Monday, May 2, 2016

Lakers Hire Head Coach Luke Walton--Another Mistake?

Once again the LA Lakers' fans are in la-la land. They're so eager to get rid of the stench of the last few seasons, they're ignoring reality and indulging in their favorite pastime--looking at the NBA through rose-colored glasses.

They are looking at new coach Luke Walton as the team's ticket back to the promise land. This, of course, is because of Walton's success as the No.1 assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champs who are favored to repeat..

What has fans salivating over Walton is that, when Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr missed the first half of this season, Walton took over, piloting the team to a glossy 39-4 record, including a league record 24-0 start. Kerr returned for the second half, leading the Warriors to break the coveted NBA season wins record by one, reaching 73.. For his efforts, Walton tied for 8th in the coach-of-the-year race, which was won by Kerr,.

Naturally Walton has been the hottest coach around, the one fancied by just about every team with a head-coaching vacancy. But he chose the Lakers, where he spent nine years as a backup forward, earning rings in 2009 and 2010.

However, does his success with the Warriors mean he has the skill, smarts and patience to clean up the mess that is the Lakers? The fans enthusiastically say "Yes!." But are they off base?


Walton, 36, is really a wet-behind-the-ears novice. Aside from heading the Warriors for a few months he has no head coaching experience and, with Memphis and Golden State, limited assistant-coaching experience.. Being temporary head coach of the Warriors is something just about any NBA assistant could do. This is the most fundamentally sound team in the league, excelling in offense and defense, always blocking out, sprinting through transitions, rarely flubbing rotations, doing just about everything right. In preseason the players decided to chase the Chicago Bulls' 72-win season record, so they were committed to playing hard for 48 minutes every game. They had no serious injuries or major tensions between players that would derail their effort.

So if Walton didn't have to motivate the players or juggle lineups due to injuries or break up fights, what did he really have to do? Not that much. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine that basically runs itself. All Walton had to do was get out of the way and not do anything to screw things up. That's certainly easy enough. It was like being behind the wheel of a Ferrari set on cruise control...

But does what he did with the Warriors qualify him to rejuvenate the Lakers?. Now he's been handed the keys to a broken-down jalopy and asked to turn it into a sleek sports car. That's something entirely different.

This time Walton is starting from square one. He has a core of talented young players that don't know how to play together. For the last two years coach Byron Scott, who was just fired, put player development on the back-burner, primarily focusing on managing Kobe Bryant's final years. One of Walton's main jobs will be restoring players' faith in point guard D'Angelo Russell who, in a infamous, juvenile internet scandal, threw teammate Nick Young under the bus. That's a major problem that will require skillful handling.

Righting the sinking Lakers' ship is unlike anything Walton has ever done. At 36, he's close to the age of his players and is known as a players' coach. But is that a good thing? Getting the Lakers back on track might require tough, veteran leadership. It was available in stern, defense-minded Tom Thibodeau, who was interested in the Lakers job. But the team never made a move to get him, so he was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves to lead that promising young  team..

In next few years, here's a likely scenario: the Wolves flourish while the Lakers flounder, with Thibodeau basking in praise while Laker management, once again, is getting blasted for hiring the wrong coach.

If this scenario plays out--and I think it will--disgruntled Laker fans may finally have to ditch those rose-colored glasses.