So you’re telling me that the head coach of a LeBron James-led team may be on the hot seat?
I have never seen anything like that before.
With the Los Angeles Lakers stumbling to a 23-21 record by going just 3-7 over their last 10 games, rumors are already starting to circulate that Luke Walton’s job may be in jeopardy.
But here’s the thing: for once, it might have nothing to do with LeBron. Or at least not everything to do with him.
It’s no coincidence as to why the Lakers have been struggling over the last couple of weeks. They have been without James, who injured his groin during a blowout win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and has been sidelined ever since.
Here is the problem: no one seems to know exactly when James will return, and the fact that both the Lakers and LeBron are being so cryptic about the injury is an indication that the issue is more severe than originally thought.
Let’s face it: without James, Los Angeles is not a playoff team, and right now, the Lakers have fallen into a tie with the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
You know, the Jazz club that thumped them by 18 points last Friday, two nights before the Lakers went and lost at home to LeBron’s former Cleveland Cavaliers squad that doesn’t even really want to win games.
Now tell me: is that Walton’s fault? Did Walton put this team together? Did Walton go and injure James’ groin?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may want to re-evaluate your response.
The problem for Walton is that Lakers president Magic Johnson did not hire him. Walton was a Mitch Kupchak and Jeanie Buss hire back in 2016, months before Johnson was named team president in February 2017.
And you know how it goes: generally, a coach that was not hired by the current administration has a shorter leash. It’s not fair, but that’s how the business works.
Taking that into consideration, Magic could very well be looking for any reason to fire Walton, and a 3-7 stretch that has put the Lakers on the brink of being out of the playoffs may seem like a mighty fine reason.
While LeBron had friction with Mike Brown during his first go-around in Cleveland and Erik Spoelstra in is early days with the Miami Heat before getting David Blatt fired two years into his Cavaliers return, James is relatively innocent this time around.
Of course, James’ mere presence on the Lakers makes Magic hold the team to a higher standard, but there is a very high probability that Walton would have been in trouble this season even if LeBron had not gone to Hollywood.
Again, it’s not fair.
Walton hasn’t even really been given a chance with this ballclub.
This is his third year with the team, and only his second year that the squad has actually had legitimate talent. Sure, Brandon Ingram was around during Walton’s first season, but he was still an incredibly raw rookie at the time. Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball did not arrive until last year. Same with Josh Hart.
Shouldn’t Walton be given a little bit more time before we judge him?
Remember: earlier in the season when the Lakers were struggling, Johnson reprimanded Walton in a private meeting, which, right then and there, put a heck of a lot of pressure on Walton’s shoulders to produce immediately.
And for a while, things were just fine. Los Angeles never looked great, but it was at least winning some games and was contending for a top-four seed in the West. The Lakers also had a run where they went 13-4 after a 2-5 start, which was impressive.
But, with James sidelined, things have torpedoed, with the Lakers also losing at home to the New York Knicks and suffering a 22-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in which they scored just 86 points.
You have to look at it this way, though: let’s say James was not in LA and that Magic was not the president. Or we can say that Magic hired Luke. Would Walton be on the hot seat at all this season? Probably not, as it would be seen as a bridge year to let the young guys develop.
The Lakers would not be expected to be a playoff team, and Walton almost surely would not have to answer questions about his job security on a regular basis.
I also hate to break this news to Magic and Lakers fans, but the longer James remains out, the more Los Angeles is going to drop in the standings. Utah is playing great basketball lately, and the Sacramento Kings are no longer a joke.
That is no fault of Walton’s. It’s merely because the roster just is not good enough to consistently win games without LeBron. Heck, it wasn’t really all that good even with LeBron.
Have patience, Tinseltown.