The NBA’s travel schedule can be rough. An 82-game season with 41 road games leaves players and coaches for the Los Angeles Lakers and other teams with plenty of downtime. Head coach Luke Walton often used that as an opportunity to speak with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
“A lot of times I’d call him on the road. With the new schedule, I feel like you’re on nine-day road trips every couple weeks,” Walton said. “I think it’s good to get a different perspective on things, so I would call him and ask what he sees.
“We get so locked in on what we’re doing that it’s good to bounce stuff off other people. He’d give me opinions on different guys.”
One of those sessions helped Walton make the bold decision to start Brandon Ingram at point guard when the Lakers were ravaged by injuries. It led to one of Ingram’s most impressive stretches of play of the season.
In addition to serving as a sounding board for Walton, Johnson was a facilitator for that stretch as well.
“I called [Johnson] and asked, ‘I know what I’m telling [Ingram] but give me some other things you can think of as far as playing that position like you did from a taller player,’” Walton said. “[Johnson] gave me some advice, some suggestions for [Ingram].”
Walton added that he and Johnson had countless productive discussions while the Lakers were at home, something Johnson also made a point to highlight during his exit interview.
“Luke and I had a lot of great conversations. A lot of the conversations were not just in the office but when he was on the road,” Johnson said. “He would ask for my opinion on different things or what I would see. I liked the way he was able to handle all the situations, especially when we had so many injuries.”
The other thing Johnson liked? The Lakers jumping from last in the league in defensive efficiency to 12th in the span of just a year.
“When we came in, the one thing Rob and I talked about to Luke was the defense had to improve. The defense did improve this season,” Johnson said, but he still wants more progress.
“Now we have to take that to a playoff defense, to a championship defense.”
Johnson and Walton will have the next few years to do so, or get to skip a couple steps if they sign a huge marquee agent this summer. Either way, Johnson and Walton are looking forward to rebuilding the Lakers together.
“We’ve really formed a great relationship and we look forward to working with Luke for years to come,” Johnson said.