While LeBron James’ arrival to Los Angeles makes things easier for a lot of people, it has its own set of challenges as well. No one will face those challenges more than Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton who is tasked with with creating a system that will both allow the Lakers to compete and keep LeBron happy and healthy at this stage of his career.
That’s why Walton is getting started early as the head coach has already begun preparations for how to build around James. As he told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Walton and James have already been in communication since the coach learned the star’s decision and are planning a face-to-face meeting in LA soon:
One nugget from the Lakers story we just posted. Yes, Luke Walton has been in touch with LeBron James. They texted the whole time LBJ was in Italy and made plans to meet in person soon to talk hoop.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 11, 2018
Walton has been talking to James’ former coaches in Tyronn Lue and Erik Spoelstra and he has plenty of knowledge gained through playing under Phil Jackson but as he told The Athletic’s Bill Oram, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to the situation with James in LA:
But Walton can’t coach James like Jackson coached [Kobe] Bryant any more than he can coach him like Lue, David Blatt or Erik Spoelstra did with LeBron.
“Every case is unique and different,” Walton said. “I have to build a relationship with LeBron; that’s going to be a top priority for me. … Getting to know him and having him get to know me, and then we go from there.”
Walton also spoke about the challenge of coaching JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Lance Stephenson who have their own level of varied baggage:
Rondo, Stephenson and JaVale McGee have all been known to give coaches headaches at various points in their careers, although Walton said he was unconcerned with the locker room dynamic and the orbit of James.
“I’ve gone out to talk to coaches and GMs about all the new guys that we have,” Walton told The Athletic. “That’s not a concern. Obviously it’s bigger in L.A., it’s more now that LeBron is here, but we don’t ever focus or worry about outside stuff. We’re always focused about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, and that shouldn’t change just because there’s more [external distractions] now.”
Regardless of how much work Walton puts in this summer, there are going to be challenges along the way. One short losing streak will have people calling for his job. But the head coach seems prepared for the pressure which is a good sign early in the offseason. And that hard work already looks like it’s paying off: