The Lakers and head coach Luke Walton have mutually agreed to part ways, the team announced today in a press release.
“I want to thank (team owner) Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” Walton said in a statement. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”
It has been a wild week for Walton, who was viewed as a dead man walking for the last several weeks of the 2018/19 season. Widely expected to be fired at season’s end, Walton appeared to get a second life when president of basketball operations Magic Johnson abruptly announced his resignation on Tuesday night.
With Johnson out of the picture, in part because he decided he didn’t want the responsibility of firing Walton, there was a sense that the head coach might stick around to help provide some stability in a period of upheaval for the franchise — particularly since Buss was said to be a big fan of Walton.
However, it appears the Lakers will be in the market for a new head coach after all, having become the fourth team to announce a head coaching change in the last two days, joining Sacramento, Memphis, and Cleveland.
Two of those teams, the Kings and Cavaliers, have previously been cited as potential landing spots for Walton, assuming he opts to continue his head coaching career right away after three up-and-down season in Los Angeles. According to Sam Amick of USA Today (via Twitter), Kings GM Vlade Divac views Walton as a top candidate to replace Dave Joerger, and is expected to reach out to him soon.
Walton technically improved his record every year as the Lakers’ coach, winning 26, 35, and 37 games to finish with an overall mark of 98-148 (.398). However, this season’s squad, hit hard by injuries and negatively impacted by the midseason Anthony Davis trade-rumor saga, fell well short of expectations following last summer’s acquisition of LeBron James.
It’s not clear if the Lakers intend to bring in a top-level executive to replace Johnson in their front office. Typically in this situation, a new head of basketball operations would be given the opportunity to hand-pick his own head coach, but it appears as if the team already has its eye on a pair of head coaching candidates
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter) that the Lakers’ coaching search is expected to focus on former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue and former Pelicans head coach Monty Williams. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports mentioned those two candidates earlier this week, noting that former Warriors coach Mark Jackson was also on L.A.’s list.
Lue, of course, has experience coaching James in Cleveland, while Williams has worked with LeBron on Team USA.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.