It was late September in Sacramento, where the city’s only major professional sports team had recently hired its third new front-office leader in a seven-year span. And Monte McNair, the 36-year-old Houston Rockets executive whose pragmatic vision had resonated with owner Vivek Ranadive during the interview process, laid it all out in a series of meetings that included coach Luke Walton and various other team officials. They would take the long view — two to four years — and this season would be what was widely referred to internally, sources say, as a “gap year.”
Yet as the Kings headed into this All-Star break in the kind of position one might expect given this sort of blueprint — 14-22 and 13th in the West — there was a growing sense in league circles that Walton might not make it into the second half of this season because, well, perhaps they would pivot from the plan.
But sources with knowledge of the Kings’ plans say Walton is not in any imminent trouble and — barring a complete nose-dive in the second half — is likely to last at least through this season. There is a strong sense in coaching circles that Kings associate head coach Alvin Gentry would likely take over if Walton were eventually dismissed, but that time does not appear to be coming anytime soon. Sources say Walton, who was hired by former general manager Vlade Divac in mid-April of 2019, is owed a combined $11.5 million in the next two seasons of his four-year guaranteed deal.
Record aside, sources say the Kings’ priorities that matter the most for the long term are being met and Walton continues to have McNair’s blessing as a result. As for Ranadive, whose tendency to take over has been such a hallmark of his rocky ownership tenure that began in 2013, he appears to be allowing McNair to continue down the path they discussed so many months ago. Despite the swirling doubts to the contrary, it appears their plan is still in place.
Fox, the 23-year-old point guard who signed a five-year, $163 million extension in November, has improved overall and had elite-level stretches where he looks like a future All-Star (23 points, 7.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds per game). What’s more, he has been consistently supportive of Walton both publicly and, sources say, privately.
Harrison Faigen: Luke Walton and Dwane Casey have the highest odds to be the next coaches fired, per @SportsBettingAG pic.twitter.com/wrhc9a4Qzv
New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair said he is looking forward to working with coach Luke Walton to revive a franchise that has the longest current playoff drought in the NBA. McNair was hired last week to replace Vlade Divac after a long tenure as an executive in Houston. He backed Walton publicly during his introductory news conference Wednesday. "I've got to know him the last few days; we've had some good conversations," McNair said. "I've heard great things. So far I think we've had a great rapport. Luke's going to be our coach next year. I'm really excited to work with him. I think we're aligned with our vision and we're gonna start implementing it."
James Ham: I have now confirmed through a league source that Luke Walton will coach the Sacramento Kings next season. He is safe for now.
Sam Amick: Source also tells @The Athletic that Kings coach Luke Walton is safe. While the two were on the same contractual timeline (through 2022-23), and Vlade hand-picked Luke, there won't be another domino falling here.
James Ham: According to a team source, the Kings will allow the new GM to make a decision on the fate of the staff, including Peja Stojakovic, Ken Catanella and coach Luke Walton.
The future of Vlade Divac as general manager is front and center for the frustrated fanbase and some local media, in large part, because of a comment he made in Feb. 2017 about his willingness to resign if the DeMarcus Cousins trade didn’t pan out. But as I reported back in late April, sources still say there’s no indication Divac (or Walton, for that matter) is going anywhere anytime soon.
As is the case with so many teams, the financial pain felt by this pandemic is sure to make any owner think twice about paying anyone to go away after suffering these kinds of losses. The Kings have suffered major losses tied to the real estate they control surrounding the Golden 1 Center, sources say, while having layoffs on the business side as well. There’s just no way that reality doesn’t come into play with any decision of consequence.
Divac and Walton are both in the first year of four-year contracts. Firing them now would mean paying them for three more years — and paying their replacements — something the organization would have been reluctant to do even before the coronavirus pandemic caused tens of millions of dollars in revenue losses. The Kings have underachieved this season, but ownership will want to see what Walton, their 10th coach in the past 14 seasons, can do with a healthy roster before changing course yet again. Divac will get at least one more season as well, although his ultimate fate might have been sealed when he passed on Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft.
All that improvement, it appears, lowered the temperature on the hot seats of both Walton and general manager Vlade Divac. As we reported on Feb. 12, owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start. Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).
According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the pairing of head coach Luke Walton and Vlade Divac is likely to continue into the 2020-21 season, at a minimum. “Owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start,” Amick writes. “Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).”
