Luke Walton

Luke Walton’s Job Remains Safe

The Lakers fell below .500 for the first time since early November when they lost in Atlanta on Tuesday night, but the team isn’t considering the possibility of a coaching change, writes Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times.

According to Turner, there have been no internal discussions about the job status of Luke Walton, who still has the full support of the front office, including president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka, and especially owner Jeanie Buss.

“Nothing is going to happen with Luke,” one source told Turner. “There hasn’t even been any talk about it and there won’t be any talks about it. Luke will definitely finish the season and he has the full support. So any talk in the media or on social media can be put to bed about Luke. He’s not going anywhere. There has been no conversation about it.”

While Walton won’t be replaced during the season, the Lakers still want to see him hold players “accountable” and make better in-game adjustments, Turner writes. One person with knowledge of the situation tells Turner that Johnson was at the game in Atlanta and didn’t like that the team played with “low energy.” Turner also cites potential concerns relating to “bad body language” and a possible “disconnect” between Walton and his players in Tuesday’s contest.

Although it sounds like Walton’s job is in no immediate danger, it’s certainly possible his future in Los Angeles will hinge on how the Lakers finish the season. At 28-29, the club is in 10th place in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the Kings (eighth) and Clippers (ninth).

If the Lakers are unable to make a late-season push and earn a playoff spot, I’d expect Walton’s seat to be much hotter a couple months from now.

Walton, Lakers’ Veterans Clash After Loss

The Lakers are downplaying a “heated” exchange between coach Luke Walton and a pair of veteran players following Saturday’s loss to Golden State, writes ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

Walton singled out several players in the locker room, accusing them of having a selfish approach and making poor decisions late in games, McMenamin relays. Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee lashed back, expressing their frustration over Walton’s changing rotations.

Beasley, who also clashed with Walton last month, repeatedly referred to his coach as “bro,” which Walton took exception to. The confrontation was described as tense, but it died down quickly.

“It never got close to getting out of control, people are always emotional after a loss,” a source told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.  Another claimed to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that it was “way overhyped.”

“Nothing crazy happened,” an unidentified Lakers player explained to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “Luke said some things. The players said some things back. No one was disrespected. Nothing crazy was said.”

Another veteran, Lance Stephenson, posted a message on his Instagram account denying any involvement in the dispute.“Media decided to add Lance Stephenson … I’m in a very happy place … Nothing but positive,” he wrote. “If u going to write a story get the real facts please.”

Saturday’s dust-up offers a window into the tension that exists in the Lakers’ locker room, where no one except LeBron James is guaranteed to be part of the team’s future. Beasley, McGee and Stephenson are among several veterans on one-year contracts, while L.A’s young players are believed to be part of a package offered to the Pelicans in an attempt to land Anthony Davis.
Walton has been coaching for his job most of the season after being called out by management in the wake of a 3-5 start. A rumor that James’ representatives would prefer a coaching change was floated again last week.

LeBron James’ Camp Reportedly ‘Prefers’ Coaching Change

While Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has praised head coach Luke Walton’s performance, LeBron James‘ camp reportedly prefers a coaching change, ESPN scribe Jackie MacMullan said on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast.

“It’s clear to me, and probably to you, Brian, that LeBron’s camp would prefer a coaching change—they’re not too subtle about that,” she said (via Silver Screen & Roll).

In his third season as head coach, Walton has led the Lakers to a 25-24 record, two games short of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. However, the team has been without James since Christmas Day when he suffered a groin injury. The team has gone 5-10 in LeBron’s absence.

Walton was reportedly “admonished” by team president Magic Johnson earlier in the season after a subpar start. Despite that, Walton has the support of not just Buss, but also Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that Luke is successful in his job. That’s our job,” Buss recently said on Zach Lowe’s Lowe Post podcast. “I think he is doing a terrific job. Given the injuries that we’ve had, it’s a challenge and people forget that he has had two of our starters taken away from him and they’ve won really important games on the road, proving what is possible even without LeBron (James)… I think Luke has done an impressive job.”

In addition to James’ recent absence, the Lakers have been without Rajon Rondo for a bulk of the season. Rondo returned against the Timberwolves on Thursday and  James is close to getting back on the court, which could happen on Sunday against the Suns in Los Angeles. Reports of Walton’s job security could subside if James returns and the team powers its way into the postseason.

