When you’re 38 wins over two seasons bad, you need a lot of things. You need better players (or, maybe just for the ones you have to realize their potential soon). You need better decision making from those who run the organization. And you need better coaching.
The Lakers have, hopefully, addressed that last part and are working on the players and decision making part. Free agency success, internal growth, and a front office who seems to have an idea of where they want to go post Kobe Bryant would all be nice.
Of those things mentioned, however, the only one actually in place as of now is the coach. Thus, Luke Walton is being looked at as a lot of things. Maybe he can be the guy to help turnaround the team’s horrid offense. Maybe he can instill defensive discipline. Maybe he will bring an unselfishness, an acumen to passing and sharing the ball, and all kinds of other things the Lakers need to be successful in the upcoming season and beyond.
While these X’s and O’s, tactics, and on-the-court personification of Walton’s coaching sensibilities will matter a great deal, one thing I am hoping for most from the new head coach is for him to be a uniting force which bridges the gaps within the organization and allows this franchise to finally move forward together.
One of the hardest parts of the last few seasons for me, as someone who wants the team to do well, were all the competing priorities and how the various faces of the franchise never seemed to be fully in lockstep on what was trying to be accomplished. From the Kobe extension and farewell tour, to the mixing of young players and “win now” role players, to how Byron Scott managed it all with the on-court play of the team, it just seemed as though this franchise was consistently at odds with itself.
I do not want to bury Scott here, but it was many of his actions in his 2nd (and final) season as coach which hammered this feeling home for me. Scott’s public (and often negative) comments too often struck the wrong chord for a team which needed to nurture and grow its young prospects. Contrasted by how his veterans were spoken about publicly — especially Kobe (which was understandable, but still starkly different than what others received) — and a double standard was pretty firmly established.
Add this to his early tenure comments about analytics, the value of the three point shot, and his general decision making process and the result was a disconnect between his approach and what could be considered forward thinking ideas about the game today and where it’s going.
Walton, though, is currently viewed as the opposite type of coach. He’s young (and new-school), is believed to embrace analytical approaches to the game, and is thought of as a communicator who relates to all players well. He’s also someone who can be seen as tied to past Lakers’ success and non-Lakers’ influences from his time in Golden State.
There’s an old saying about never being able to please everybody and how you really can’t be everything to everyone. Walton, though, seems to (at least partially) defy negative connotation. This can be an incredibly powerful and important thing for this current version of the Lakers. Over the past several years the organization has been plagued with in-fighting and mixed messages on what constitutes the best path forward. Walton looks to be the type of leader who can help get everyone on the same page.
Whether it actually plays out that way remains to be seen. As we have written, there is so much work still to do. Walton, simply by being hired, is a nice addition, but the front office will need to continue to add talent while the training and analytics staffs will also need to continue to take positive strides forward in their ever advancing fields.
That said, I trust Walton to be the person who guides the team forward. Being able to inspire that type of shift in confidence coming off recent seasons is a major accomplishment in and of itself.