Luke Walton

Pacific Notes: Walton, James, Curry, Cousins

The arrival of LeBron James has changed life for Lakers coach Luke Walton in several ways, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. After two relatively stress-free years at the helm, expectations just went way up in Los Angeles. Walton only has to look at Erik Spoelstra in Miami and David Blatt in Cleveland to see the pressure that comes to coaches who are suddenly paired with the NBA’s top talent.

And Walton has more than just the LeBron dynamic to be concerned with. The Lakers have a large collection of veterans on one-year contracts who will all want playing time to maximize their value for next summer. There’s a huge hole in the roster at center, along with a point guard battle between Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball. There’s also the watchful eye of management, where team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka are also under pressure to produce a winner.

“That’s one of the reasons Luke is good,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who once employed Walton as his lead assistant. “He’s grown up in the NBA and he understands what a weird world we live in. The job changes almost daily depending on your circumstances.”

There’s more tonight from the Pacific Division:

  • Walton plans to monitor James’ minutes to keep from burning out his new star, relays Dave McMenamin of ESPN. James played a league-high average of 36.9 minutes per game last season in Cleveland without taking a night off. Walton plans a much more relaxed approach to avoid tiring out James, who turns 34 in December. “We’ve got four years,” he said, referring to the length of James’ new contract.
  • Stephen Curry tells Marcus Thompson of The Athletic he doesn’t believe he’ll be in the MVP race regardless of the numbers he posts. The Warriors guard already has a pair of MVP trophies, but he says “the narrative” doesn’t work in his favor. “I don’t care,” he said. “I just know the narrative isn’t there, so I would have to go above and beyond. So, it’s whatever. I’m blessed to have three rings. I’m good.”
  • Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins has a new shoe deal with Puma after Nike refused to match his offer, tweets Nick DePaula of ESPN. Cousins becomes the top player associated with the Puma brand.

Pacific Notes: Kuzma, Lakers, Suns, Jackson, Kerr

Lakers coach Luke Walton will use the preseason to sort out his options at center, Joey Ramirez of the Lakers’ website reports. While JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac are the more conventional centers on the roster, the team is exploring small ball looks with Kyle Kuzma and Michael Beasley at the five spot. Walton was particularly intrigued by what he saw from Kuzma during the team’s preseason game against Denver on Sunday.

“There were a few fundamental breakdowns of how we want to play the defense from that spot, but his effort was there,” said the Lakers’ head coach. “He wants the challenge again, and we’re gonna give it to him again.”

In other developments from around the Pacific Division:

  • LeBron James will play in the Lakers‘ first preseason game at Staples Center on Tuesday but point guard Lonzo Ball will be held out, Ramirez writes in the same story. Ball is participating in full practices but the team is playing it safe in his return from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in July, Ramirez adds.
  • The Suns have become the latest NBA team to enter a jersey sponsorship deal with a corporate partner, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, who reports that the club will display PayPal ads on its uniforms going forward. There are now 25 clubs with jersey sponsors.
  • Josh Jackson is the Suns’ X factor this season, Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic writes. The 2017 lottery pick is viewed by new coach Igor Kokoskov as a high-energy player who can make his biggest impact on the defensive end. “In the half court, he’s pretty good, but open court, he’s one of the best,” Kokoskov told Rankin. “So let’s play to his strength and emphasize his defense.”
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes he’s made significant progress from his prior back issues, Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area relays. Kerr spoke of his health during a Tim Kawakami podcast. “I work every day — I do a lot of stuff to make sure I’m staying on the improving path,” he said. “The worst is behind me … when I had to sit out in the (2017) playoffs, that was a brutally difficult time and I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen. I think all of that is behind me and I’m looking at much better days.” Kerr’s interview with Kawakami from The Athletic can be found here.