Jeanie Buss: Luke Walton “Doing A Terrific Job”

There’s a perception in Los Angeles and among many NBA observers that Lakers head coach Luke Walton is on the hot seat, but controlling owner Jeanie Buss said during an appearance on Zach Lowe’s Lowe Post podcast that’s not the case, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com relays. According to Buss, “everyone in the organization” – including top decision-makers Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka – is behind Walton.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that Luke is successful in his job. That’s our job,” Buss said. “I think he is doing a terrific job. Given the injuries that we’ve had, it’s a challenge and people forget that he has had two of our starters taken away from him and they’ve won really important games on the road, proving what is possible even without LeBron (James)… I think Luke has done an impressive job.”

Buss’s comments don’t come as a real surprise. Even earlier in the season, when Johnson reportedly “admonished” Walton for the Lakers’ slow start out of the gate, the head coach was always said to have the support of Buss, who would ultimately have the final say on any change. Johnson said back in November that no coaching change was planned during the season, and a report last week indicated that the Lakers continued to project support for Walton both publicly and privately.

Walton had the Lakers in position to make the playoffs up until James went down with the groin injury that has now sidelined him for nearly a month. Since then, the team has lost nine of 14 games and slipped to ninth in the Western Conference, albeit just a half-game behind the No. 8 Clippers.

Walton and the Lakers are expected to get some reinforcements soon. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin outlines, Rajon Rondo is on track to return to the club’s lineup on Thursday vs. Minnesota, filling the hole at point guard created by injuries to Rondo and Lonzo Ball. James is moving closer to a return as well, having participated in five-on-zero play and shooting drills over the weekend, per Walton. However, LeBron isn’t expected to be ready for Thursday’s game.

Latest On LeBron James, Lakers

LeBron James won’t travel with the Lakers on the team’s upcoming two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Houston, the club announced today in a press release. However, James – who continues to recover from a groin injury – has been cleared to practice once the Lakers return next week.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin first reported that James would miss at least two more games, noting that the four-time MVP hasn’t officially been ruled out for Monday’s showdown vs. the Warriors. LeBron won’t have much practice time under his belt at that point though, so returning for that game would be a best-case scenario.

In a conversation with Sam Amick of The Athletic, agent Rich Paul said that James hasn’t targeted any specific return dates and won’t get back on the court until he’s fully healthy. Stressing that “we’re not on nobody else’s timeline,” Paul noted that he and his client don’t want to risk re-injury by coming back too soon.

According to Paul, doctors initially estimated that James would miss between three and six weeks. The injury occurred just over three weeks ago, so LeBron remains right on track, and won’t let the Lakers’ recent slump accelerate his timeline.

“Obviously he cares (about the team’s struggles),” Paul said. “The man wants to play. He’s f—ing itching to play, but he can’t put himself in that situation. It’s just, you’ve really got to do the right thing and it has zero to do with his age, or the fact that he’s played 16 seasons – nothing to do with that. This is a tendon. It’s not a shoulder, or an ankle, or an elbow. The smart thing to do is to do the smart thing. You can’t allow media, or the fact that the team might be losing, to dictate what’s best for you, and we won’t. He’s progressing. He’s not ready yet.”

Here’s more on LeBron and the Lakers:

  • James’ groin issue is already the worst injury of his 16-year career. He’s also on track to set a new career-high in games missed — he has never sat out more than 13 in a single season, and if he misses Monday’s game against Golden State, it would be 14 in 2018/19. Joe Vardon of The Athletic takes a closer look at how LeBron is coping with a rare health problem.
  • The Lakers’ struggles without James have – perhaps unfairly – increased the pressure on head coach Luke Walton, whose seat appears hotter than ever before. Multiple sources tell ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, however, that Lakers management “continues to project support” for Walton, both publicly and privately.
  • Walton shouldn’t be blamed for the Lakers’ recent slide, according to Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times, who suggests that president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka should take responsibility for assembling a mismatched roster.

Lakers Notes: Walton, Meeks, Ingram, Ball

Controlling owner Jeanie Buss holds the key to Luke Walton‘s future as head coach, Bill Oram of The Athletic opines. If team president Magic Johnson urges Buss to make a coaching change in the near future or at the end of the season, she would have to choose between her loyalty to Johnson and her faith in Walton, Oram continues. There is growing uneasiness about Walton’s job security following a loss to the woeful Cavaliers, making the team 3-7 with LeBron James sidelined by a groin injury. Johnson’s unpredictable, ultra-competitive nature and his concerns about the staff increase the possibility of him pushing Buss to make a move, Oram adds.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Free agent shooting guard and former Laker Jodie Meeks is a potential roster addition as the team looks to improve its outside shooting, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin tweets.  The career 37.2% 3-point shooter worked out for the Sixers on Monday. The Lakers, who have an open roster spot, rank 27th in long-range shooting at 33.5%.
  • Andre Ingram set a G League record for most career games played over the weekend, according to a G League tweet. Ingram, currently with the South Bay Lakers, played his 402nd game on Saturday. The 33-year-old guard made his NBA debut last season with the Lakers, appearing in two games.
  • Lonzo Ball would rather lead by example because he’s not as vocal as veterans like James, Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN reports. Ball has stepped up his efforts to be a leader with James and Rondo nursing injuries.

