A day after Luke Walton officially signed the five-year, $25 million deal to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, general manager Mitch Kupchak expressed much elation and excitement for what could lie ahead.
“We are excited to have Luke,” Kupchak said. “We think he’s a good bet going forward. He doesn’t have a lot of coaching experience, but we think he’s going to get better year to year.”
Walton had been serving as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors for the last two seasons. He had stepped in as the interim head coach for the first four months of this season while Steve Kerr was still recovering from complications from two offseason back surgeries.
In Kerr’s place, he guided the Warriors to an NBA record 24-0 start and a 39-4 mark, which is also the best mark in league history through the first 43 games of a regular season. Although Walton doesn’t possess much head coaching experience, Kupchak sees that as a positive quality that another former highly successful head coach with the franchise had nearly four decades ago.
“There are a lot of positives on why we would choose Luke,” Kupchak said. “Believe it or not, the fact that he does not have a lot of head coaching experience is a positive. We get to work with somebody who is learning on the fly. We had experiences with that in the past. Pat Riley was our last 36-year-old coach and he did pretty good.”
Kupchak also stated there were several interviews lined up for the vacant head coach position after Walton, but after a lengthy sit down with him last week the team decided to waste little time in offering him the job.
“With the openings in the NBA at that time and then other openings that we thought might come about, once we finished the interview, we decided quickly that he was our first choice,” Kupchak said. “(So) why wait? Just get it done. And that’s what we did.”
In retrospect to the decision to move on from Byron Scott, Kupchak was quick to note that it wasn’t one singular thing that led to that determination but instead something that occurs in the NBA from time to time.
“It didn’t go wrong with Byron and there’s not one thing that we can point to” Kupchak said. “Byron did a good job in some adverse circumstances the last two years. I know he wasn’t expecting not to coach next year, but that’s business. When I spoke to Byron we kind of both looked at each other and said that we both been around long enough to know this happens.
“I thank Byron publicly and hopefully, he will a part of the Lakers for a long long time in anyway possible.”
When Walton arrives sometime in the next several weeks, there will be a shift in the team’s offensive game plan that is expected to be similar to that of the Golden State Warriors. However, Kupchak did point out that the Lakers’ current roster does not suit that type of free-flowing offense. This is something that he clarified that the front office must put together a roster that can work with that offensive scheme.
“We don’t have the players that Golden State has right now,” Kupchak said. “In this league, it’s a player-oriented league. You are only going to be as good as your players are and that falls on the basketball department to provide him better players going forward.”
Kupchak also added that Walton is very intrigued by the team’s current core group of players that he believes can play within his desired offense.
“He does like the players that we have and thinks that they can play a similar style of basketball that’s really prevalent in the NBA right now,” Kupchak said. “It’s exciting, fun to watch, and a high skill level.”
The Lakers are set to enter the offseason following the worst three-year stretch in franchise history. This has made the upcoming summer highly critical to the organization’s future especially with the team expected to be strapped with nearly $60 million in salary cap space and potentially a top-three pick in this year’s draft.
With all that in mind, Kupchak is well aware of the current situation with eyes toward putting together the right culture and group of players that can once again bring the franchise back to relevancy in the NBA.
“For 20 years we had a player on this team, on this court, on my whiteboard, and on every boxscore that we become dependent on and very familiar with,” Kupchak said. “Kobe’s retired. So it’s clear that we are entering into a new arena of basketball for the Lakers going forward. We do want to win as a quickly as possible, but first and foremost we want to build a strong foundation.
“We want to make sure we do this the right way whether that’s through the draft, free agency, or the trade market. We do have more assets than we had a year ago, so there are more possibilities. Our goal is to do it the right way and play exciting basketball, and provide a product to our fans, viewers, and supporter that they’re proud of.”