Remember when the Lakers had a coach that was butting heads with the future of the franchise instead of trying to support and bring them forward? Well, those days are now long gone.
When the team announced that Luke Walton would become the 26th coach in franchise history, they sequentially put the future of the franchise in his hands. In doing so, the front office is trusting the first time head coach with one of the youngest teams in the NBA which in itself is a daunting task, but one that Walton seems fit to take on.
As a former world champion with the organization Walton has been at the very peak with the purple and gold and given time, support, and patience, he can return Los Angeles to its past glory.
This is a world of unknowns for Lakers fans as they are not used to a rebuild or a team without one of the cornerstones of the franchise, Kobe Bryant. Last season should have been primarily about building the confidence of the youth movement and it couldn’t have been more of the opposite. But with Walton, it seems like the environment for the youngsters will be entirely contrasting, and he hasn’t even coached a single game yet.
Since the first day on the job with his introductory press conference Luke has been raving about the players pegged to lead this team in the new age of LA basketball and they seem just as animated as he is about learning under his tutelage.
D’Angelo Russell started communicating with his new head coach as much as possible while Walton was wrapping up his second straight NBA Finals appearance as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, texting Walton about various aspects of the game that they’ll be able to work on.
With this being his first head coaching gig, the players that represent the future of the team and their new coach are on a similar timeline which has made it easier for them to work together and communicate. Walton will have to balance the line between continuously building the confidence of players such as Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and rookie Brandon Ingram and being the motivator and assertive voice behind their growth as players and teammates.
Being able to connect with players on a level to where they not only respect Walton but feel they can confide in him as well is an aspect of coaching that should certainly help during a rebuild and an aspect that he has gotten off to a strong start in. This is something that Byron Scott tried to do but seemingly failed.
Julius Randle has spoken about his brief experiences with the new head coach and described his coaching style as “Laid back, very laid back but very affirmative of what he wants done, what he wants us to do, and how he wants us to play, but a lot of freedom, but freedom in the right way.” With this freedom and the versatility of all the youngsters, the Lakers under Walton will be brought through the gates of the modern game.
Speaking of the modern day NBA, Walton is coming from one of the teams that really pushed the game in how to play with more running in transition, outside shooting, team oriented play on both ends of the floor, and small ball.
In his presser, Walton was adamant that he would build a system similar to what they did in Oakland but one that fits the talent the Lakers have on their roster. The coaching style flip from Byron Scott to the staff Luke has put together was already apparent in summer league. From the quotes of the players who have worked with Walton’s staff thus far, it’s apparent that they prefer his style.
The system they ran in Oakland and the efficiency to which they were able to produce great looks within it was at the top of the league. The Lakers severely lacked open looks last season with Scott’s offense. We got a small glimpse of improvements during summer league when the team looked completely different style wise.
Obviously, he was not the head coach in Golden State but while Steve Kerr missed 43 games to begin the season the team got off to a 39-4 start with Walton at the helm. By the time the season began, numerous Warriors players such as Steph Curry and Draymond Green voiced their support of their assistant coach, saying they trusted him just as much as Kerr.
On Luke’s coaching staff, there are familiar names within the Lakers organization in assistant Brian Shaw to go along with Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen along with newcomers Jesse Mermuys and Jud Buechler.
Mermuys was with the summer league squad as the head coach and has been able to work with Clarkson, Randle, and the few guys who played in Las Vegas. From all accounts it seems like Mermuys is a real players coach. He is someone who gives the team freedom to play with and the confidence to be successful, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the staff.
Unlike last season, the youth of the team will be developed in a way that will be extremely beneficial while the mistakes they make along the way will be seen as teaching moments. The future core of the Lakers is in the hands of coaches that will strive to create a winning atmosphere and locker room full of excitement.
While the players themselves are ready to learn under Walton, he has been just as eager to get to work with the young talent on the roster. The Lakers were able to add a vital piece to their future core this summer when they drafted Brandon Ingram out of Duke. Due to his responsibilities with Golden State, Luke was not able to participate in any pre-draft research with the team but he did come out and support the selection.
Walton has also voiced his elation to coach Russell, Randle, and Clarkson and praised not only their talents but their willingness to work on improving their games. Though as we saw last season, even if the talent is there, that can all be put to waste if the coaching isn’t adequate. That doesn’t look to be the case with Walton.
The Lakers have their work cut out for them if they are to become a contender year in and year out but they finally have a vision and someone to drive it to where they need to go. One of the biggest takeaways from what Walton has said about the future of the organization is that he wants to take on the challenge of recreating what he left in Oakland,
If there is anyone who would be able to do so, it would be him. Walton understands the game at a high level, is incredibly charismatic and approachable, and is willing to work with the core of the team knowing that this isn’t an overnight fix.
There has not been a stable coaching presence in LA since Phil Jackson left in 2011 but after years of uncertainty, the team has its guy. The question that remains is not if Walton is ready to lead this new era of Lakers basketball, but how far will he lead them?