How Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton has distributed minutes and utilized rotations has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, mostly in regards to the sporadic playing time of forward Julius Randle.
After the Lakers’ loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday night, Walton shared the philosophy behind his rotation decision-making process. “The guys know every decision I make might not always be right,” Walton conceded.
“But every decision I make is, ‘What do I believe what is best for the team?’ It’s not about making guys happy.
“Obviously, I put a big value on relationships with the players and I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that they know me and my staff care about them. Not just as basketball players but as people.”
But Walton said he can’t let the relationships that approach builds allow him to play favorites.
“When it comes to basketball decisions, nothing is done to make anyone happy. It’s done based on the idea and the question of what is best for our team,” Walton explained.
This answer is never going to please Walton’s most militant critics. There isn’t an answer he could give that would. When teams perform poorly, the first person to always start taking blame from the fanbase is the coach, because that’s the easiest tenet of the organization to change or move on from.
But Walton has job security to spare, as the Lakers by all accounts appear to be incredibly committed to their young coach who is going to face growing pains of his own in his first non-interim head coaching job.
Those issues have been on display at times in the way Walton utilizes players or doles out minutes, but so have his plusses. Walton got a young Lakers team to buy in and commit to playing hard on the defensive end of the floor which, as anyone who watched the Lakers over the last few years can tell you, is far from an easy task even if the team has faced some expected regression on that end of the floor.
Walton shouldn’t get sole credit for lottery picks blossoming, either, because those players are expected to improve as part of the natural growth process as they reach towards their full potential.
However, he also deserves some credit for the way Randle and Brandon Ingram have drastically improved their games from their first years under Walton to their second one. He deserves some credit for helping foster an environment that’s seen Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma go from late first-round picks to starters faster than anyone expected.
It’s also worth noting that Walton has the locker room in a way the last Lakers coaching staff and some other NBA staffs do not. Even when Walton criticizes them, his players almost to a man agree with his assessments after games, even on the occassions when he questions their effort.
The Lakers front office deserves credit for all of these things too. So do the players. But while Walton isn’t perfect, he deserves some credit for the strides the Lakers have made, even if some are going to be frustrated with his rotations or offensive schemes.
Just like with his players, Walton isn’t here to make fans happy. He’s here to make the Lakers better. It remains to be seen if that will work, but his philosophy is clear.
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