Coach Walton’s exit will have nothing to do with basketball

Luke Walton and LeBron James

If you’ve ever read Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, you may recall a conversation he had with Isiah Thomas in Las Vegas about “The Secret of basketball”, or rather how great teams become championship teams. I won’t go into the details of the various epithets Thomas spoke about, but the essence of The Secret was this:

The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.

It all makes sense. Even without looking at examples of history, you can relate this to the great teams of our era. LeBron’s  issues with Cleveland and Miami were largely Dan Gilbert and Pat Riley related, Kawhi Leonard’s exit from San Antonio seems to have been spurred (pardon the pun) by the discontent of how the franchise handled his injury, and that his teammate publicly lambasted him to the press (oh, and, of course, a desire to be in LA). We don’t know what will eventually end this Warriors dynasty, but no one’s saying that it will be because of Steve Kerr’s schemes. The point is that “The Secret” always prevails.

The Lakers are not a championship team, and right now, they’re not even a good team. If there’s one major positive to their shaky start, they’ve been in each game (apart from a blowout loss to the Raptors). The LeBron era has been a roller-coaster early, and it’s been a tale of two ends for the Purple and Gold. They’re fourth in points scored and in pace of play, but are in the bottom ten in points allowed and defensive rating. They can get out, run, and score at will, but they’re painfully leaky at the back, and it’s a major cause for concern.

Magic Johnson sees it the same way, and lambasted his young coach to improve the team on the defensive end, and fast. Stephen A Smith also presented some interesting information on First Take regarding this matter:

“He [Magic] thinks that Luke Walton needs a better coaching staff. Now he’s not gonna say that publicly, but I’m telling you what I know”

And thus the point of The Secret comes to pass. Here lies one of the two major reasons why Luke Walton won’t last in Los Angeles: Luke and his team are not Magic Johnson’s guys.

cBe it Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr or his father, Bill. As good as the Warriors are, they’ve only gone 39-4 once during their reign, and that was with Luke at the helm. Laker fans will tell you that the way they played basketball last season was inspired, despite the 35-47 record, and clearly proved an attractive enough proposition for the Lakers to once again become a free agent destination.

And none of that matters.

Luke Walton would have to be exceptional for him to keep away the cloud that is Magic Johnson; who, so long as there is room for doubt, will always have the fact that this isn’t his coach of choice on his mind.

Since he and Rob Pelinka arrived, the franchise has been completely turned around from a personnel standpoint. Only Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac remain from the previous establishment. The former has and will continue to be a centrepiece for trade talks; the latter is a role player at best who will probably exit the rotation now Tyson Chandler has signed.

Luke is the final domino, and while he can stand firm behind this season’s experiment, and the support of owner Jeanie Buss, eventually he will fall. No amount of Buss backing can negate the fact that Magic has total autonomy over basketball decisions. When it’s time, everyone will defer to the five-time champion to make his own nomination.

But there’s another guy on the Lakers. A man who perhaps plays more like Magic than anyone we’ve ever seen, except he can also drop 30 per game. He’s staying quiet for now, but LeBron is at the root of the second issue, and the person who matters the most regarding it: Luke Walton cannot garner the respect needed to coach this team.

Do you remember that huge playoff game that Luke Walton had during the Lakers’ great run from 2008-10?

Neither do I.

There are many great coaches that were nothing special as players. The difference is that they have some standing as a top coach to lean on in the present, or, at the very least, they weren’t in the same draft class as their star player. Let’s not forget that Rondo is a few years removed from LeBron and Walton’s class, and played a key role in two Finals against the Lakers, while Luke mostly watched from the bench.

Again, this isn’t meant to be a bash at Luke. This is just the reality of the situation. There probably aren’t many coaches with higher basketball IQ than LeBron and Rondo – but that’s not the issue. I’d rather LeBron teach me about the game than Ty Lue, but Lue had the bite and bark to challenge LeBron, with enough distance from the game as a player.

David Blatt is a decorated coach in Europe, and who knows if he had the potential to coach permanently in the NBA. One thing’s for sure, he didn’t have anywhere near the cache required to coach LeBron. For simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he may never get another opportunity in the big league. I don’t envision the same for Walton, but the symptoms are the same.

He’s unproven. He’s a man who played a role but largely watched from the sidelines as his current veterans shone in their younger days. Let’s face it, he doesn’t have the backbone or ferociousness that can give players cause to pause. In essence, he has no relatability to his veteran star – that’s a problem.

And for anyone thinking that Luke Walton may be of greater benefit to the young guys, understand that basketball is a trickle-down sport. As your best player goes, guys will follow, and so a coach that doesn’t completely click with LeBron, and can’t challenge him to do better (which needs to be done sometimes) will have an adverse effect on a younger group of guys.

Luke will get time, but there’s still not enough pressure to exact change at the moment. Mount Staples currently lies dormant, but eruption is on the horizon.

And from the outside looking in, they’ll be one major casualty.


Featured photo – via Fox Sports Australia / Associated Press / Double Clutch illustration