Luke Walton taking Phil Jackson blueprint into coaching LeBron James
Luke Walton landed back in familiar waters during the 2016 offseason, tasked to be the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers as the Golden State Warriors capped off an NBA-best 73-win regular season. Only two years removed from getting the call, Walton will be tasked with coaching the biggest star in the game, after LeBron James secured a four-year, $154 million deal to make L.A. his home.
While a few years under Steve Kerr shaped his coaching methods and helped him win 43 regular season games in the head coach’s absence due to a spinal complication, Walton will circle back into the lessons of Phil Jackson, whom he spent most of his playing career under.
Jackson dealt with Kobe Bryant, who was the biggest star in basketball at the time, winning five championships with him and navigating the waters even in moments in which Bryant had reached his breaking point.
“I think that’s more from nothing he said,” Walton told Bill Oram of The Athletic. “I was there for eight-and-a-half years of that. I know what that relationship was like; I know how that dynamic worked. I think that’s part of who I am as a coach and how I relate to players.”
As much as Kerr has had to deal with an All-Star backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, neither of them has been asked to carry the load of a franchise solely on their backs, making the Jackson-Bryant parallel a much more useful tool to relate to than his previous experience with Golden State.
“Every case is unique and different,” Walton said. “I have to build a relationship with LeBron; that’s going to be a top priority for me. … Getting to know him and having him get to know me, and then we go from there.”
As the market slims down, the Lakers will likely work with a James-led roster, with no star partner to place around him — yet Walton is looking to make the best of his working pieces.
“I’ve gone out to talk to coaches and GMs about all the new guys that we have,” Walton said. “That’s not a concern. Obviously it’s bigger in L.A., it’s more now that LeBron is here, but we don’t ever focus or worry about outside stuff. We’re always focused about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, and that shouldn’t change just because there’s more [external distractions] now.”
If Walton can channel his inner Zen Master, it’s likely his relationship with James could flourish, despite being only five years his elder.