Just a handful of days after Magic Johnson abruptly stepped down as the head of Lakers’ basketball operations — in part because he was not comfortable firing the coach — the Lakers and coach Luke Walton have mutually agreed to part ways, according to the team.
Walton was fired would be a more accurate description. With Magic gone, there was uncertainty around the organization and the perception that Walton would not be let go quickly. However, GM Rob Pelinka is running the show and he was not in Walton’s corner. Walton could read the writing on the wall, he didn’t have the full weight and backing of LeBron James — LeBron’s exit interview was with Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, not Walton — he was never Pelinka’s guy, and Walton knew what was coming.
“We would like to thank Luke for his dedicated service over the last three years,” Pelinka said in a statement released by the team. “We wish Luke and his family the best of luck moving forward.”
“I want to thank Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” Walton said in the same statement. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”
Notice Walton thanked the Buss family and nobody else. Not Magic, not Pelinka, nobody.
Walton was 98-148 in three years as the Lakers coach, but that was seen as respectable considering he was handed a young team that was not going to win much. In his second season, the younger Lakers — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma — showed development and the team played surprisingly good defense. However, when the Lakers got LeBron this summer the equation changed, the Lakers became much more about winning now, and that did not happen this season for a variety of reasons, only a few of which should be on Walton. Still, Walton was going to lose his job and everyone knew it. Walton included.
Steve Kerr stood up for his former assistant Walton in a statement at the Warriors practice Friday.
Rumors of Sacramento’s interest in Walton were floating around NBA circles before Kings GM Vlade Divac fired their coach Dave Joerger, or before Walton had stepped away. Now with the path cleared, Divac will reach out to Walton, as multiple people have reported.
The Lakers are reportedly considering Tyronn Lue — LeBron James’ former coach in Cleveland — and Monty Williams for the job, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Both of those men would be good hires, both have a history with LeBron (Williams as an assistant coach with USA Basketball), but their hiring raises another question:
Do the Lakers want to hire a coach before hiring a new head of basketball operations? Is all of this, Walton leaving and going after a new coach, part of Pelinka trying to gain power in the organization and cement his place?
If so, it just fits in with the mess that the Lakers have been in recent years as an organization.
If you look at the most successful NBA organizations — Golden State, San Antonio, even down the Staples Center hall with the Clippers — there is a collaborative spirit in the front office and basketball operations. For example, think back to the 2015 NBA Finals, it was the idea of the “special assistant to the head coach and manager of advanced scouting” — a guy who’s primary job was cutting video to show players clips — who came up with the idea of starting Andre Iguodala and putting him on LeBron. Because of how the Warriors are open and share info, the idea made its way to Steve Kerr, he liked it and tried it, and the rest is history.
The Lakers as an organization do not function that way. People are more compartmentalized, information does not flow as freely. “Siloed” would be the business term for it. That is how Pelinka and Magic wanted it.
It’s not how the new head of basketball operations will likely want things, not if the Lakers get an elite guy (they already missed out on David Griffin).
There are some real organizational culture challenges ahead for the Lakers.
But first, apparently they are going to look for a new coach.