New Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton says, ‘We’re going to compete’ in the NBA

The former Golden State Warriors assistant coach tales over a team that finished with a 21-61 record during the 2014-15 season

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 1:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 1:36pm

The daunting task of trying to turn around the once proud Los Angeles Lakers franchise is not something that frightens Luke Walton.

Instead, Walton said he has embraced the immense challenge that lies ahead for him as the new coach of the Lakers.

This is the franchise that drafted Walton in 2003 and with which he won two NBA championships as a player.

So nothing would make Walton feel better than to make the Lakers into title contenders again, something he kept repeating at his introductory news conference at the team’s practise facility in El Segundo.

“There is work to be done. But that’s, to me, exciting,” Walton said. “That’s why you do this. The timetable? Who knows?

“It’s us coming to work every day. It’s us working hard. It’s watching improvement in the young guys that’s exciting. It’s watching us get better as a team. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Walton is taking over a team that had a 21-61 record during the 2014-15 season, the worst mark in franchise history. Then the 2015-16 team sank to even lower depths, finishing 17-65.

Walton is no longer an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, who won the 2015 NBA championship over the Cleveland but lost in the 2016 Finals to the Cavaliers on Sunday.

He won’t have stars such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, players that Walton guided to a 39-4 record when he was the Warriors’ interim head coach while Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery.

But that coaching experience taught Walton to put an “emphasis on the culture,” he said, and plans to keep everyone accountable on the Lakers.

“What I can affect is what’s going to happen next year and the year after that,” Walton said. “We’re going to put a stamp on the culture that we want, and it’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practise every day. We’re going to play a brand of basketball that the LA fans will appreciate. We’re going to compete. All these things going forward, with my vision of how we’re going to do things, is what I can control.”

The Lakers have a young core with some talent, but it is short on experience and moxie. It will be up to Walton to mould players such as D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.

The Lakers have the second pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, and they are expected to select Duke’s Brandon Ingram after Ben Simmons goes first to Philadelphia. And the Lakers will have about $55 million to spend when free agency starts July 1.

“We have young, talented players. We have draft picks. We have ($55) million in free agency. We have one of the greatest fan bases of all time,” Walton said. “It’s an organisation that free agents want to play for. As far as being a young coach and being able to help rebuild an organisation and a team that I love and that I grew up with, it’s all exciting to me.”

When Byron Scott coached the Lakers, he believed in tough love. Russell, for one, liked Walton’s idea of having fun.

“A lot of us are coming out of college and just really want to be able to experience and play and have fun,” Russell said. “He just mentioned having fun and being able to run as much as possible. So I think that’s what we need.”

One person who won’t be around for Walton to coach is former team mate Kobe Bryant, who retired after 20 years and five titles.

“(He had) one of the greatest runs in any sport by any athlete,” Walton said. “So he’s obviously going to be missed.

“But his departure also opens up this opportunity for the next generation of Lakers and the next movement that I think will be exciting.”