“Told Him He Was The Next Phil.”
- Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers fans aren’t used to losing. Last year, they were distracted from one of their worst seasons in recent memory by being given the opportunity to appreciate Kobe Bryant one last time. The feelings and media coverage that accompanied Kobe playing his final season failed to drown out scandals such as publicly exposing a teammate’s infidelity. This year, though, the Lakers’ faithful must come to terms with the reality of their young team: they need help.
The 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers are a young team loaded with raw talent. The Kobe Bryant farewell tour was great, but it wasn’t exactly the best setting for younger players to properly develop. The roster includes the second overall picks from both the 2015 and 2016 NBA drafts and several other players who will be entering their second and third NBA seasons.
The good news is that many of those players have already impressed the team’s new coach. Just like the players on his team, first-year head coach Luke Walton fits the description of raw talent. He certainly has the pedigree, but it remains to be seen if Walton will be able to impress Laker Nation. Lakers’ fans are a prideful bunch, and they won’t have much more patience for drafting in the lottery.
Walton is in a position to return the Lakers to greatness, or let them turn into the NBA’s version of the Dallas Cowboys–a once acclaimed franchise that is now struggling to find success.
The good news for the Lakers’ faithful: Walton is more than capable of returning them to glory.
The Lakers’ 2017 NBA draft pick is top three protected, but if their pick drops to fourth or lower, it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers opted to try to keep their pick in what anticipates to be a loaded draft class. They chose to keep 2017 as a development year. In a similarly forward-thinking move, the Lakers’ front office decided to pay Byron Scott to go away so they could jump at the opportunity to hire Walton away from Golden State.
The shows that the Lakers no longer want to be a franchise focused on acquiring assets and tanking, and instead are hoping that hiring Walton can alter the direction of their franchise, similar to how Steven’s resuscitated the Boston Celtics.
Walton has never officially been the head coach of any team. Despite that, his potential to be a successful head coach became apparent after going 39-4 as the Warrior’s interim head coach for the start of last season. His record gives him the greatest winning percentage of any coach, ever. He is poised and ready to step into this new leadership position and steer his young players through a successful season. He possesses unique skills and experiences that set him apart from other first-time head coaches.
A Brilliant Basketball IQ
First, Walton has an exceptionally high basketball IQ. Future Hall-of-Famer and Laker great, Kobe Bryant, has praised Walton’s intelligence. Kobe referred to Walton’s mind as “brilliant” and boasts of his ability to comprehend the “flow and tempo” of the game, while “understanding how to manage a team the right way.”
Walton learned success from the best. In 1997 the NBA named his father, Bill Walton, one of the 50 Greatest Players of all time. He also played under Phil Jackson, who has eleven NBA Championship rings as a coach. Most recently he gained unquestionable winning experience as Steve Kerr’s Assistant on the record-breaking Golden State Warriors.
Successful Offensive System
This season, Walton plans to implement an offense similar to Kerr’s. This season, he immediately began to work with the Lakers front office to add the missing pieces to run a winning system.
An example of this is Yi Jianlian, who was brought in after a four-year stint playing in China. Yi significantly improved his 3-point shot while playing across the Pacific, which he put on display during the 2016 Olympics. The seven-foot big man shot just under 47% from beyond the arc while being the defensive focus for opposing teams. His ability to play outside the paint to space the floor mimics many of the 2015-16 Warriors power forwards, and is a skill many of the other Laker big men lack.
Experience Establishing a Winning Culture
Perhaps the most valuable experience Walton can take away from his time as Kerr’s assistant is how to fix a broken organization.
The Warriors made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs the season before Kerr arrived, but people seem to have forgotten how much dysfunction flourished under previous Warrior’s head coach, Mark Jackson.
Walton is walking into a similar situation with the Lakers, but that should leave the Lakers’ faithful with a similar hope for success.
The evidence supports the expectation that Walton will empower his players to become the men they need to be to take the Lakers’ culture in a positive direction. He possesses the innate basketball intelligence and charisma to put the team in a uniquely favorable position to win.
There is no telling just how great a coach with Walton’s potential will be able to make his team, but it’s safe to say he is as good a choice as anyone could ask for.