After two seasons as head coach of Los Angeles Lakers team that was firmly in a rebuild, Luke Walton now faces expectations and pressure that have multiplied tenfold. That of course is primarily tied to the signing of LeBron James, but also a product of a young core showing promise.
While the Lakers figure to take another leap forward with James now leading the team, his arrival brings about a spotlight that no other team will need to contend with. “There’s going to be more noise than any one of us have ever been through before,” Walton acknowledged.
“Part of what our mission is, is to not let that noise affect us. Come in and work on what we feel we need to get done, we worry about ourselves, and that’s it.”
Aside from being a storied franchise that has always remained in headlines, Walton and the Lakers dealt with persisting distractions by way of LaVar Ball. His criticism of Walton and critiques of the team’s handling of Lonzo Ball and his play often cast a shadow over positive developments.
James’ presence certainly outshines any issues LaVar may have created, but that Walton believes the attention will be unlike previous experiences for the Lakers on the surface is somewhat surprising. After all, he was with the team when Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson were leading the Lakers to championships.
The success was accompanied by public sparing and eventual split between Bryant and O’Neal. But Walton’s reasoning for his viewpoint is related to the current social climate. “I think this is going to be more, only because of the world that we live in,” he explained.
“I think social media and whatever you call all that, is way bigger than when I played. I think the general team will be very similar to the teams I played on. Where you go on the road and there’s hundreds of people outside the hotel room and visiting arenas are sold out. All that will be the same. But because of the world we live in now, the media attention out there, it will be more of the external noise.”
Walton’s philosophies and demeanor mirror that of Jackson, which should aid in ushering the Lakers through their new era. “Teaching us about life and being able to focus on what’s important and stay in the moment,” Walton recalled learning from Jackson.
“From mediations to challenging us in practice, it was just part of our daily routine. I think it stuck with me and is part of what I believe in now. It wasn’t just one thing. Playing for someone like that for eight years, it starts to impact you.”
As for his relationship with James, the third-year coach believes playing experience with Bryant and O’Neal, and growing up with an NBA father will prove key.
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