The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings 103-84 on Tuesday night in their first preseason game of the year, staging a thrilling comeback that saw them outscore their opponents by 32 points in the second half. It marked a solid debut for new head coach Luke Walton, who replaced Byron Scott this past offseason.
Walton spent nearly nine years with the Lakers during his playing days and coming back home to coach was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. In a whirlwind summer, Walton went from being an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals to just days later helping the Lakers make their draft picks and prepare for free agency. In the middle of all of this, Walton’s wife, Bre Ladd, gave birth to the couple’s second child.
Finally, before Tuesday’s game against Sacramento, Walton had a moment to stop and soak in the fact that he was now coaching the Lakers. He spoke about it with Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“It was awesome. It really – once the game starts you don’t ever think about it again, but walking out there next to B-Shaw was a pretty special feeling tonight.”
The Lakers hope that special feeling sticks around. Coming off of a franchise-worst 17-win season and with superstar Kobe Bryant retired, the team needs to right the ship by building around their young players. In Walton, they hope that they have found a coach who can not only provide leadership but also connect with the young players in a way that Scott never could.
While it’s still early, the results thus far are promising. Forward Larry Nance Jr. continued to sing his new coach’s praises after the game, via Ganguli:
“Luke is as cool as they come. That’s something we all love about him. Whether the game’s going frantic or we need to pick it up he’s going to be that rock. Somebody we can look to, to keep us levelheaded. Whether he had butterflies or not, we couldn’t tell. He did a terrific job of hiding it.”
One preseason win doesn’t equate to regular season success, and the Lakers showed a number of defensive issues that need to be corrected, so patience is needed with this young group. Still, with Walton at the helm, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future.