The injuries haven’t helped Walton. He’s been without Bagley, Holmes, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic for extended stretches. “I’m very happy to work with (Walton),” Divac said. “We are on the same page. Obviously, he’s trying different lineups, different styles, dealing with the shortened roster. So I really cannot judge him for anything until he has a full roster, but I’m happy about how he does things in practice, even in the games. We’ve lost a lot of close games with the roster being shorter, it’s a tough job for him.”
The Kings were winless and looked absolutely dreadful for long stretches. Somehow Walton continued to preach the big picture, even as the current view of the Kings was enough to make one cover their eyes. The message appeared to reach his players. Perhaps it’s most important that point guard De’Aaron Fox was still all in with Walton. “For sure,” Fox said. “We’re going to ride with him. He’s been great since the day that he stepped in. I think we feel like we trust him and he trusts us.”
There isn’t a lot of playoff talk after a 1-5 start, but the big picture remains in focus for Walton and Fox, who seem to have formed a bond since Walton was hired in April. The relationship continues to grow with moments like Friday’s when the coach has to trust Fox to make the right plays in crunch time. “It’s definitely a confidence builder,” Fox said. “And having that trust, you want to continue to get better so that you know it doesn’t look bad, you know what you’re doing out there. It’s definitely great; I feel like he’s helped put me in position to be ready for that opportunity. It’s great. I feel like our relationship has grown extremely fast.”
Know this much about this Kings’ landscape: Barring a drastic change in current conditions, it appears extremely unlikely that any of the principals are getting fired anytime soon – not Walton, nor general manager Vlade Divac. Both men are on the same contractual track, with Divac having been given an extension through the 2022-23 season in April. And both of them, it seems, are in agreement that the answers must be found by staring into that unflattering image in the mirror.
And so, as he shared in an interview with The Athletic on Thursday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in Sacramento, they will look inward. “We know we signed up to be on this journey and grow this team and get this team back into the playoffs and all of that, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Walton said. “It’s not the start we wanted, but the work that’s being done, I think, is the foundation for what’s going to get us there when we’re ready. And maybe…”
He pauses for the briefest of moments to figure out the end of that sentence, and who can blame him? In this loaded Western Conference, where it seems so inevitable that it will take a 50-ish win season to get into the postseason, there is no margin for these types of early errors. “We’ll find out when we’re ready,” he continued. “You know, there’s no way to know. But we’re going to keep pushing these guys, and growing these guys, making sure that we’re playing and continuing to understand what it takes to win at a consistent level in this league. It’s gonna happen.”
Luke Walton’s new job as head coach of the Sacramento Kings is safe – for now. According to a source with knowledge of the team’s plans, they are in the process of working with the NBA to find the truth regarding the sexual assault allegations levied against him by his former colleague at Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum SportsNet), Kelli Tennant. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Kings’ focus was solely on the fact-finding aspect of the serious situation and the prospect of firing him appears to have no momentum at this time.
To that end, it appears the early stages of the investigation have been delayed because all parties involved have had trouble securing copies of the lawsuit that was first reported by TMZ and later detailed by the Los Angeles Times. A spokesman from the Los Angeles Superior Court told The Athletic mid-day Tuesday that the case had yet to show up in their system. Nonetheless, it appears to only be a matter of time before the suit is formally processed. Tennant’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian, is expected to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the allegations. According to the Times, the alleged incident took place at a Santa Monica hotel during Walton’s time as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors (2014-16).
A source with knowledge of the situation had previously told The Athletic on Monday that Kings general manager Vlade Divac had no previous knowledge of the accusations until the report surfaced and that it was too early in this fact-finding process to explore the possibility of terminating Walton’s contract (many coaching contracts are known to have a moral turpitude clause that might allow the team to void the contract in this sort of situation, but it’s unclear if that’s the case with Walton’s deal). Divac, whose final NBA season (2003-04) came alongside Walton with the Lakers during his second season in the league, had pegged Walton as a likely replacement long before firing Joerger. Then just two days after Divac was given a four-year extension that runs through 2022-23, he was coming to terms on a four-year deal with Walton that would put them on the same timeline. The Kings, who considered candidates like Monty Williams and Ettore Messina but did not interview them, appeared to have been as stunned by the report as everyone else.
Jason Anderson: A league source tells The Sacramento Bee that Kings GM Vlade Divac was unaware of sexual assault allegations against Luke Walton until last night. Source says it’s too soon in investigatory process to say whether Walton’s contract could be terminated.
Sam Amick: Can confirm @Adrian Wojnarowski report that Kings GM Vlade Divac will fire coach Dave Joerger today. Lakers coach Luke Walton - if available - is the clear frontrunner here, per sources. Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams is also a strong candidate, as is Spurs asst. Ettore Messina.