Lakers Notes: Playoffs, Walton, Ball, Ingram

In an NBA Insiders piece for ESPN, writers Kevin Arnovitz, Chris Herring, Brian Windhorst, Andre Snellings, and Kevin Pelton discuss the Lakers’ playoff chances with superstar LeBron James missing extended time with the groin injury he suffered on Christmas Day against the Warriors.

As one may expect, the consensus among the writers is that the Lakers will still probably make the playoffs, assuming James doesn’t suffer a setback during rehab and miss additional time beyond what was reasonably foreseen.

With approximately 40 games remaining, the general opinion from the ESPN scribes is that James will probably have to play somewhere around 30 to 35 of those games for the Lakers to feel safe about their playoff chances, meaning LeBron needs to be back relatively soon.

In addition to the playoff race, other topics discussed include the identity of the Lakers’ second-best player, whether the team should and/or will make a big trade before the deadline, and where the Lakers’ ceiling stacks up relative to other teams in the Western Conference. The entire article is worth a read.

There’s more from the purple and gold this afternoon:

  • If the Lakers do miss the playoffs, it will be a “nightmare scenario” for the NBA and its “broken playoff format,” writes Ben Golliver of The Washington Post. The Lakers could potentially miss the postseason with 45 wins while the sixth, seventh, and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference could all have losing records. Having one of its most popular franchises shut out of the playoffs while three teams in the East make the playoffs with inferior records could be the catalyst for change the NBA playoff system needs.
  • Sam Amick of The Athletic sat down for an extensive one-one-one conversation with Luke Walton to discuss him working in his dream job as the head coach for the Lakers, the team’s much-needed win in Dallas earlier this week after his challenge to his young players to play with more passion, and the overall challenge of both coaching and playing without James.
  • The Lakers continue to wait for both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to blossom into what a team ultimately expects of players taken No. 2 overall in the draft. But as Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register writes, time is running out. On July 1, the Lakers could potentially trade for the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, one of the best players in the NBA. And if they do so, both Ball and Ingram may be going to the Big Easy unless they show their worth the rest of the season.

Amick’s Latest: T. Chandler, Walton, Joerger

Before he signed with the Lakers, Tyson Chandler gave legitimate consideration to joining the division-rival Warriors instead. As he tells Sam Amick of The Athletic, Chandler loves Golden State’s style of play and was told the team would be interested in adding him, but he knew there may not be much of a role for him when DeMarcus Cousins returned.

“For me, it became (a question of), ‘Where would I make the most impact?'” Chandler said. “Do I want to go there and — back-to-back champs — just a well-oiled machine, be one of the guys, maybe be that vet on the bench after DeMarcus comes back? Or do I want to come to the Lakers, where they were teeter-tottering a little bit, struggling at the time, but I’d seen it coming alive, and I’ve always loved the draft picks and the young players that they had here, and then (LeBron James) coming here, and then (Rajon) Rondo, and then having those vets? I’m like, let me go ahead and hop in that dogfight.”

Amick’s wide-ranging article on The Athletic also touches on several other topics, including whether or not Kevin Durant should (and would) shoot more three-pointers, Austin Rivers‘ adjustment to Houston, and more. Here are a few other highlights:

