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NBA Daily: Luke Walton Didn’t Deserve This

Luke Walton isn’t blameless in regards to the Lakers’ problems, but, for all his shortcomings, people need to cut him some slack.

Matt John

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It’s astounding how different the outlooks are between the two professional basketball teams in Los Angeles.

On paper, if you had the choice to pick between the two, you’d pick the Lakers in a second. They have a richer history, they have a bigger surplus in young talent, and at the moment, they have LeBron James.

Yet somehow, when they faced off the Clippers, who have no stars, hardly any success tied to their name and a not-as-promising youth movement, it was the Clippers who ended up victorious.

The Clips may have won by eight, but outside of the first quarter, they controlled the majority of the game. Now, the Lakers were going through a little adversity, as Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were both out with injuries. That shouldn’t be too much of an excuse when LeBron James is on your team, though. So how did the Lakers lose to their cross-town rivals?

There’s no reason more blatant than their lack of an identity. The season is three-quarters of the way over, and the Lakers still don’t really know who they are. LeBron’s fit with a roster full of youngsters and playmakers and lack of pure shooters is quite the riddle to solve if you’re the coach. The fact that they still haven’t found their stride yet is on Luke Walton.

It’s the coach’s job to make things work no matter how awkward the roster construction may be. It’s true that the Lakers’ roster didn’t really make much sense, but it did have undeniable talent on paper. Alas, this season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Lakeshow.

They’re currently 30-35 and six-and-a-half games in back of the eighth seed. It’s gotten so bad that the team is planning on putting James on a minutes restriction and could rest him on back-to-backs. Nothing is set in stone, but that looks like a white flag.

For (most likely) not being able to get the Lakers back to the playoffs, Walton does deserve some of the blame.

What he does not deserve is being the scapegoat, which appears to be what’s going to happen.

The common belief in recent weeks is that the Lakers are going to fire Walton once the season concludes, which has been speculated pretty much for months on end. Despite constant support from management, rumors sprung up again and again that Walton’s days were numbered as the head coach of the Lakers.

There were reports that LeBron’s camp wanted him gone, LaVar Ball – where has he been all this time – called him the worst coach ever for his son and even Snoop Dogg voiced his displeasure over the Lakers’ head coach.

Really? The failures that have accumulated for the Lakers this season should all be blamed on Luke?

Without making this too much into an entertaining round of the blame game, Walton has no say in who the Lakers bring to the team. Now, the Lakers bringing in King James was an obvious move to make. The others though – Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley – were headscratchers since none were exactly revered floor spacers.

When LeBron and his band of misfits came to Hollywood, Walton was put in a situation akin to a person getting engaged to someone else believing the relationship was semi-serious. He may have been a dead man walking from the start.

It’s almost been like a fish-out-of-water type story for Luke. It’s sad because it wasn’t too long ago that Walton was helping the Lakers take the necessary steps back to relevance.

When the Lakers hired Luke back in 2016, his job was to bring the franchise back from obscurity after missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. That was going to be a challenge as the Lakers were still in the rebuilding process and didn’t look to be getting out anytime soon. But clearly, it was a challenge that Walton was up for.

Progress didn’t come quickly. The Lakers still stunk in his first season running the show and didn’t do so great to start in his second year either. Once 2018 started, it seemed like Luke was starting to get some results for his team. New addition Brook Lopez began shooting lights out from three, Brandon Ingram shined when they ran the offense through him and Julius Randle was playing the best basketball of his career.

After starting the season 12-27, the Lakers ended the season on a high note for once, going 23-20 the rest of the season with the height of the promising play coming in February, when LA had its best month in ages, going 8-3.

Things were working better under Walton. When he had the right ingredients to work with, he could orchestrate a winning formula. Since then, the team not only brought in the wrong guys to surround LeBron with but also let go of the guys who were helping the team win, i.e. Lopez and Randle.

Factoring in that the Lakers are paying their one-year guys more than those two are combined, it boggles the mind to think that they could have helped a lot more. To add insult to injury, the Lakers most definitely had the advantages last summer in free agency – Randle was a restricted free agent and the Lakers had Lopez’s bird rights – in which they could have used to keep them.

There are other aspects that Walton himself should not be held responsible for such as the Anthony Davis trade rumors dividing the team, or the injury bug that’s infected the Lakers this season.

Again, he’s not entirely innocent. Not only did he fail to mix-and-match the team as its currently constructed, but as evidenced by their struggles post-trade deadline, he’s not getting to his players. Warning signs like those can indicate that its time for a change.

Walton proved to not be the man to lead the Lakers back to prominence, but he never really got a fair shot to do so while he was there.

Perhaps he will when he gets his next coaching job. Whether if it’s in the NBA or not.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

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