Lakers Notes: Ball, Walton, Johnson, James

The Lakers’ brass is encouraged by Lonzo Ball‘s revamped shooting stroke, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register reports. Ball still holds the ball further left than most right-handed shooters but it’s closer to the center than last season, Goon notes. Ball shot 36% from the field and 30.5% from long range during his rookie season. “The way he’s shooting the ball looks a lot more fluid now,“ GM Rob Pelinka said. Ball, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this summer, has been medically cleared for camp but won’t initially participate in five-on-five scrimmages, Joey Ramirez of the team’s website reports. “He’s been 100 percent cleared by our medical staff to return to full basketball activity,” Pelinka said.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Luke Walton‘s job status won’t be in jeopardy if the team gets off to a slow start, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. LeBron James needs time to settle in with his new teammates, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson says, and Walton won’t be penalized during that process. “As I was talking to Luke, we said don’t worry about if we get out to a bad start,” Johnson said. “We have seen that with LeBron going to Miami, and we have seen that when he came back to Cleveland. He is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts.”
  • Johnson shrugs off criticism of controversial free agent signings following James’ commitment, including Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee, Matt Eppers of USA Today writes. “We love that they all are different individuals and they bring something different to the table,” Johnson said. “We needed some grittiness, we needed some toughness. We needed somebody to come in and be upset that somebody had a defensive lapse.”
  • Johnson can’t hide his enthusiasm over James’ impact, even before training camp officially opens. “LeBron comes in, and he’s already in midseason form and shooting fadeaways and 3-pointers from almost half-court,” Johnson said in an Associated Press report. “And you’re sitting there saying, ‘Man, thank God we signed him.’”
  • Brandon Ingram and Stephenson are the team’s top small forwards and Ramirez takes a closer look at all the options at the position.

Pacific Notes: Walton, Nwaba, Clippers, Jerebko

LeBron James and Lakers coach Luke Walton held their first face-to-face meeting this weekend, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reports. They had only communicated by text prior to chatting in Las Vegas when James visited the summer league playoffs. So far, so good between the young coach and the league’s premier player, according to Shelburne.

“He’s about the team. He’s about doing things the right way, and he’s about winning,” Walton said. “I can work with those qualities.” The Lakers’ head coach had previously reached out to some of James’ former coaches and teamates to get a better handle on what to expect when coaching James, Shelburne adds.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Restricted free agent Rodney Hood and unrestricted FA guard David Nwaba are potential targets for the Kings in the dwindling market, James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area speculates. Sacramento could also ease its frontcourt logjam via a deal or simply wait until the market heats up again during the February trade deadline, Ham adds.
  • The Clippers’ moves have put them in a position to contend for a playoff berth but they might be better off falling out of the race quickly, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Avery Bradley and Luc Mbah a Moute could turn into valuable trade pieces that could land them some prospects and additional draft picks, Woike explains. That would likely be a better outcome for the franchise’s long-term health than squeaking into the playoffs, Woike adds.
  • Veteran forward Jonas Jerebko jumped at the chance to join the Warriors, Logan Murdock of the San Jose Mercury News tweets“My agent called and said the Warriors were interested and after that, it was a wrap,” Jerebko told Murdock. “When the best team in the world calls, you answer.” Jerebko signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with Golden State shortly after being waived by the Jazz.

Lakers Rumors: Free Agency, KCP, Frye, Lopez, Walton

The Lakers’ long-awaited 2018 offseason is now underway, but after months of speculation about which top free agents the team will land this summer, president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka are working to keep expectations in check.

Speaking today to reporters, including Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com, the Lakers’ top execs made it clear that they plan to be flexible when it comes to free agency. In the view of Johnson and Pelinka, the team could just as easily end up making a splash in 2019 as in 2018.

As Youngmisuk details, Johnson said the Lakers won’t “give away money” this offseason just to say they signed someone, which is perhaps a veiled reference to the team’s infamous summer of ’16. Pelinka, meanwhile, stressed that the summer of ’18 “is not a litmus test” for the front office’s ultimate success — if L.A. comes away empty-handed this July but maintains flexibility for 2019, management wouldn’t view that as a disaster.

