Lakers hire former Arizona Wildcat Luke Walton as coach
LOS ANGELES — Luke Walton is coming home to rebuild the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers reached an agreement Friday night with the Golden State assistant to become their head coach, dramatically choosing a leader for their new era after Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers grabbed Walton just five days after they fired Byron Scott, who led the 16-time NBA champions to the two worst seasons in franchise history.
Walton played his college basketball under Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats from 1999 to 2003 and was a second-team All-American and a two-time all-conference selection in the Pac-10.
After being drafted by the Lakers in 2003, Walton spent nine seasons with the Lakers, winning two championship rings as a smart, steady contributor. Three years after his retirement, the 36-year-old Southern California native is back to become the 26th head coach in franchise history.
“We’re excited to bring Luke back to Los Angeles, where we feel he’s going to start an outstanding coaching career,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He’s one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game and we feel fortunate that he’ll be leading the on-court future of our team.”
Walton seemed to be the ideal candidate for the Lakers from the start, given his equal fluency in the Lakers’ history and the Warriors’ cutting-edge brand of beautiful basketball. He’ll have the chance to mold the Lakers’ on-court approach in any way he chooses, with the franchise ripe for reinvention after the 20-year career of Bryant.
“We are thrilled for Luke,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for him to return home and serve as head coach for one of the most storied franchises in sports. Luke has done an incredible job during his two-year stint with our team and has played a significant role in our success.”
Walton, who got a multiyear contract, will join the Lakers after the Warriors’ playoff run. That could take several weeks, because Golden State is headed for the second round with designs on a second straight championship.
Walton became a top candidate for coaching jobs earlier this season when he led Golden State to a 39-4 record as the interim head coach while Steve Kerr was sidelined by a back injury. Walton coolly stepped in and coaching the Warriors to an NBA-record 24-0 start before ceding the job back to Kerr.
Walton even finished eighth in the voting for NBA’s Coach of the Year award, which went to Kerr.
“I’m incredibly happy for Luke,” Kerr said. “As we witnessed earlier this season, he has all of the intangibles necessary to be an outstanding head coach in this league, including a terrific understanding of the game the ability to communicate with a wide range of people. He’s certainly ready for this opportunity and I’m confident he’ll do a great job with the Lakers once our season is complete.”
Walton won’t have nearly the same level of talent in Los Angeles, which is rebuilding after the retirement of Bryant, Walton’s longtime teammate.
The Lakers’ core consists of recent draft picks D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson alongside an unremarkable collection of veterans and young players. Los Angeles went 21-61 and 17-65 under Scott, the two worst seasons in franchise history.
But the lure of the Lakers apparently was strong to Walton. He was a depth forward on the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010.
After Walton stepped away from the court in 2013, he worked briefly for the Lakers’ television network as a broadcaster, and for their D-League team as a player development coach. He became an assistant in Golden State and earned promotion to the job of Kerr’s lead assistant this season after Alvin Gentry left.