The recent findings of a stern meeting between Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson and head coach Luke Walton come as a flag-like warning that the latter’s days are counted in La La Land. If being a third-year coach in a league wasn’t risky enough, try being a coach for a LeBron James-led team, which brings a completely different level of pressure into the job.
Known, but underrated fact: besides Erik Spoelstra, no other coach has survived a James arrival — making him the grand exception to the circus that involves having the best player in the game and lacking the results to go with it.
Here are the list of bodies that lie in the crypt: Keith Smart, Paul Silas, Brendan Malone, Mike Brown (perhaps the most consistent of them, considering his five-year tenure from 2005-10), David Blatt, and the recently-fired Tyronn Lue — who was fired after a winless start, a microcosm of James’ departure from Cleveland.
So what makes Walton the potential exception? In actuality, nothing at all — as he was brought to coach a team full of young players, due to his previous success with the Golden State Warriors.
Johnson surely isn’t treating this like a promising team with the potential to make the playoffs, but rather a team that must make the playoffs with the best player in the world in its roster.
Magic was brought in with a mandate to win, and the pressure is likely trickling down from the top, as owner Jeanie Buss had to commit sibling savagery on her brother Jim Buss and longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak in order to start anew.
Truth be told, the fact that the Lakers have gotten off to a 3-5 start is not completely Walton’s fault, as he was given a roster full of misfits that somehow fit the type of players James wanted to play alongside of — a wild barrage of one-year deals that has yet to prove smart for a team that is trying to position itself as a Western Conference contender.
Yes, Walton is very much the victim of poor roster construction and a confused front office that misfired in its pursuit of Paul George and is now paying dearly for it after inheriting a different version of last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers, but without the prior rapport that James had with his veteran teammates and a much more potent microscope on the situation.
The Lakers’ flaws are quite evident: they lack outside shooting, they lack defense (starting with James) and most importantly, they lack cohesion — something that has clearly dragged them to a poor start and sounded the sirens in The City of Angels.
Luke Walton is a good coach, but definitely not the type of Moses the Lakers are looking for to part the Red Sea for them, especially with a plethora of worthy opponents in the loaded Western Conference.
For Magic Johnson, Walton is an expendable piece, and one that can surely be left to roast if it means his place in the organization is still safe.
It’s a dog eat dog world and Johnson is the Great Dane willing to feast on a smaller dog’s misery if it means he’ll be rewarded with more time to bring his vision to fruition.
The Lakers are struggling to escape the bottom of the West while teams like the Warriors and the Denver Nuggets are making an early case as the top dogs of the conference. If Walton can’t turn the ship around miraculously, it’s sure his days are numbered at the helm of this team of misfits and young guns.