The Lakers look to have a bit of a bounce-back year next season. With new coaches and new talent on board, LAL will hope to improve upon a dismal 17-win season. While the improvements may not significantly alter the win column, they can bring hope to a fanbase that has not had any in a long time.
The leader of that movement is new head coach Luke Walton who was interviewed on Thursday by Chris Geeter of TWC SportsNet. Walton used to be an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors who broke the record for most wins in a single season. Among the questions Walton was asked was whether he be prepared for a long rebuild after winning so many games with the Warriors. His response:
Here’s the thing. I’m not looking at it right now personally as “If we win this many games we had a successful year”. We have a very good young group of players, that the Lakers have put together. We have some good vets that come in that have great work ethic, are known throughout the league as being phenomenal teammates. They can help this process.
To me I’m judging our success, at least for now, who knows how long this may take, on how we play. Are we playing the right way, Are we moving the ball, are we competing on defense, Are we growing as individuals and as a team. If we’re doing those things then we’re having success. And I think once we start doing those things and doing them consistently, now wins are going to start happening.
This is what many fans hope to hear. The Lakers have been losing at an incredible rate since the 2012-13 season. And every coach since then has portrayed the idea that wins matter more than the development of the young players on the team. Luke is saying quite the opposite. He has put out a feeling that the most important thing is to practice good habits. Process over results.
Geeter also brought up culture, as that has been a big staple of what Luke wants to do. Here’s what he had to say:
I think culture is big no matter what, but when you have two of the greatest players in the game, you can win championships without it . You can find ways to get it done.
But when you’re developing young players, I think having an environment that makes the players want to come in, that makes the players want to get better is everything because it’s a business now at this level for the most part and there’s young players making millions of dollars and a lot of times they can just come in and get their shots up and do what they need to do and get out of there, and that’s not what we want.
We want them coming in, staying in, having fun, going at each other, making each other better. Honestly since I’ve been here our young guys have been phenomenal. They’ve been in that gym every day not because we make them come in, but because they want to be in there, and you can already see some of the progress happening
Like the 2000-2003 Lakers (who I’ll assume he meant when referring to a team with two all time greats on a championship winning team) the Golden State Warriors didn’t necessarily need a good culture to be successful, but it definitely helped them throughout the regular season and when they came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Thunder in the WCF. While they ended up giving up a 3-l lead in the Finals (the first team to ever do so) a culture of winning was established.
A good culture isn’t just players meshing well on the court and in the locker room. A good culture has to do with players having fun, wanting to improve, spending extra time in the gym, and overall just wanting to play basketball. After a couple of discouraging seasons, a change of culture will bode well for the young players.
Last but not least Luke Walton had some thoughts on choosing high character guys in free agency:
Absolutely. That’s not an accident. Obviously everyone in the NBA is going to go after LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That’s a no-brainer, but only two teams are going to get those guys.
So then you start working your way down your list, and it’s what’s more important to you at this time, and we felt like we got guys that are very good basketball players and very good people. And when you’re building something and you want it to be special it’s about working with good people, working with people you like, and that brings out the best in everybody.
Obviously the Lakers were not going to sign elite players. Luke knew that, Jim Buss knew that, and we knew that. While it’s a shame that Future Lakers didn’t end up signing with the Lakers, that doesn’t mean the Lakers failed in free agency.
The next best thing for developing a young core is signing high character vets. They know how to handle losing and how to learn from those losses. And on the flip side they also know what it’s like to win and will want to start a winning culture with the Lakers.
The future is bright and both the players and coaches look forward to the upcoming season.