Luke Walton out as Lakers coach after 3 losing seasons
By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Luke Walton is out as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after three losing seasons.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka announced Walton’s departure Friday, three days after the abrupt resignation of president of basketball operations Magic Johnson. Pelinka called Walton leaving a mutual decision.
The former Lakers forward went 98-148 after getting his first permanent head coaching job with the 16-time NBA champions. The former Golden State assistant never led the Lakers to the playoffs, not even after the arrival of LeBron James last summer.
Walton leaves three days after the Lakers’ final game of their 37-45 season was upstaged by the shocking pregame resignation of Johnson, who inherited Walton when he took over the Lakers’ front office in February 2017. Johnson attributed his decision in part to his desire and reluctance to fire Walton, who is close to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.
Instead, Pelinka announced the move in a possible sign of the increased power of Kobe Bryant’s former agent with the Lakers after Johnson’s departure.
“I want to thank Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” Walton said in a statement issued by the Lakers. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”
Walton joined the Lakers with fanfare in 2016 after his successful tenure alongside coach Steve Kerr with the powerhouse Warriors. Walton stepped in as Golden State’s interim coach when Kerr was sidelined by health issues to start the 2015-16 season, and he led the Warriors to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record before Kerr returned to the bench.
The Lakers improved their record in each of Walton’s three seasons, but never finished higher than third place in the Pacific Division. The current Lakers were the franchise’s most successful team since their playoff drought began in 2013, but it wasn’t enough to save Walton’s job.
Los Angeles was in fourth place in the Western Conference after beating Golden State last Christmas, but James strained his groin during the game. The Lakers’ season fell apart during the longest injury absence of James’ career, and they ended the season with nearly every important player in their young core sidelined by additional injuries.
Johnson still had problems with Walton’s coaching style, his rotations and his reluctance to add additional assistants to his bench. After a tumultuous week, a potential power struggle instead ended with both men out of their jobs.
James and the Lakers’ players have been uniformly supportive of Walton, who managed to keep together a disparate locker room playing under the Los Angeles microscope.
“Want to thank Luke and the rest of the coaching staff for allowing me to be me from day 1,” forward Kyle Kuzma tweeted. “They say opportunity is everything in the league and they gave me that right from the jump.”