Head coach Luke Walton stood by his young core of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance, Jr. and Anthony Brown on Wednesday morning as the Los Angeles Lakers announced their partnership with UCLA Health for their new state of the art facility. Second-year point guard Russell even stood to his feet and gave a small standing ovation after Walton helped introduce and raise excitement for their new facility, which is expected to open in the summer of 2017.
It was that small, endearing and somewhat humorous gesture (as Walton only spoke for about 80 seconds) that hinted their relationship is clearly off to a positive start.
“He’s one of the best people I know, as far as off the court,” Russell said of his new head coach on Wednesday. “We communicate on and off the court as much as possible. I feel like I can call him anytime. He’s not like a head coach that will sit back and just watch his other coaches and colleagues just train other players, he’s always involved.
He’ll get out there and play with you if he wants. It’s just great to have a young coach like him in the building.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Walton’s involvement in practice. Before the summer league squad left for Las Vegas, Nance Jr. told LakersNation.com that their new head coach was already getting in on the action – jumping in on drills, rebounding and knocking down three-pointers.
That phrase “player’s coach” has frequently emerged to describe Walton’s style, who’s been known for his ability to relate to players while making things fun and exciting. Take Wednesday’s speech for example, when he used 15 of his 80 seconds to give the media a laugh and his players a smile as they sat front row.
“I had a long speech written out,” Walton said as he took the podium and looked at the audience. “But, then I saw that you guys invited seven of my players, and I know they can’t be in the gym working until we finish here.”
Walton also said he’s been “absolutely thrilled” by the quick progress that’s already been made with their No. 2 and No. 32 draft picks, Ingram and Zubac, stressing that the entire young core has been putting a ton of time in at the gym.
The players aren’t the only ones that are big fans of Walton. Lakers president Jeanie Buss has known Walton for the majority of his adult life and as such, has a relationship with Walton that she hasn’t had with prior coaches.
“Luke (Walton) is somebody that I feel that I’m a mother-figure to, because Phil Jackson always felt like a father-figure to Luke, so I’ve known Luke most of his adult life,” Buss told LakersNation.com. “I have a special relationship with Luke and I want to see him succeed.”
Walton has stressed that it will be more than just a number of wins that will determine the teams success this season, especially with such a young core of players. The growth, development and improvement of the young core will be a big determining factor of the Lakers success this season.