After some of the buzz around the Los Angeles Lakers signing LeBron James in free agency began to subside, one of the main questions raised was how Luke Walton would fare in just his third season as head coach.
It wasn’t from the stance of questioning Walton’s coaching acumen, but rather a reflection of the pressure that comes with James being on the roster. James historically has drawn criticism for the perception he becomes a team’s de facto head coach and/or general manager.
There’s also the factor of expectations dramatically changing because of James’ presence. Having missed the NBA playoffs in each of the past five seasons, most projections have the Lakers ending that drought.
But for Walton, the external factors and the Lakers signing James don’t change his approach. The 38-year-old explained on “Connected With…Luke Walton” why he doesn’t feel any more pressure this season compared to other years, via Spectrum SportsNet
“No. I mean, the pressure for me is about wanting to do my job really well and wanting to win. I love to compete, I love the idea of the group working together to beat another team. And I’m huge on as a group, we block out the outside noise, the outside issues, and we focus on what we can do. Now, if we don’t win as a group, then there’s pressure on myself because I want to do better. But as far as because we now have the best player in the world on our team and some people say we’re going to win the Finals, others say we’re not going to make the playoffs, I’m not going to tell my players to not pay attention to that if I don’t pay attention.”
After reiterating he grew up around the likes of Larry Bird and playing with superstars in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, Walton added he’s excited to coach James:
“A lot of it is more just excitement to have this opportunity as opposed to feeling any nerves or pressure of having someone of his caliber.”
James joins the Lakers and a deep Western Conference, looking to extend his streak to nine consecutive NBA Finals appearances. In terms of working with Walton, the two met during the Las Vegas Summer League and by all accounts have begun forging a positive relationship.
On a personal level for Walton, while he may not feel the external pressure or elevated expectations that now are in place for himself and the Lakers, scrutiny will be unrelenting if the team struggles for any stretch.