You know what’s difficult? Acting as the head coach of a losing NBA team while its front office fights amongst themselves. That is exactly the situation Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton finds himself in now.
It’s the tail end of the regular season, and the Lakers are looking at a 19-43 record. Sure, you could argue that they’ve improved from last season’s 17-win debacle. But it’s not a particularly encouraging improvement, especially when they started the season thinking they had a legitimate shot at a Playoff seed.
Toss in the in-fighting between the Buss kids, and you’ve got the league’s most precarious balancing act being performed by Luke Walton.
Trouble In La La Land
When Magic Johnson was announced to take on a role in the organization’s basketball operations, fans initially rejoiced. Here was a real-life Lakers legend, whose greatness was hopefully about to rub off on the team’s current situation. Sadly, the hiring of Johnson signaled another thing: that Jim Buss had effectively been elbowed out of his position, by none other than his sister, team president Jeanie Buss.
The children of the late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss have spent the last few years feuding over control of the stories franchise. The team last won a title in 2010, but has taken quite a nosedive since.
Now, Jeanie has publicly declared that Jim had been completely unfit to run the Lakers. She explained her decision to fire him as one that would save the “damage being done to the franchise” from continuing. Along the way, longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak was cut as well. Meanwhile, Jim and brother Johnny have apparently tried to rouse up a coup against Jeanie. Talk about family drama.
When Luke Walton first signed on as the head of the Lakers, he expected he’d be working with Jim and Mitch the whole time. Instead, he gets a whole lot of headaches from the office shouting “mine!” over the franchise.
So, what’s a man like Luke Walton to do? The only thing he can do: focus on the basketball side of things. Things on that end of the Los Angeles Lakers are about as ugly as the front office, sure. But at least he’s partially in control of this one.
The young Lakers core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle led the Lakers to a strong season start, winning about half their games through the season’s first month and a half. But since then, they’ve faltered.
And the immaturity shows off at times, the inability to play through pressure and adversity. During a bad stretch of basketball during their Friday night loss to the Boston Celtics, D’Angelo Russell slapped a set of headphones off the announcer’s table. All Walton can do is keep tiptoeing the tightrope, letting the growth happen as the games pass them by.
“I’ve got to prioritize who I’m spending time with,” he said, “For me, that’s coaching my guys and trusting that Magic and the Busses are going to get the other stuff done and worked out. And I do, I believe that they’ll make the right calls and we’ll be back at some point.”