In the months since he was named head coach of the Lakers, Luke Walton has done a good job of resetting expectations to appropriate levels. He’s spoken about his desires to build a winning culture, but has been careful to not equate that to actual wins. In fact, he’s done the opposite by stating — several times, actually — that this team should not be judged by wins and losses early on.
All of this has been very strategic on Walton and the front office’s parts. After years of selling the myth of the “ultimate goal being a championship” while constructing rosters not built to even make the playoffs, the Lakers have, seemingly, learned their lessons. They hired a young coach, targeted specific veterans at positions of need, and have put the young players front and center as key pieces who need development.
However, just because things seem new; just because Luke Walton is seen as the anti-Bryon Scott, it does not mean there is a complete departure from all ideas which existed under the previous regime. Take Walton’s recent quotes about the Lakers being “built around” the young players:
I don’t think we’re built around the young guys. Obviously they’re a huge part of what we’re doing and developing them, but we brought in some good vets that we feel are really going to help lead in Kobe’s absence. We’re going to be doing our best to develop these guys, but we’re going to be playing the guys who are helping us win and playing the right way and competing every night. We feel like we have some vets who have done that for a lot of years in this league. So we’re going to lean heavily on them as well.
Wait, there’s more. Here he is on whether Brandon Ingram will need to “earn his spot” in the rotation:
Absolutely. Everyone has to earn a spot. You come into camp and you compete against your other players, you respect your teammates, but whoever outplays the next guy in line, that’s who gets to start.
Now, let’s grab Doc Brown, hop in the Delorean, set the date for the summer of 2015, and ramp up the speed to 88 miles per hour. Now re-read the quotes above. Could you hear Byron Scott uttering the same words Walton did? I can.
This isn’t a knock against Walton. I think he adds the proper context in his quotes and this all comes off as perfectly reasonable. I also think this goes back to seeking a balance between trying to win games and developing a young core of players who can hopefully become the foundation for the next Lakers’ contender. These two things can often be at odds and it is up to the coach to figure out the best approach in achieving both goals.
Moreover, I think this is a friendly reminder that all coaches can sound the same when reading their words on a piece of paper/on a computer screen. I don’t want to turn this into a Byron bash-fest, but I think what was most frustrating about his tenure as coach wasn’t just what he said to reporters during media scrums, but how he went about executing his philosophies when it came to games. His rotations, minute allocations, lineup combinations, and end-game strategy all seemed to fall into a pattern which reeked of favoritism and short sightedness.
Walton has not yet had the opportunity to show us how he would handle similar situations. In some ways, then, he gets the benefit of the doubt even if his quotes, when taken verbatim, don’t necessarily sound so different from his predecessor’s. After all, as noted above, Walton is viewed as the anti-Bryon. Plus, simple variables like his age, his general demeanor, and the rest of his body of work as a coach and player influence our perceptions of him.
Ultimately, then, it is interesting to me how a change in coach really can shift our perceptions. Even when what is being disseminated is just a repackaging of ideas many of us were not too keen on when they were expressed by previous people in Walton’s position.