  • The dynamic between Lakers head coach Luke Walton and team management is complicated enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on for the rest of the season, says Amick. However, a source close to the situation tells him that there are “no signs of imminent danger” for Walton.
  • There has been speculation that Dave Joerger could be a good candidate for the Timberwolves‘ head coaching job since he’s a Minnesota native and has fans within the organization. There’s no indication that it’s likely though, according to Amick, who hears from sources that Joerger is still extremely high on the Kings‘ young core.
  • Previous reports, including a couple from Amick, have suggested that there’s tension between Joerger and Kings assistant GM Brandon Williams, but that situation appears “more tenable” as of late, per Amick. Sources tell The Athletic that Williams spent a lot of time on the road during the weeks after Joerger asked him to leave a November shootaround, in a concerted effort to relieve tensions. All signs now point to Joerger remaining safe in Sacramento at least through the end of the 2018/19 season, Amick adds.
  • For what it’s worth, here’s what Joerger told James Ham of NBC Sports California when asked about the Timberwolves‘ job: “Obviously I’m a Minnesota kid, so it’s interesting, but at the same time, my focus is right here, right now. I mean, we’re having a great time with our guys. We’re watching them grow every day. I feel like I’ve worked my tail off, I know the players have and the coaching staff — to put us in a position where we have tremendous chemistry.”

Injury Updates: LeBron, Cousins, Paul, Gordon, Fultz

Lakers superstar LeBron James did some shooting but little else during practice on Tuesday, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. He will miss his fourth straight game on Wednesday due to a groin strain suffered on Christmas Day. It remains uncertain how much more time he’ll need to return. “He’s working on his body, his game, himself all the time. But that’s the first time I’ve seen him shoot [since the injury],” coach Luke Walton said. The Lakers are 1-2 without James.

We have more injury news from around the league:

  • DeMarcus Cousins is still uncertain when he’ll make his debut with the Warriors, Marc J. Spears of ESPN writes. Cousins has practiced with the G League Santa Cruz Warriors and was involved in private 5-on-5 scrimmages with Warriors teammates last week, Spears notes. “It will mean everything when I get back,” Cousins said. “All the hard work. The dedication. Good and bad days. Tears, cramps and pain. Everything.”
  • Rockets guard Chris Paul has “no clue’ when he’ll return from his left hamstring strain, according to Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle. Paul has missed the team’s last eight games.
  • Rockets guard Eric Gordon is hopeful his bruised right knee will heal fast enough to allow him to play against Golden State on Thursday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports. Gordon, who suffered the injury on Saturday, is waiting for the swelling to go down. “I can’t really do a whole lot,” Gordon said. “They didn’t tell me an actual time frame. I know if I’m able to run. I don’t care how much pain I have, I’m going to play.”
  • Sixers second-year guard Markelle Fultz will be re-evaluated early next week for his thoracic outlet syndrome condition, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. The top pick in the 2017 draft hasn’t played since November 19th. Philadelphia remains hopeful that Fultz can return this season.
  • Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday after missing the last 10 games with a quad strain, Candace Buckner of the Washington Post writes.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Ingram, Rondo, Walton

After a decade and a half as competitors and teammates, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are preparing for their final meeting tomorrow night, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Wade, who hasn’t relented on plans to retire after this season, will travel with the Heat to meet LeBron and the Lakers in L.A.

“It’s bitter, and it’s sweet,” James said. “It’s sweet and sour. The sweet part about it is I’ve always loved being on the same floor with my brother. We struck up a relationship together at the combine in 2003, and it started from there. And the sour part about it is that this is our last time sharing the same court.”

James was destined for stardom as the top pick in the 2003 draft. Wade was taken at No. 5 and quickly established himself as an All-Star in Miami. They won a pair of championships as teammates with the Heat, then briefly reunited last season in Cleveland. Wade’s retirement will leave Kyle Korver and Zaza Pachulia as the only other active members of the 2003 draft class.

“The older I get and the more I’m in the game, I gain even that much more respect for these guys — the legends that we’re starting to lose along the way,” said Lakers center Tyson Chandler. “… You cherish every moment you get to compete against those type of competitors.”

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • Brandon Ingram‘s sprained left ankle will keep him out of action longer than expected, according to Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. The team’s second-leading scorer at 15.2 PPG, Ingram will miss at least another week. “We really just miss the fact that we keep losing out on a great opportunity for our team to kind of find that rhythm together,” coach Luke Walton said. “Every time we start to find a little bit of a rhythm, we lose a big piece.”
  • Rajon Rondo is still experiencing swelling in his broken right hand, tweets Mike Trudell of NBA.com. However, the swelling is considered normal and isn’t a sign that Rondo’s recovery will take longer than expected. He was given a four- to five-week projection to return after the November 15 operation.
  • A brief experience with the Memphis Tigers provided Walton with the inspiration to become an NBA coach, relays Jason Munz of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Walton joined a former Arizona teammate on the college team’s staff during the 2011 lockout. “I went back and played for a few years after that,” Walton said, “but it was pretty evident to me after that that coaching was what I wanted to do when I got done playing.”