When Luke Walton accepted the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job in the summer of 2016, after three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, two consecutive seasons of the worst records in franchise history, and a roster full of plenty of young, raw talent still searching for it’s leader, Walton knew he had a tall task ahead. But, after a productive preseason, an exciting training camp, and a surprising 10-10 start to the regular season, suddenly expectations crept higher and higher for this Lakers squad. Sneaking into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed didn’t seem completely out of the picture.
And, although youth development was certainly a priority, so was putting the most competitive lineups on the court to win games.
Then, the Lakers went 6-24, suffered their worst loss in franchise history, and reality set in. At 16-34, the Lakers have the most losses in the Western Conference, sit 5.5 games back from the eighth seed, and have a lot of development ahead. But, these were the more realistic expectations prior to the start of the season, and Walton is 100 percent on board with this stage of the rebuild.
“The further we get away from actually having a chance to make the playoffs, then the more you got to really start to put some thought and focus on developing the young guys even more,” Walton said after Monday’s practice. “Right now, obviously that’s a huge part of what the season is about, and as it goes, there’s a chance that you’ll see the minutes from those young, young guys go up even more.”
This doesn’t mean expect to see a full restructure of the rotations with all the veterans on the bench (Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Jordan Clarkson already average the most minutes on the team), but rather a smooth transition into making development the first priority, even if that might mean sacrificing wins in the process.
“It’s important, in my mind, that we continue to play a certain way as far as the way we practice and compete, and I think it throws a wrench in it if you kind of just say, ‘Hey look, we’re about playing the right way, doing it the right way, working the right way and now all of a sudden we’re just going to start the youngest five that we have. That’s not really fair to the vets that are in here everyday working,” Walton explained. “So, it’ll be something we’ll continue to discuss.”
“I think they understand, but I’ll still talk to them,” Walton said about talking to veterans that may start to see their minutes decreased. “I think it’s important to have open communication with the players and even though it’s understood, players want to play, and they get frustrated when they don’t so it’s good to talk to them about that kind of stuff.”
One of those changes we might see is starting the Lakers 32nd draft pick, Ivica Zubac.
“Maybe,” Walton smiled. “That’s definitely a possibility, that at some point he starts, and same with a lot of our young guys.”