Ramona Shelburne: Luke Walton went to the Lakers training facility this morning and is participating in player exit meetings as the team’s coach, sources tell ESPN.
Tania Ganguli: The Lakers passed out a schedule for today’s exit interviews. The past 2 years Luke Walton has been on it. He isn’t today. Their plan was to have Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka talk today, too. Johnson is obviously off the table but Pelinka is also not scheduled to talk.
But there was initially some pause from Buss, who was sensitive to the likelihood that the pursuit of Lue and Jackson would be perceived as James and his agent Rich Paul running the show and spearheading the coaching search, sources said. Eventually, Buss’ concerns were alleviated after she reiterated the Lakers are a “Buss-ran organization,” sources said.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss recently gave Magic Johnson permission to fire coach Luke Walton at the conclusion of this season after being informed of Walton’s unwillingness to “bulk up" his coaching staff, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Johnson, who held an impromptu news conference outside the Lakers’ locker room Tuesday to announce his resignation as president before the team’s final game of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers, had been displeased with Walton’s ability to effectively make in-game adjustments and he felt the coaching staff lacked the experience and expertise to foster player development, sources said.
Johnson wanted to replace Walton during the season, but Buss was reluctant to venture down that road until now, sources said. The 59-year-old business mogul told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday he had the power to do what he saw fit for the franchise and said what would have transpired after exit interviews on Wednesday had nothing to do with why he made the shocking decision to resign.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Luke Walton has two years left on his contract, but only next season is guaranteed, per source. Lakers hold option on 2020-21 season. Johnson planned to fire him, but stumbled into his own resignation on the way. Somehow, Walton survived Magic Johnson. He didn't see that coming.
Dave McMenamin: Magic Johnson says the decision was not over Luke Walton’s job status. He says making this announcement, which, Jeanie Buss isn’t aware of yet, is a “monkey off my back.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Lakers coaching staff fully expected to be fired in hours after the final game of the season. They had believed they were gone for months. Now? Magic quits in public, saying he's too scared to tell Jeanie Buss face-to-face. What an embarrassing episode for a historic franchise.
Tania Ganguli: Magic Johnson steps down as Lakers president. He hasn’t said it outright but is hinting strongly that he planned to fire Luke Walton and that won’t happen now. He is getting emotional and hasn’t told Jeanie yet he says.
Dave McMenamin: Luke Walton asked before Game 82 if he has any anxiety about his future with the Lakers: “No. No anxiety. ... But call me later tonight and maybe that answer will be different”
Bill Oram: Bill Walton is at the game tonight in a Lakers polo. He and wife Lori are here as “very proud parents,” he said. The uncomfortable subtext is that it is widely thought this could be Luke’s last game at the helm for the Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss intends to let her front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka make the decision on whether to retain embattled coach Luke Walton after the season concludes, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
Buss has been one of Walton's staunchest allies during his three seasons in L.A. However, his working relationship with Johnson and Pelinka has not been as close. It has been "weeks" since Walton had a meaningful conversation with Johnson, according to team sources.
Walton had reason to be concerned. At one point during the season, the Lakers reached out to former Nets and Bucks coach Jason Kidd to gauge his interest in coaching the team, should the position become available, a source told Frank Isola of The Athletic. A high-ranking Lakers official disputes this claim.
One version of events that circulated within the Lakers’ walls — and does not bode well for Walton’s future — suggested that it was the coach’s desire to play James off the ball more that inspired the team’s emphasis on playmakers. A source with knowledge of Walton’s thinking vehemently refuted the assertion, indicating that the sequence of events has been unfairly flip-flopped: Walton was given all these players who weren’t strong shooters but could handle the ball, and thus had no other choice but to find a way to play LeBron off the ball more. Other sources said the coaching staff was not consulted about potential targets in free agency, and that Walton was only looped in very late in the process.
At one point, some in Walton’s circles feared Paul was trying to use the Davis situation to leverage a coaching change, with the premise being that his arrival would require a higher-caliber coach. But the Lakers received backchannel information that Davis liked Walton and that relieved pressure on the third-year head coach.
Marc Stein: Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard would indeed be a candidate for the Lakers' head coaching job, I'm told, if it opens as so many around the league have expected for weeks. Yet I'm also told he should not be billed as the frontrunner ... as some bookmakers have this week
Changes are expected this offseason. Many have speculated that Luke Walton, the former Warriors assistant, is likely out as coach. “I wish him the best for the future,” Curry said. “Who knows what will happen. But he’s a great coach. Anybody would be lucky to have him leading the team.”