Here’s much more on the Lakers:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an unrestricted free agent this summer, says he’s looking for a long-term deal in order to establish some stability for his family, writes Bill Oram of The Orange County Register. Within the same piece, UFA-to-be Channing Frye says he’d be interested in re-signing with the Lakers. “I want to allow them to make the right decisions with bigger-name guys,” Frye said. “I’€™m a pretty dang good backup, emergency, break-the-glass type guy.”
  • Brook Lopez, yet another UFA, isn’t sure whether he’ll be back with the Lakers, but endorsed the franchise for other free agents, per Rodrigo Azurmendi of Lakers.com. “It’€™s a great place to be going forward, not just for myself, but for a free agent looking to sign somewhere,” Lopez said.
  • As Lonzo Ball prepares for a summer that Johnson and Pelinka told him would be the biggest of his life (link via ESPN.com), insiders around the NBA are marveling at the Lakers’ 2017 draft class, which looks like a potential all-timer, writes Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. In addition to Ball, the Lakers also nabbed Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – who both look like steals – late in the first round.
  • Although there was some speculation during the season about his job security, Luke Walton appears very safe as the Lakers’ head coach. Johnson said today that he and Pelinka “look forward to working with Luke for many years to come” (Twitter link via Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times).
  • For his part, Walton would love to keep working with restricted free agent Julius Randle (Twitter link via Oram). “I think it’€™s obvious that, yes, I would love to have Julius back next year,” Walton said today after raving about the big man’s play. “There’€™s other factors … but from a coaching standpoint I would love to have Julius back.”

Pacific Rumors: Ball, Bradley, Warren, Payton

Lonzo Ball went through a full-contact practice on Tuesday but won’t return until after the All-Star break, Elliott Teaford of the Orange County Register reports. The Lakers rookie point guard has been sidelined since spraining his left knee on January 13th. Coach Luke Walton remained vague on when Ball would suit up. “When his body is ready, then he’ll play again,” Walton told Teaford and other reporters. “I can’t tell you whether that’s going to be the first game [after the All-Star break], the second game or the third game.”

In other news around the Pacific Division:

  • Clippers shooting guard Avery Bradley admits he’s having trouble finding his place in the team’s offensive scheme, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports. Bradley is averaging just 9.0 PPG in 28.6 MPG since he was dealt by the Pistons to Los Angeles as part of the Blake Griffin blockbuster. “I think it’s a mix of me trying to find my rhythm and my game and trying to learn how to play off these guys,” Bradley told Turner. “They have a lot of offensive-minded guys on this team. So I have to figure out, and not only myself, but (coach Doc Rivers) has to figure out how he wants to use me.”
  • Forward T.J. Warren is making the four-year, $50MM contract extension the Suns gave him look like a bargain, according to Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic. He’s averaging 19.7 PPG and making over 50% of his field-goal attempts. “Coming into the league, I was known for being a scorer,” Warren told Bordow. “Just getting the opportunity and staying consistent is big for me. I’m just trying to get better, make my way in this league and earn the respect of my peers.”
  • It’s no sure thing that the Suns will try to re-sign restricted free agent point guard Elfrid Payton this summer, as Bordow explains in a separate story. Phoenix, which acquired Payton for a second-round pick from the Magic, could free up $10MM in salary-cap space by renouncing Payton’s rights, Bordow continues. With Brandon Knight expected to return next season from a knee injury, the Suns could then draft a point guard as Knight’s eventual replacement and pursue a center in free agency. Bordow adds.

Buss: Entire Lakers’ Organization Behind Luke Walton

Lakers ownership and management continue to voice their support for Luke Walton, with controlling owner Jeanie Buss the latest to praise the club’s head coach. As Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details, Buss was asked on Tuesday whether Walton will remain the Lakers’ head coach through the season and the 2018 offseason, and she essentially dismissed the idea that it’d even be up for debate.

“Luke Walton is the Lakers’ coach, period,” Buss said. “There’s no worrying about it, there’s no speculation. He’s done a terrific job. He is somebody that the entire front office, the organization is behind.”

Walton’s job performance was questioned – most notably by LaVar Ball – when the Lakers lost nine consecutive games at the end of December and start of January. However, Walton’s Lakers have looked very good since snapping that streak. The club has won seven of its last nine games, including three in a row — L.A. is coming off a Tuesday night upset of the Celtics.

While the Lakers didn’t respond immediately to Ball’s criticisms earlier this month, Buss and Magic Johnson tweeted support for their head coach a week and a half ago, and Buss’ comments this week further cement Walton’s job security in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ private stance reportedly lines up with its public stance, as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne has previously suggested that Walton’s job status was “not even a conversation” for the franchise.

