After Sunday, Warriors assistant Luke Walton becomes the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.
One of the more influential and impactful members of the Warriors, Walton led the team to a 39-4 while Steve Kerr was out following multiple back surgeries, and was hired by Los Angeles just after the conclusion of the regular season. And his final time on the Dubs bench will be hard to top as a last day.
It began with 60 minutes of hot yoga, a pregame ritual he shares with Kerr to get into the right basketball mindset.
Considering this could be the biggest game of a coaching stint that’s only two years old, and coming off a championship season that nobody in the organization believed could be improved upon, that’s a big deal.
Walton’s time with Golden State includes the most prolific season-opening win streak in basketball history, 27 straight.
Though Walton, technically, has never been credited with a win — Kerr was gifted the 39-4 record by the powers that be — his stock soared to ridiculous heights this season and he became a top candidate to replace whomever wasn’t getting the job done.
The transition won’t be easy.
Walton has just one week after Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the NBA Draft, where he will need to bolster one of the most dysfunctional rosters in the league.
Lakers starting guard Nick Young was put through the ringer after rookie teammate D’Angelo Russell posted a video he secretly recorded of Young discussing several indiscretions with women other than his first, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, better known as rapper Iggy Azaela.
It’s a seemingly irreparable situation, where Russell is mostly undesired and Young, on the physical decline, isn’t much more of an asset.
This is the situation Walton enters after working with a roster that has been widely considered to have the best chemistry of any in a very long time.
Walton was drafted by the Lakers in 2003 and played there for nine seasons, then finishing his 11 year career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the entirety of it coming off the bench.
It’s a similar story for Kerr, who was always asked to remain sharp for three hours at a time as a player, waiting for a guard needed to breathe easily before he could check in. That’s something that is becoming common in the league, coaches who were reserves in the NBA taking the helm as a team’s head coach.
Part of the reasoning is that reserve players often are less talented than their counterparts, and must find any edge they can to remain employed in professional ball. That could mean subtle hand positioning, smooth footwork, and the number one, extra practice time.
These guys make excellent candidates because the game came less easily than those who are naturally fast, quick, adept and athletically freakish.
The best instructors of proper knee bend, being alert and having vision of man and ball.
Walton’s tenure with the Warriors was also to draw up plays, teach them and ensure the execution was as close to flawless as anyone could hope for.
Golden State did things under Walton in 2015-’16 that could fill an hour-long highlight reel 10 times over, and created a new label for what an elite team truly is.
Scintillating ball movement, ridiculous shots and top-shelf defense has become the stamp of the franchise, and of what the Lakers hope Walton can bring to the Staples Center.
Walton is also a people person, perhaps one of the more important things an NBA head coach must excel in, hardly changing and absolutely a player’s coach.
New York Knicks head honco Phil Jackson, who drafted Walton as Lakers’ head coach, wanted Walton to head up the orange men at Madison Square Garden, but once offered the Lakers job, there was no turning back.
True to his San Diego hometown image, Walton is a beach-going youngster at heart, humble and laid back, but don’t let that be mistaken for a fiery competitive spirit, unwavering in the hunger to win.
He will be missed in Oakland, especially by the likes of Draymond Green, one of the closest Warriors players to Walton, and certainly by coach Kerr.
The group is also happy for him, too, as Walton will deservingly head up the globe’s most recognizable NBA franchise and try his damndest to bring glory back to the cinema capital of the world.
But on Sunday June 19th, Walton was focused on the game of his life as a coach to date, and though it would be his last in yellow and blue, nothing changed. Not him taking pregame free throws, his joking with the bench, nor his morning yoga with Kerr.
It’s only fair to imagine that Walton hopes he can carry on the routine of winning into his next post.