Potential Savior or Inevitable Bust?
Updated: Apr 4
By: Malcolm Wyley and Derrick Sholes
A few days ago Luke Walton has been announced as the new coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. We have two of our writers (DJ and Malcolm) expressing their thoughts on the new signing. Let’s take a look inside the mind of two Laker fans and the course of the future for the Lakers.
Hope by DJ
It seems really comical to think a team with the second most championships in NBA history behind the Boston Celtics (16), who’s also the second most valuable team in the entire league (behind the New York Knicks) can be relying on this little thing called hope. This is a crazy world, isn’t it? A thing called arrogance has melted away like ice cubes stacked together on Wilshire Blvd. on a hot July day and has turned into a small, quickly evaporating puddle of hope after the humbling the Los Angeles Lakers have been handed on their silver plate since December of 2011, just 18 months after their fifth championship of the century. That little thing called hope seems to be required right now for a team seemingly down on its luck the last few years and for a fan base that isn’t accustomed to it, but here we are—purple and gold hope sparkles shining bright enough over the past 11 months to make us think all the egotism dished out to other NBA fans maybe wasn’t the basketball Gods pulling the karma card and biting us back for our own conceit bark for our Lakers fandom.
Will Russell and Randle come together for the new season after the Young debacle?
Three moments over the last 11 months shine the brightest over the wasteland of muck that is the last few seasons that represent that little thing us Lakers fans didn’t think we’d be giving any time of day towards in between being stuck in horrendously tedious traffic and conserving water, and that thing is hope. The first was defying the odds and the 17% chance of losing the win-or-go-home draft pick in last year’s Draft Lottery to jump the now most valuable franchise to take no. 2 and eventually drafting D’Angelo Russell a month later. The second was a few weeks ago when the often ugly and even more depressing Farewell Tour of Kobe Bryant culminated in the 60-point explosion heard around the world I’m still having difficultly believing transpired. And the third and final, arriving last week, when former Laker Luke Walton agreed to become the next head coach of the Lakers once his work with the winningest regular-season team in NBA history hopefully puts the final touches on becoming the greatest team ever this spring. We’re all on cloud 9 after learning the magical news, because it means hope is really here after few years of despair and disappointment for a deathly spoiled fan base looking to finally turn it around and cease being the league’s cash cow laughing stock but more importantly getting on the correct path to a shot at no. 17. It makes you believe good things are on the horizon one way or another. There’s a tiny shred of light at the end of this dark tunnel, and I have no problem admitting it feels damn good after the things I’ve seen with this team the last few years. These three moments embody the past, the present, and the future in quick glimmers of light. Hope is here and us fans won’t have to continue to ponder if this strange Freaky Friday team-swap with the Clippers is a permanent thing anymore. There’s still a lot to be done, starting with the next Draft Lottery on May 17th (there goes that number again), where hopefully sparkle no. 4 occurs. But regardless of what happens on that May evening in New York, because of this most recent sparkle of hope, this little thing us Lakers fans weren’t used to flickered once again in our direction. Hopefully there’s more to come.
Return of the Jedi by Suprchnk
The last eleven days have proven to be the best in recent Lakers history, arguably since 2010.
Not only did Byron Scott get dumped, but we flipped him for our old friend Cool Hand Luke, now the youngest coach in the league.
It’s like you get really good news and decide to throw a party, then at that party you get more good news. We were still celebrating Byron’s dismissal when we even found out his interview had happened, and for it to get done that same day. Leads me to believe that they knew all along he’s who they wanted, and that they for the first time in a while had a good chance against Golden State.
An underrated element of this hire is that Luke (pronounced LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE) is now the face of the franchise. Not Kobe, not Byron, not any of the Buss family, not the young core who still has to earn it. Not even Mitch who just looks so drained by it all 100% of the time. This is wonderful because unlike Byron who simply played for those Showtime teams, Luke is adored here. He’ll probably get the loudest cheer during player introductions, even if they do sound like boos. He’d be our rep at the lottery but he belongs to the Warriors for the rest of their season, and honestly no one blames him.
Dec 6, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Golden State Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton during the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
There’s obviously some risk, and some of my friends have already mentioned how pretty much anyone not named Byron could’ve coached that Warriors team to a good record while Steve Kerr was out. This is a fair concern to have though, as Luke’s own head coaching experience consists of 43 games with a pretty decent team and Steph Curry, you may have heard of that guy. In that time though, he won 39 games, one more than Byron managed to win in two whole seasons. This could prove to be a positive. A coach willing to work around the players he has and their individual skill sets, not tied down to any one system because of years of experience seeing it work. He’s seen it as a player with these same Lakers and Phil in his triangle, then with Kerr, a knowledge hybrid of Phil and Pop, in his now proven system, as an assistant on what is widely expected to be a repeating championship team.
It should be established early that the expectation is not that Luke will make it all happen immediately. D’Angelo Russell is no Steph, Julius Randle is no Draymond Green, and the Lakers haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Dwight was here. Like with Julius and D’Angelo, we have to be patient with him. I think it should be accepted by the front office that unless our team looks drastically different between now and the beginning of the season, depending on the draft and free agency, the Western Conference Finals isn’t a very realistic goal. I would love to be there, but it just isn’t happening. That said, a drastically improved team that at least threatens to make the playoffs ought to be enough for Jim Buss to keep his job (and most importantly not have to hand it off to triangle happy Phil Jackson). Luke running competent, modern day offensive and defensive sets will help tremendously with this, as will a young core that has survived their rookie season (not an exaggeration at all) and is now beginning to address their individual weaknesses.
Clarkson and Russell are the building blocks for the future of the Lakers.
It almost feels like a disservice to Julius, Jordan, Larry, and even Tarik to emphasize D’Angelo so much, but the fact of the matter is that as far as players go, this is now his team, until a big free agent signing dictates otherwise. Plays will mostly be run through him, and with Luke on the sidelines, he can truly be unleashed without the fear of being benched by a fake hardass coach for “not manning up” or whatever he would say.
Though it won’t begin to happen until Luke finishes the season with the Warriors, which everyone expects will be some time around June, it will be interesting to see who Luke brings with him to fill up the staff. One of the cons of Luke is his relatively blank slate as far as experience goes, so adding pieces that fill those holes, possibly with some of the names that the Lakers meant to interview for the main job before being sold on Luke so quickly, is that much more important. Maybe they’ll keep a theme going and bring in other members of those 09-10 teams. Metta’s already on the bench so there’s a start.
Even now he’s already saying the right things, praising the young core individually and disregarding the looming threat of Phil’s triangle for a system similar to the one guiding Golden State currently, which is music to our ears.
This hire was a sizeable step in the right direction. It was clear that Byron needed to go, but a week ago we weren’t even sure that was gonna happen. Now that it has and has led Luke back home, we anxiously await May 17, when the draft lottery comes and another piece of the puzzle falls into place. Even if we don’t get to keep our pick this year, we’re already looking more and more like a competent organization that a higher tier free agent may not mind coming to play for.
We’re entering unknown territory here, but for the first time in what seems like a fairly long time, there’s genuine optimism behind the Laker name.