“He’s holding up fine,” Steve Kerr said. “Luke is born for this job. He really is. Not only his basketball mind, which is top notch, but he’s a guy that has as good a feel for the game as anybody I’ve ever been around. His temperament is perfect for this job. Luke has done a great job in keeping his poise and keeping his team playing and just handling all of the storm that has been thrown their way.”
Walton has two years remaining on his contract, the first of which is guaranteed. "I think he is a hard worker, and he is somebody that players gravitate towards, and he's, I think, done an incredible job under a lot of challenging circumstances," Buss said.
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss sidestepped a question about Luke Walton's future with the franchise during a live podcast taping this week yet made sure to praise the embattled coach. "I'm not going to give you the answer to that question," Buss said when asked about Walton remaining as coach in her appearance on the Sports Business Radio Road Show on Tuesday at Loyola Marymount University.
Luke Walton is heavily favored to be fired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers before the start of next season. BetOnline.ag has set the odds of Walton being the Lakers’ head coach for opening night in 2019 at +1000. Los Angeles is going to miss the playoffs this season, the first year of the LeBron James era. Walton and Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson had a heated meeting earlier in the season after Los Angeles got off to a slow start.
There’s a new and familiar name with strong connections to LeBron James atop the latest odds for the next Lakers head coach, at least according to one Sportsbook. The folks at BetOnline have Juwan Howard as a 4-1 favorite to become the Lakers head coach next season, with current Lakers head coach Luke Walton and former Cavaliers head coach Ty Lue following close behind at 7-1. Meanwhile, former betting favorite Jason Kidd has fallen to 9-1.
The intensity and specificity of the reports around a potential successor have invited speculation that the Lakers have informally started their search while Walton is still on the job — something Walton said he has not concerned himself with. “I just view it as outside noise unless someone from within tells me that that happened,” Walton told The Athletic. “Unless someone from within our group is telling me that, I just view it like all the other things we’ve gone through as a team this year. Those are things that I don’t have the time to worry about. I’ve got more important things to do like getting the team better and doing my job.”
The Clippers’ Doc Rivers isn’t the only championship (and currently employed) coach said to interest the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m told that the Lakers, who are widely expected to dismiss the beleaguered Luke Walton at season’s end, are also big fans of Dallas’ Rick Carlisle.
Who, then, will the Lakers hire? The name most frequently cited in league coaching circles is the very available Tyronn Lue. Lue, of course, is a former Laker who is better known for having coached LeBron James for 2 1/2 seasons in Cleveland. The presumed acceptance he would have from James, who is about to begin his first postseason as a spectator since 2005, would appear to give Lue with a significant advantage over the rest of the field.
And yet it is clear that he prefers the NBA. From what I’m told, if the Lakers do let him go, he will have plenty of options around the league. Walton previously worked briefly as an assistant to his former Arizona teammate, Josh Pastner, when Pastner was at Memphis, but he came away from that experience disenchanted with college coaching. It is unclear whether Walton would be willing to put in the time and effort required to recruit the caliber of player he would need to win at UCLA.
Luke Walton’s job as head coach is in serious jeopardy, to the point where he’s viewed in some circles as a lame duck. Rajon Rondo, Reggie Bullock, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler and Mike Muscala are all on expiring contracts. That’s a whole lot of people to come to work with who probably won’t be on the job in L.A. next season.
Walton has a year left on the four-year contract he signed in 2016, and firing the 38-year-old would cause considerable heartburn for officials within the organization who, according to team sources, continue to advocate for him.
Ric Bucher: It was first reported elsewhere in January as a possibility, but a source reiterated this week: If Luke Walton is out with Lakers, a certain UCLA alum named Bill is working behind the scenes to have him land with the Bruins.
The prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season, followed by the Lakers resuming their trade quest for Davis. But denying Walton an opportunity to at finish out a season wrought with drama and distraction since James’s first dribble in purple and gold would be cruel and needless.
Cowherd: “…Well, I mean, I will say this, and I’m not going to blame anybody for this. But I have a source who I trust and I think it’s 10% Luke Walton is the coach next year and 90% he’s not. I’ll say that, you react to it…it would take getting into the playoffs, knocking off a Denver, it would take things I don’t think this club is capable of. Haynes: “I wouldn’t dismiss that.”
