It is not often that an NBA coach will coach a player as transcendent as LeBron James. Luke Walton, however, will get that opportunity this upcoming season as LeBron has agreed to a 4 year, 154 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Walton, a former player who is now the head coach of the Lakers, has a 61-103 record throughout his first two seasons. Before taking over as head coach of the Lakers, Walton was an assistant coach to Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors for 2 seasons. The Warriors made two NBA Finals appearances during his tenure as assistant coach, winning one and losing one to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the 2015-16 season, Steve Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season while recovering from back surgery. Walton was the interim head coach while Kerr was out, and the Warriors got off to a ridiculous 39-4 start. They would go on to win 73 games that season, setting an NBA record for most regular season wins.
This upcoming season will be Walton’s third year as head coach of the Lakers. The past two seasons have certainly been considered rebuilding years, so Walton can get a pass for his subpar record. However, with LeBron in town now, the standards will be raised to a completely new level. LeBron has made eight straight NBA Finals appearances, and he surely has no intent of slowing down. He wants to win, and he wants to win now. With many young players on the roster, LeBron will take over the leadership role.
With this in mind, the question is: will Luke Walton be able to handle coaching LeBron? In order to make star players happy, you certainly have to know what you’re doing. Not that Luke Walton doesn’t, but this will certainly be a task cut out for him. He doesn’t have much experience, and he doesn’t have any credentials so far as head coach. The past two seasons in LA, Walton has coached mainly young guys such as Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and more. Now, you are throwing LeBron into the mix, who is a 3x NBA champion and arguably the greatest player to ever live. By the way, for those that don’t know, Walton was drafted in the same class as LeBron in 2003, and he was drafted 31 spots after him.
What this means is that Walton will likely have to earn LeBron’s respect before the Lakers commit to him long-term. In LeBron’s recent meeting with Magic Johnson right before he signed (Walton was not at the meeting), Magic likely told him that he will have a strong voice in what he wants and does not want. This is a different situation from Miami, where Pat Riley made it clear that Erik Spoelstra was the head coach regardless of what the players felt.
The pressure will be on for Luke Walton next season. There may be times where LeBron seems to be the one taking charge, because that’s who he is, not necessarily in a bad way. Not only is he arguably the best player of all time, he is also one of the smartest. Many assume that LeBron is difficult to coach because he feels that he needs to be in control. Whether that is true or not, Luke Walton will have to show that he can satisfy LeBron and lead the team to success.