When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Luke Walton as the 26th head coach in franchise history, they understood that they were bringing in the right mind to lead their new era of basketball. Aside from his nine seasons playing for the organization, Walton demonstrated he had a future in coaching during many different coaching stints.
Perhaps the ultimate coaching endorsement for Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson, and Rob Pelinka is the endorsement from Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, two successful coaches that took Walton under their wing. However, Walton also demonstrated that he had a knack for basketball during his playing days. He was the perfect fit for Jackson’s triangle offense due to his high IQ and passing ability.
Walton’s role with the team did change when the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol in 2008, something he struggled with. During an appearance on the Finding Mastery podcast with Michael Gervais, the current Lakers coach admitted that he became a tad bit jealous of Gasol over lost playing time:
“And then we traded for Pau Gasol. Pau Gasol is obviously a much better player than me, and we went to three straight finals. A lot of the stuff I was getting to do, as far as playmaking, was now being run through Pau, which it should have been because of the type of player he is. Then during that time somewhere, and even though it hurt the ego and there were some days I wouldn’t even talk to Phil because I was so upset because I wasn’t even playing, I had the realization like, “Alright, look, this is still an absolutely incredible opportunity.”
As Walton noted Gasol was the obvious choice to run the offense from the high and low post, and he turned into Kobe Bryant’s right-hand man. Walton still held a meaningful role in the franchise, ultimately making four trips to the NBA Finals during his tenure in Los Angeles.
Every professional athlete believes they deserve minutes in the rotation, attempting to improve that they can play at that elite level. It is understandable how Walton would have difficulty losing some playing time, but he eventually coped with it and understood how he could flourish with his situation.
Eventually, Walton sustaining an injury led to Jackson suggesting that Walton listen in on the coaches meetings, thinking that he could become a coach once his playing days were done. Jackson was 100 percent correct, as now Walton is guiding this young core into the transition phase of a rebuilding era.