Cowherd: “If I said there’s another coach out there…do you have in mind another coach for the Lakers next year? Haynes: “Well, obviously Tyronn Lue. I mean, LeBron James, the day Lue got fired LeBron James put a tweet out supporting him. ‘You know how to contact me if you need me.'”
There have been no internal discussions about Lakers coach Luke Walton’s job status in the wake of the team’s loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, according to people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly on the sensitive matter. Walton “will definitely finish the season” and has the full support of the Lakers’ front office, one person said.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are all on the same page regarding Walton being the coach for the rest of the season, the people said. Buss especially wants to give Walton every opportunity to succeed, one person said. “Nothing is going to happen with Luke,” that person said. “There hasn’t even been any talk about it and there won’t be any talks about it. Luke will definitely finish the season and he has the full support. So any talk in the media or on social media can be put to bed about Luke. He’s not going anywhere. There has been no conversation about it.”
During the loss to the Hawks in Atlanta, there seemed to be some “disconnect” between Walton and the players, one person said. LeBron James didn’t look “totally engaged,” despite producing a triple-double of 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds, one person said. Another person said all the players had “bad body language” during the loss, which dropped the Lakers below .500 (28-29) for the first time since November. The Lakers are currently 10th in the Western Conference standings, 2½ games behind eighth-place Sacramento (30-26) for the final playoff spot.. Another person said that Johnson, who was at the game in Atlanta, didn’t like how the team played with such “low energy”.
Ohm Youngmisuk: On Luke Walton, Rob Pelinka says he thinks Walton "has done a really good job" this season with all the injuries and circumstances that the team has faced. Pelinka says he and Magic Johnson often talk with Walton and allow Walton to make all decisions with playing time and rotations. But the GM reiterates that he thinks Walton is doing a good job.
Mike Bresnahan: Here’s what Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said about Coach Luke Walton... “Luke’s done an amazing job,” he said, adding that the front office and Walton were “totally unified.” “Our communication is lockstep,” he said.
Jason Kidd, now living back in Phoenix, has been promoting himself to succeed Luke Walton as Lakers coach. Kidd wants back in while he still pockets $5 million this season from the Bucks, along with another $5 million he’ll get from Milwaukee next season.
Now it appears the Lakers may have zeroed in a potential replacement, as Ric Bucher explained on the “Bucher and Friends” podcast that there’s mutual interest with Jason Kidd: “There’s another development that I’m hearing is gaining momentum, and that’s the possibility of Jason Kidd returning to the coaching ranks by succeeding Luke Walton with the Lakers. Now, I first heard Kidd’s name connected with the Lakers a while back. Right about the time the first round of, ‘Is Luke Walton on the hot seat?’ stories came out. Jeanie Buss, head of the Lakers, threw a bucket of water on that seat, cooled it off. And so I tucked away the talk of Kidd and the Lakers as something at the time, simply spitballing or connecting dots that weren’t necessarily part of the same mosaic. Now, I know that Kidd wants to coach again. And I know he expressed interest in the Knicks job before David Fizdale ultimately got it. … In the case of Jason and the Lakers, I figured it was a matter of Jason letting them know he was interested, and the Lakers saying, ‘Thanks, we’ll get back to you.’ Well, now sources are saying that the Lakers have actually gotten back to him and this has gone to the next level. And if the Lakers do make a move on Luke, which based on all of the rumblings could happen sooner rather than later, Kidd appears to be very much in the mix and possibly is even the favorite.”
LeBron James has a reputation for not getting along with coaches. One could argue whether or not he deserves that reputation, but it’s one that has followed him to Los Angeles with the Lakers. But Luke Walton knew what to expect when James arrived. He talked to James’ former head coaches and teammates to prepare for it. He even cautioned his locker room about the “rumors” that might hover over them throughout the season. And yet, the rumors about Walton’s job security have only heated up, and it might be because James and his camp have made it clear they want Walton out. In an discussion on “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective,” Jackie Macmullan of ESPN said that James’ camp have made it no secret that they want a new head coach for the Lakers, and Windhorst — always plugged in to everything on James — said her wording was fair.
MacMullan: “There’s a lot of tension in that building. A lot of tension in that building, and I think people are wondering about Luke Walton even though Jeanie Buss came out very strongly and said ‘I want Luke to be here, I back him 100 percent,’ but then also made the point that has to be made, and that’s that she hired Earvin Magic Johnson to make these decisions, and if Earvin feels differently she gave him the power to make those kinds of decisions. It’s clear to me, and probably to you Brian, that LeBron’s camp would prefer a coaching change. They’re not too subtle about that.” Windhorst: “LeBron publicly hasn’t talked publicly in a month.” MacMullan: “Not LeBron, but all the people around LeBron, and they’ve made it known. I don’t think this a shock, is it? For me to say this?” Windhorst “That’s a fair thing to say. That’s a fair thing to say.”
Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss reiterated her support for Luke Walton, saying that Magic Johnson and the organization is behind the coach on Zach Lowe's The Lowe Post pod. “I can tell you right now, that everyone, Magic, [GM Rob Pelinka] myself, everyone in the organization is behind Luke… We are doing everything we can to make sure that Luke is successful in his job.”
But Walton's seat seems as hot as any around the league these days. And he's .... absolutely fine with it? "It's the best job in the world and I love the challenge that we have," Walton told ESPN in a recent interview. "It's challenging, it's hard, it's sleepless nights. But it's also awesome."
As one Lakers insider put it, the Lakers hired Walton because they believed in his potential in the same way they believed in their lottery picks. While it was a different regime that hired him, the belief in his potential remains strong.
"He's competitive as hell, but I think the way he's handling this year, I don't know if I could do a better job," Rondo told ESPN. "It's tough: He's having to teach at the same time as he's trying to get wins, managing egos and dealing with vets and leadership.
Tania Ganguli: This is not the first time Kyle Kuzma has provided a message of support for Luke Walton in the face of questions about his job security. Here’s what he said tonight.
Sam Amick: I spent a lot of time doing Luke Walton stuff this week … They better win that game [against the Bulls] or else I’m going to have be getting on that phone and making sure that Luke is not going to lose his job. There is no imminent reason to think it’s that bad right now when it comes to whether or not he’s actually going to get fired. But this little back to back [Cleveland and Chicago] is a little bit of a trap. And I only say that because Magic [Johnson] is now … widely known as a pretty intense, aggressive executive. So there’s always this kind of sense of who knows what game puts him over the edge.
Far less clear is what fuels the mounting discontent with Coach Luke Walton among the Lakers’ worldwide following. Losing at home Sunday night to lowly Cleveland was bad — humiliating, even — but the ensuing suggestions that Walton’s job is in jeopardy are nonsensical.
It is also an open secret in Lakerland that Walton has the strongest possible backing from the owner Jeanie Buss. Even if the front office tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka held Walton responsible for the Lakers’ swoon and wanted to make an in-season change, Buss almost certainly would prevent such rashness.
Johnson can’t fire Walton unilaterally. He would need to have Buss on his side for that. Since Walton was hired in 2016, Buss has been an ardent supporter of the former Laker. She has admired his demeanor and his ability to relate to players and get them to buy in to his modern offensive system. She is commonly seen as the buffer between Walton and the impetuous Johnson, the last line of defense and reason.
“At the end of the day, you either get fired or you don’t,” Walton told The Athletic’s Sam Amick. “But when you get fired and you tried to do it to please other people, then you’re going to have regret. If you get fired, but you went out and you did it your way and you coached what you believed in, then you can live with that.”
As for the relationship with Johnson that so many wondered about after their rocky start, and that matters more than any other when it comes to his hopes of seeing this through, he swears it’s back in a more positive, productive place. “It’s been good,” he said of the relationship with Magic. “Honestly, it has. …Anytime I call him, he calls back within an hour or two, and we talk hoops. He wants to win, and I want to win. So as far as that (goes), we’re all trying to do the same thing, and I don’t feel like he’s trying to move me out of there.
“We definitely talked about (the Oct. 30 meeting). Me and him, one on one. We one hundred percent have moved forward from it. I don’t think it has changed anything. We still – it’s still the ultimate goal, and there’s time when I’ll call him or go sit in his office and pick his brain on what he’s seeing and what kind of suggestions he might have. But there’s no – what’s the word – discomfort. I don’t walk in there, and it’s like ‘F---, I’ve got to go talk to Magic.’ Like, I have no problem going in and sitting down with him and talking about what’s going on without thinking about that at all.”
A natural question arises: Given this uncertain landscape, are there times when the desire to stay employed might drive his decisions rather than the holistic development of the group? He’s sitting on a hard chair on an outdoor patio, but he may as well be on the sports psychologist’s couch now. “The question is a fair question, because I can see (the possibility),” he says. “And there’s times where it’s like, ‘Well, s--- maybe we need to just make sure we do this and look to make sure that we save our jobs.’ Yeah. But all the advice I’ve gotten from those coaches, throughout this coaching journey I’ve been on, is ‘Always stay true to yourself and what you believe in as a coach.’ And look, at the end of the day, you either get fired or you don’t. But when you get fired and you tried to do it to please other people, then you’re going to have regret. If you get fired, but you went out and you did it your way and you coached what you believed in, then you can live with that. You can sleep at night, and you move on to what’s next. It’s hard. It’s challenging. But I try to remind myself of that during losing stretches, (during) losing times.”