Coaching Shakeup May Be On The Way

Coming off a rare season in which no coaches were fired, the NBA may be preparing for a shakeup that will affect a third of the league, writes Frank Isola of The New York Daily News.

Isola suggests as many as 10 teams could be looking at coaching changes at the end of the season, if not sooner. The actual number will depend on how things play out, but several more names may join David Fizdale of Memphis and Earl Watson of Phoenix as coaching casualties for 2017/18.

Both Los Angeles teams could be open to changes, with the Lakers far out of the playoff race at 16-29. The front office was slow to defend Luke Walton after recent derogatory comments by LaVar Ball, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently suggested that hiring former Fizdale, a former assistant with the Heat, would give the organization a better shot at LeBron James. However, Walton still has an important ally in majority owner Jeanie Buss.

Across town, Doc Rivers is doing a remarkable job with a depleted roster, but he may not remain with the Clippers if they decide to rebuild by following through with rumored trades involving DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams. Rivers, who has one more year left on the extension he signed in 2014, was removed from his front office duties before the start of the season. Isola says Rivers may return to television if he leaves the Clippers, though he would become a candidate for possible openings in New York and Orlando.

There will be no shortage of prominent candidates if the Knicks decide to move on from Jeff Hornacek. Isola identifies ABC/ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy as potential replacements, along with former Pelicans coach and Knicks player Monty Williams, reigning G League Coach of the Year Jerry Stackhouse and Villanova coach Jay Wright, although there is speculation that Wright would only leave the college ranks to take the Sixers’ job.

Buss, Johnson Tweet Support For Luke Walton

Lakers majority owner Jeanie Buss and team president Magic Johnson offered public support to coach Luke Walton today for the first time since last week’s disparaging comments from LaVar Ball, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Buss went first, tweeting a photo of herself with GM Rob Pelinka and Walton, accompanied by the hashtag #InLukeWeTrust.

Johnson followed with a pair of tweets, reading “So proud of my players and Coach Walton for winning their 4th game in a row against the Mavericks” (Twitter link) and “Coach Luke Walton has the playing some of their best basketball of the season right now.” (Twitter link)

L.A. has won four straight games since Ball, the father of rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, claimed Walton has lost the team and that players no longer support him.

Rumors emerged Friday that the Lakers might have interest in former Grizzlies coach David Fizdale. Sources told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN that Buss was concerned about the situation and wanted to make her support for Walton clear.

“Jeanie has always been great,” Walton said. “There is no doubt that they support me. I haven’t seen the tweet, but again, I don’t have Twitter. But I know they support [me and the coaching staff].”

The front office tried to ignore LaVar Ball’s comments so it wouldn’t be seen as responding to the parent of a player. A Lakers source recently told Shelburne there’s “not even a conversation” about replacing Walton, who still has three seasons left on a five-year contract reportedly worth $25MM.

Lakers Have ‘Complete Faith’ In Luke Walton

Despite not publicly expressing support for their head coach in the wake of comments made by LaVar Ball this past weekend, the Lakers have “complete faith” in Luke Walton, a person with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Sam Amick of USA Today. The same source tells Amick that the Lakers have no regrets about using the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft to select Lonzo Ball.

Speaking to ESPN in Lithuania, Lonzo Ball‘s father suggested over the weekend that Walton had lost his players’ confidence, but that assertion hasn’t been corroborated by any public or private sources in recent days. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on Sunday that Walton’s job status was “not even a conversation” for the Lakers’ brass, and Amick’s report today further confirms that the franchise still envisions Walton as a potential long-term head coach.

According to Amick, the support for Walton goes all the way to ownership, though there has been silence from the front office and ownership since LaVar Ball spoke out. In a separate piece, Amick questions why the Lakers haven’t issued any public statements on the issue, noting that there would be a way to do it without mentioning LaVar or offending the Ball family.

With no comment from Magic Johnson or Rob Pelinka on the subject this week, rival coaches from around the NBA have jumped in to defend Walton and to rip ESPN for their handling of the elder Ball’s comments. Lakers players such as Kyle Kuzma have also endorsed Walton, with Kuzma telling reporters that he “loves” playing for the L.A. head coach.

We stand by Luke,” Kuzma said on Monday. “I know the front office does.”

Walton is in the second year of a five-year contract worth a reported $25MM.