Former assistant coach to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton, is reported to have mutually parted ways with his previous employer, the Los Angeles Lakers. Warriors fans will most likely remember coach Walton for the time when he filled-in more than admirably for coach Kerr, who was dealing with significant back issues, back in the 2015-'16 season.
During Luke Walton's stint as acting Warriors head coach, the then-defending champions opened the season with 24 consecutive victories, a record for a season-opening win streak. That team, as fans will also remember, went on to best the 1995-'96 Chicago Bulls' record of 72-10, going a mind-boggling 73-9. Truly an incredible accomplishment, those Dubs eventually failed to complete the mission, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals in seven.
Walton opened eyes around the league with his competence and ability to handle the Warriors star-studded lineup and dynamic style of play, especially being an assistant at the time. Soon after, discussions around the league were popping up in regards to Walton's prospects for becoming a head coach. As the season came to a close, Luke was linked to the team of his former playing days, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Much anticipated, Luke Walton was received with open arms by the Laker-faithful. However, good feelings and nostalgia of past greatness never materialized into on-court success. Walton's Lakers never finished a season over .500 nor did they ever sniff the playoffs:
2016-'17: 26-56, (.317) win pct.
2017-'18: 35-47, (.427) win pct.
2018-'19: 37-45, (.451) win pct.
This past season was clearly what did Luke Walton in, as he failed to get a team featuring LeBron James to the playoffs. The team tremendously underachieved, considering it had strong young supporting-cast members around James, including: F Brandon Ingram, PG Lonzo Ball, PF Kyle Kuzma, C Ivika Zubac (traded to LA Clippers), and SG John Hart. Add to that young nucleus Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee, and Walton seemingly should have been able to get this team over the hump.
Marked with organizational turmoil and disagreements, the 2018-'19 Lakers coaching job was widely regarded as a volatile situation. It seems Luke Walton is going to be the lone scapegoat, while team executives and players get off scot free. When asked about their feelings surrounding their ex-coach Luke Walton's departure, Lakers players had this to say:
"'They came into work every day, no matter what criticism they were under, no matter what scrutiny they were under, they came in, watched hours of film, whether it was on us or other teams, next opponents,' Josh Hart said Wednesday of Walton and his staff. 'They did everything right, I'll say that. Obviously it was frustrating, the injuries, the inability to have a consistent lineup was frustrating and hard for them.'
Rondo, who is on the sixth team of his career, praised Walton for his ability to relate to players.
'He has a lot of great tendencies for a young coach that some coaches probably don't develop their entire life, or their entire career,' Rondo said Wednesday. 'He was fun, he was a hell of a coach to play for and I just told him in the meeting I had a great time this year learning from him as well and the challenge that he gave to me this year.'" -ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk
What's next for the former-Warriors assistant? Luke Walton is a respected and beloved member of the NBA community, he's the son of the great Bill Walton, and is a former-Kobe era NBA Champion. He will get another coaching opportunity, should he choose to throw his hat into the mix. Who knows? Maybe he can be enticed to come back to the Bay and become coach Kerr's eventual heir-apparent. The Golden State family would surely welcome him back with open arms.