Kings introduce Luke Walton as new head coach
During his introductory news conference in Sacramento, newly crowned Kings coach Luke Walton reflected on three tumultuous seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, suggested those years made him better and offered a tactful response to a question about parental involvement in professional sports.
Walton was frequently criticized in Los Angeles by LaVar Ball, the father of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball. The Kings experienced a far more muted situation this season when Marvin Bagley III’s father took occasional social media swipes at coach Dave Joerger, who was fired Thursday after three seasons.
“Lonzo and I have a great relationship and I plan on having a great relationship with Bagley as well, so that’s not even on my radar at all,” Walton said Monday.
Walton’s progress with the Lakers’ young players was sometimes overshadowed by turmoil, but he believes his years in Los Angeles prepared him for this opportunity in Sacramento.
“I learned a lot,” said Walton, who agreed to a four-year contract with the Kings on Saturday. “The best way to learn, in my opinion, is experience, and I’ve had a lot of experiences over the last three years, and I feel much more prepared and advanced as a coach right now than I did three years ago. I’m not going to get into the details of everything, but I do feel like I’m much further along through the experiences I’ve had the last three years.”
Walton compiled a 98-148 record in Los Angeles. The Lakers won just 17 games the season before Walton arrived. They won 26 in his first season and 35 in his second.
Walton’s third season with the Lakers was a circus from the moment LeBron James arrived last summer. There was tremendous excitement as the Lakers climbed to fourth in the Western Conference with a win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas, but they were undone by injuries, infighting and drama over the second half of the season.
James, Ball, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram got hurt. LaVar Ball told ESPN: “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
According to The Athletic, the failed effort to acquire Pelicans star Anthony Davis created locker-room rifts as young players began to believe James was working behind the scenes to get them traded.
Team president Magic Johnson resigned before the season finale. Three days later, the Lakers announced they had reached a mutual agreement to part ways with Walton, whose job security had been in question for months.
The Lakers finished 35-47, two games behind the Kings. Sacramento exceeded expectations but ultimately missed the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.
The Lakers had a collection of young talent before James and other veterans came in, including Ingram, Ball, Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma. Walton sees similarities in Sacramento with De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Bagley and Harry Giles III.
“There’s a great young core down there and I thank them, and I enjoyed that time getting to coach them and develop them and watch them improve,” Walton said. “I think this team has a very similar talented young core. The experience did and will help, and I’m really looking forward to doing that same type of thing with this group.”
Walton can learn from looking back, but looking forward is more fun.
“The L.A. stuff, I’m just going to leave at, it was really an incredible experience and an awesome opportunity getting to work with those guys,” Walton said. “Besides that, I’m focused on the Kings now, what we’ve got to do up here, and just being excited to have the new opportunity here in Northern California.”