As I’ve chronicled before, the dynamic between Luke Walton and his Lakers bosses is complicated enough that his situation will be worth monitoring until season’s end. Yet even before the Lakers routed Dallas on Monday to improve to 22-19, when they had lost five of six games since losing James entering play, a source close to the situation said that there were no signs of imminent danger for the third-year coach.
As I’ve chronicled before, the dynamic between Luke Walton and his Lakers bosses is complicated enough that his situation will be worth monitoring until season’s end. Yet even before the Lakers routed Dallas on Monday to improve to 22-19, when they had lost five of six games since losing James entering play, a source close to the situation said that there were no signs of imminent danger for the third-year coach. Then again, you could tell that much by the understanding tone of Kobe Bryant’s Sunday night tweet. When a fan pointed the spotlight at Walton while discussing the struggles, Bryant replied, “Relax. Entire squad is damn near out. We’re playing pretty well before that #gethealthy #LakerFam.” While Kobe has no formal title with the Lakers, his voice most certainly matters.
Ramona Shelburne: Yes, those were a bad couple of losses by the Lakers. But with LeBron + scorers out w/ injuries, from what I gather this isn’t falling on Luke Walton as far as management is concerned.
When it comes to the discussion about Lakers loyalty and whether Walton enjoys any from his bosses or the game’s greatest player, that lack of shared history will be the elephant-in-the-room factor all season long. It’s why coaching sources continue to peg Walton as the most likely to feel his seat grow warm if there’s an extended Lakers losing streak, and why this latest span of five losses in the last nine games is the sort of downward turn he needs to avoid. Yet all in all, the Lakers are much improved from that early stumble. The defense that was so porous through seven games is third in defensive rating since, with the addition of Tyson Chandler playing a major part (they’re 12th in net rating during that time). LeBron has plenty to be thankful for as well.
When it comes to the discussion about Lakers loyalty and whether Walton enjoys any from his bosses or the game’s greatest player, that lack of shared history will be the elephant-in-the-room factor all season long. It’s why coaching sources continue to peg Walton as the most likely to feel his seat grow warm if there’s an extended Lakers losing streak, and why this latest span of five losses in the last nine games is the sort of downward turn he needs to avoid. Yet all in all, the Lakers are much improved from that early stumble.
As Johnson asserted to a trio of people from the Los Angeles Times in the days after his momentarily private upbraiding of Walton last week, a coaching change in L.A. is unlikely during the season. League sources confirmed that stance to B/R on Thursday. The appearance of a Johnson overreaction to the LeBron factor would be "too obvious," one of the people said. Agreed. It would be a bad look for both of them.
There is some truth to the notion the Lakers are not functioning like the team they expected to be, but that may be more to do with misplaced expectations than anything else. That said, there is no doubt that Johnson understands his team isn’t trending in the direction he wants it to be heading, and that has ramifications beyond the current season. It’s too early to say that Walton is going to be fired. In fact, the Lakers are publicly and privately saying Walton isn’t in jeopardy, and it’s simply that Johnson as a leader wants more than he’s currently getting.
Bill Plaschke: In a conversation with me, @Tania Ganguli and @Brad Turner tonight, Magic Johnson said Luke Walton's job is safe -- "He is going to finish the season, unless something drastic happens, which it won't.''
Tania Ganguli: In a conversation with me, @Brad Turner and @Bill Plaschke, Magic Johnson said his contentious meeting with Luke Walton had no bearing on Walton’s job security. “I said it, Luke took it and we’re all good,” Johnson said. Johnson assured us Walton will finish the year.
Tania Ganguli: Sounds like Luke Walton heard supportive messages from other coaches around the league in the past few days. He said whether it comes from other coaches or his dad, the support feels nice. What did @Bill Walton tell him? “That he loves me and supports me no matter what.”
"I mean, it's great to win, period," James said when asked about winning amid the drama surrounding Walton. "Listen, coaching staff put us in a position to win, and it's up to us to go up and execute. "Luke can care less about what's going on outside. We could as well. I'm the last person to ask about scrutiny or anything of that nature. So none of that stuff matters to me. The only thing that matters to me is what goes on inside this locker room, both home and away."
