The 2018-19 campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers has been a rollercoaster ride with plenty of ups, downs, twists and turns.
This season has been quite the ride for players and even fans, but especially for the team’s head coach, Luke Walton. His dream job is drastically different than when he took over a rebuilding Lakers team nearly three years ago. Instead of a coaching job that simply requires teaching and grooming a collection of young players, he now has one that includes that same task while getting them into the playoffs on the shoulders of LeBron James.
The issue now, of course, is that James has missed three weeks of action due to a groin injury suffered in the team’s Christmas Day throttling of the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers have gone just 4-7 in the 11 games with James out of the lineup and they won’t have him back for at least two more.
After an embarrassing 101-95 home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, many fans started to call for Walton’s firing. But despite the team’s recent struggles, those fans shouldn’t expect Walton to go anywhere this season, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
It should’ve helped that Lakers president Magic Johnson went on record earlier this season to say Walton’s job was safe this season barring something drastic.
Or that Lakers legend Kobe Bryant tweeted support after a double-digit loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Or that Lakers management continues to project support for Walton publicly and privately — at least through this season, multiple sources told ESPN.
It would make sense if the team has no desire to make a coaching change in the middle of the season. Walton’s staff presents little, if any, reason to be excited about an interim coach stepping up in the scenario that he gets let go. If another staff were to be brought in, the transition would be very tricky and every game is crucial in the Western Conference. That alone could cost the Lakers a playoff spot, or at least diminish their chances at earning one.
The real questions will come this offseason. If the team continues their poor play and misses the playoffs, Walton’s seat would be scorching hot. Luckily for him, James appears to be on the verge of returning. And despite the Lakers being currently tied for the eighth spot in the West, they are only three games out of the third seed right now.
The key for the Lakers will be getting and staying healthy. The team was 18-9 after a 2-5 start to the season before James and Rajon Rondo were lost on Christmas Day. If the Lakers can get those two back fairly soon and keep the roster intact, there is plenty of reason to believe they can make a run and climb the standings out West.
Until then, however, Walton will continue to search for the answers with the current squad he has without worry about losing his job in the near future.
You can follow this author on Twitter @garykester.
For Ramona Shelburne’s full story on Luke Walton, click here.