Recent Los Angeles Lakers rumors involve head coach Luke Walton, as there are some whispers that president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, isn’t satisfied with him, and may look to replace him at some point.
Recent Los Angeles Lakers rumors may surprise some people. By most measures, the Los Angeles Lakers have been playing pretty well so far this season. Including their Dec. 18 loss in Brooklyn, they are 18-13, which is about a 47-48 win pace, putting them in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference playoff seeding race.
Although they have lost four of their last seven games, and six of their last 13, they have been without Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo during that span. In their last couple of games, they haven’t had their defensive MVP JaVale McGee, who has been sidelined with the flu.
This would put the Lakers right smack in the middle of most people’s preseason prognostications. So it would make sense to stay the course, right?
On the “Woj and Lowe” special on ESPN a few days ago, Wojnarowski was talking about what the Lakers need to do to go from a good team to a championship-caliber one, and he said this:
”Since Magic has taken over, they had been hoping to get their own coach in at some point. We saw it play out in the meeting they had earlier in the year where Magic really went after Luke,” Wojnarowski said. “If they’re going to be able to go to Jeanie Buss and sell her on replacing Luke Walton, they better be trying to do it off a season where they missed the playoffs or off of a long losing streak. Because she has been fiercely loyal to Luke Walton.
“That was her hire in every way, and so far she has kept management off of him. They’ve allowed Magic and Rob Pelinka to change everything there, they haven’t been able to touch Luke Walton.”
On the surface, this would seem crazy. Walton has had the Lakers playing defense, which is something they were pathetically bad at for years.
In his first season as head coach, the Lakers ranked dead last in defensive efficiency, but last season they made a huge jump to 12th in that category. Through Dec. 16, the purple and gold are 10th in defensive efficiency, and they’ve been even better than that since signing Tyson Chandler a few weeks into the season.
On the other end, although their set offense has plenty of room for improvement, their transition game has been a success. The Lakers are one of the highest scoring teams in the league and are third in pace and second in fast-break points per game.
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You also may have noticed how adept they have become at either making a quick outlet pass or instantly tapping the ball to a ball handler to start the break after a defensive rebound or forcing a turnover. That’s one of those little things that teams generally only do once it has been emphasized by the coaching staff and after they’ve worked on it repeatedly in practice.
However, there’s also this nugget from Woj that seems to shed some light on Magic’s vision and thinking:
”Magic’s view of a coach remains Pat Riley. The fiery, old-school (guy). That’s his view. Luke Walton doesn’t fit the mold of what he sees in a head coach.”
Riley may have been a good coach back in the day, but he seems happy in South Florida these days running the front office of the Miami Heat. Furthermore, Riley became more of a dictator towards the end of his Laker coaching tenure, so much so that the front office fired him, ahem I mean Riley stepped down in 1990 and later joined the Knicks. That type of leadership won’t work in today’s NBA or even today’s corporate America for that matter.
Then there’s the issue of LeBron James and his posse, excuse me, I mean his management team pulling strings behind the scenes and wielding their power to get the front office of his team to bend the personnel according to his wishes.
In his early days in Miami, LeBron reportedly wanted Riley to fire head coach Eric Spoelstra and take over the reins himself, which obviously didn’t happen. However, a few years later when the Cleveland Cavaliers let David Blatt go at midseason and replaced him with Tyronn Lue, it was rumored that LeBron had a hand in that move.
LeBron has had nary a bad word to say about coach Walton. However, the self-proclaimed King has also said that he’s not the most patient guy. If the Lakers go through a prolonged slump, or if they miss the playoffs altogether, there’s always a chance that Lebron may want a change.
As Woj said above, that’s probably what it would take for Magic to actually pull the trigger and can Walton. It would be lunacy for him to do so when the Lakers are firmly in the playoff race and playing good defense, two things they haven’t done at the same time since Barack Obama’s first term as president.
If (when?) Magic does fire Walton, two questions come to mind. First, who would they replace him with who’s available and clearly a better choice for this team? Names like Mark Jackson and Tyronn Lue have been thrown around, but they are retreads who may simply be a lateral move. In that situation, especially given that this is the Lakers, you’d think they’d want a coach who has won an NBA championship.
One could argue that had it not been for Draymond Green‘s questionable suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, the Cavs wouldn’t have gone all the way and Lue would be ringless as a head coach.
Mark Jackson did a decent job with the Warriors, but they zoomed from 51 wins in his last season to 67 wins and a world championship the season after he left Oakland. In addition, Jackson is a devout born-again Christian who wears his faith on his sleeve so to speak, and reportedly this created divisiveness within the team and perhaps in the front office.
Even if your head coach isn’t doing a good job, does it really make sense to replace him with someone who is only as good as him and not any better, especially when you’re hoping to compete for a world championship by next season?
Also, everyone knows the Lakers are hoping to sign another superstar free agent this upcoming summer. If the Lakers fire Walton, they would end up hiring their fifth head coach in the last eight years. Is that the kind of “stability” that they want to project to the world about their team, brand and culture, the type that would attract a Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson or even Khris Middleton?
Unless the Lakers totally come apart at the seams, it would not be prudent to fire Luke Walton. Instead, maybe Magic can convince him to hire better assistant coaches that can help him continue to grow into his job, not to mention take the Lakers to the next level.
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