"It just shows that what we're doing is working," Walton said of beating the Blazers for the first time since March 3, 2014. "It's tough to get a win in Portland [even] when they don't have a good team. When they got the team that they have right now, it's even more challenging. So you don't just come up here and get hot and beat Portland.
Walton proceeded to say it was not uncommon for him to meet with Johnson, Pelinka and controlling owner Jeanie Buss. “This is not new,” Walton said. “Like all of the sudden there is some emergency meeting.”
According to the source, there were no threats made to Walton about his job security during the meeting and Johnson has not lost confidence in the coach who he didn’t hire (Walton was given a five-year, $25 million deal by the exiled Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak in April 2016). And no, for those who wondered, the source said that Johnson has no interest in taking Walton’s job and living through that coaching misery again. Update: According to a second source with knowledge of the meeting, the discussion also involved Walton highlighting the Lakers’ desperate need for another big man beyond JaVale McGee and requesting roster help on that front. Sure enough, the New York Times reported on Saturday that Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler is in the process of being bought out and, according to ESPN, he will sign with the Lakers once he clears waivers. A source close to the situation confirmed with The Athletic that, barring any unforeseen change in circumstances, Chandler is expected to land with the Lakers.
Buss remains supportive not just of Walton, a source said, but also of the power structure of Johnson, Pelinka and Walton. Walton has been in his job for two-plus seasons, outlasting the Lakers’ three previous coaches. After last summer’s overhaul, however, he is really eight games into a new gig. Yes, his lineups have been scattershot, and he has utilized several that he will likely never go back to. But isn’t that the natural process when the front office gave him a roster that was haphazardly assembled and two key players punched their way to the sideline?
April 17, 2021 | 1:45 am EDT Update
The pool of teams that will have the salary-cap space to make a run at Markkanen is limited, but multiple executives and scouts anticipate the San Antonio Spurs will make a strong offer this summer. Without LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio has a need for a stretch big with Markkanen’s size and skill set.
Warriors star Stephen Curry will be entering a contract year in 2021/22 if he doesn’t reach an extension agreement in the offseason with the team. However, he doesn’t sound like someone eager to test free agency. Asked by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (video link) how much of a priority it is to spend his entire career in Golden State, Curry affirmed that’s his plan. “It’s always been a priority,” Curry said. “When you look at guys like Dirk (Nowitzki), Kobe (Bryant), that I played against and have heard them talk about what that’s meant, they don’t speak on it lightly. There’s a reverence for that club.
“You never know what can happen, obviously, but I feel like that’s always been something that would mean so much to me. You want to stay competitive, you want to stay in that fight where you’re winning championships. If I can accomplish both, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Convincing Zach LaVine the Bulls are building a playoff contender is important when you consider the 26-year-old’s “big focus” coming into the season was to get Chicago into the playoffs. That’s why rival executives anticipate the Bulls will try to lock up LaVine with a contract extension (he will make $19.5 million this season and next) but know he’ll likely let his deal lapse, become an unrestricted free agent and sign what will be a more lucrative multiyear max pact.
“That’s why them getting Vooch was a really big deal,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “Players want to get paid, just like we all do. But they also want to win, and guys like Zach have been around the block long enough to know they can’t win in this league by themselves. LeBron’s the best to do it, and he couldn’t win it all by himself. Even he needed help.” The exec added, “Them getting Vooch sent a clear message to Zach that yes, Chicago is serious about trying to put together a winner here and now.”
The patience has paid off to a relative degree, as now the Wizards are in position to possibly make the playoffs. Beal feels like he has been somewhat vindicated by the experience. “It speaks volumes. It’s always tough because when my name was buzzing, that’s all I heard early in the year is ‘trade Beal, trade Beal.’ It wasn’t anything other than that,” Beal said. “So, me knowing who I am and just sticking through it, that’s a testament to what we did as a team this year.”
Ian Begley: On The Putback this week: Dennis Schroder among PGs on NYK radar for 2021 free agency; he reportedly turned down a 4-yr, $80M-plus extension from LAL.
Brunson, who scored 15 points with seven assists and five rebounds in a win over the Knicks on April 2, has a non-guaranteed year left on his pact. The Mavericks, whom the Knicks visit on Friday night, could let Brunson become a restricted free agent and match any offer this summer. Or they could let him become an unrestricted free agent in 2022. The guard is the son of former Knick Rick Brunson. The Knicks have had their eye on Jalen Brunson, whose father was one of Thibodeau’s assistant coaches with the Bulls and Timberwolves.