Before beating the lowly Hawks last night, the Lakers had lost nine straight to fall to 11-27. LaVar Ball said coach Luke Walton has lost control of the team.
Is Walton’s seat warming?
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
Kurt Helin has heard the same things.
And it makes sense. Walton is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s bright young coaches. Though Lakers president Magic Johnson didn’t hire him, Walton – who won a couple titles with the Lakers as a player – fits into the Lakers legacy/family image Johnson is selling. Ball’s criticism might even improve Walton’s job security, as the Lakers might want to avoid the appearance of giving into the publicity-hungry loudmouth.
But don’t expect these questions to go away. Walton has proven he can win with the Warriors and can’t with the Lakers. That puts him in the same class as most NBA coaches. In other words, that puts him in a class that – fairly or not – gets fired fairly often.
Walton’s context matters. The Lakers had a miserable roster last season – blame assigned to since-fired Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchack – and also tanked to keep a top-three-protected first-round pick. The team is again young and unready this season.
But the franchise’s context also matters. Even if the Lakers win their remaining 43 games, Walton would hold the worst record through his first two seasons of any Lakers coach to get a third. They ousted Butch Van Breda Kolff after winning 52 and 55 games reaching the NBA Finals in both his seasons. They fired Mike Brown early in his second season despite a 42-29 record. Even Mike D’Antoni had a much higher win percentage (44%) than Walton (31%), and D’Antoni lasted just two seasons in Los Angeles. Historically, the Lakers haven’t been very patient.
They’ve rarely faced rebuilding, and maybe Walton will get judged by a different standard. But that institutional unfamiliarity with rebuilding might only exacerbate the pressure on Walton.
The Lakers will stand behind Walton until they don’t. It’s the same treatment most coaches get.
And, with most coaches, losing – regardless of the context – is the quickest way to getting fired.