In the latest report questioning Walton’s job security during a rocky season that has the Lakers currently out of the playoff picture at 25-24, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan said on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast that James’ camp has not been subtle about their desire for a coaching change in Los Angeles.
A transcript of the exchange, per Silver Screen & Roll:
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.”
This isn’t exactly a shocking development given that reports have indicated all season that Walton might be skating on thin ice, burdened by the expectations of a team featuring LeBron James. The Lakers superstar was reportedly ignoring Walton’s playcalls earlier in the season, something the Lakers denied, and team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson hasn’t been very warm toward the coach either.
Walton’s staunchest ally has reportedly been Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, a very good ally to have, but surviving on that friendship alone against the wishes of both your team’s best player and front office doesn’t sound like a tenable position.
Walton joined the Lakers in 2016 and has mostly held his own as the team rebuilt itself around younger players while trying to attract James. He’s gone from a 26-56 record in his rookie season as a head coach, to 35-47 the season after, to 25-24 right now this year. The upward trend under Walton is clear, especially when you consider the team had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference at 20-14 when James went down with a groin injury.
It’s hard to blame Walton for his team’s recent slide because of James’ injury, but, fair or not, it’s likely Walton needed to drastically exceed expectations this year just to keep his job. Maybe James or Johnson already have a replacement in mind, but coaching a team while developing a stable of young player, trying to attract veteran superstars and navigating the perpetually turbulent politics of a team featuring LeBron James might be a less attractive job than some believe.
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