Rejoice, Los Angeles! Things are finally looking up in Lakerland: Duke phenom Brandon Ingram is expected to come to town, D’Angelo Russell is slowly becoming likable, and the hottest coaching prospect on the market, former Lakers forward Luke Walton, has replaced the Kobe-enabling, youth-despising disaster that was Byron Scott. Walton, who guided the Warriors to an unprecedented 39–4 start this season as an interim coach, has learned from the best under Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, and boasts the rare ability to communicate with millennials. You can stop flying your tacky Lakers flags at half staff — the time to celebrate is now.
Unless you’re Walton, that is. Yesterday marked the 36-year-old’s official first day on the job, and he didn’t seem to be feeling the excitement, particularly during his dour introductory press conference. See for yourself:
Amid all the rainbows and unicorns that usually accompany the beginning of a new coach’s tenure — “I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to come back down here and have my dream job,” Walton said with the enthusiasm of a funeral director — it’s also worth considering if we’ve had it all wrong: What if Walton, well, sucks?
Look, I get that he’s probably still reeling from Golden State’s loss in Game 7 of the Finals. And his track record, while limited, seems unassailable. This is encouraging! But shouldn’t the most interesting man in the NBA be able to muster some mad-eyed passion for the league’s premier franchise? Shouldn’t a guy who once played himself on The Young and the Restless know how to shine in the limelight? How can he Make The Lakers Great Again if he sounds like he doesn’t believe in the team’s inherent greatness in the first place?
To wit: When ESPN’s John Anderson asked Walton how he would lure free agents to L.A., here’s what he had to say: “We have young talent, we have draft picks this year … we have enough money to sign multiple max players.” UM, EARTH TO WALTON: This is Los Angeles. You don’t need to play up Julius Randle and cap space when you have Hollywood and the beach and Jared Goff. Do you really think Kevin Durant gives a shit about your second-round pick?
Walton certainly seemed competent enough when he led the Dubs to a 24-game winning streak, but perhaps anyone would have enjoyed similar success with Golden State’s loaded roster. Jordan Clarkson is no Steph Curry, and having the Zen Master’s stamp of approval doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a great coach. What if Walton turns out to be the Lakers’ version of David Blatt, whose hire in 2014 also inspired widespread confidence?