Luke Walton, LA Lakers Need to Get This Coaching Staff Right

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistMay 27, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 5:  Assistant Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 5, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are pressing ahead during the offseason, preparing for the NBA draft and putting together a staff for newly hired head coach Luke Walton.

Walton himself is doing double duty—assisting Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors as they attempt to dig out of a hole in the Western Conference Finals while also reaching out to candidates who will ultimately become his own assistants.

Staffing can be a convoluted process, however. The high volume of coaching turnovers around the league has a ripple effect. Some assistants climb the ladder to take their own leadership roles, others follow former bosses, and still more find themselves scrambling for their next gigs.

All that is further complicated by the need to find the right combination on the Lakers bench. Walton will run a faster and more free-flowing offense than the one favored by his predecessor, Byron Scott. But he also has to fire up the defense—L.A. has been one of the worst teams in the league for points given up over the past three seasons.

 

First Chair Solved

Brian Shaw greets Byron Scott during a Lakers/Nuggets game earlier this year.
Brian Shaw greets Byron Scott during a Lakers/Nuggets game earlier this year.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

According to ESPN, Brian Shaw will soon become Walton's associate head coach. It will be a reunion and part of a trend of keeping it all in the family. Shaw spent 12 years with the Lakers as both a player and assistant coach under Phil Jackson. Walton himself played for the Lakers while Shaw was working under Jackson, including two championship runs.

More recently, Shaw was fired as head coach of the Denver Nuggets in March after nearly two seasons and a record of 56-85. Prior to that, he was lead assistant to Frank Vogel and the Indiana Pacers.

In addition to their past relationship, Shaw's breadth of experience will benefit Walton, whose head coaching resume consists of a brief yet impressive 39-4 record as interim head coach earlier this season when Kerr was recovering from back surgery.

But the pairing of two Jackson acolytes in L.A. raises some eyebrows. Shaw left L.A. five years ago on a down note. The team passed over him as Jackson's replacement, with Mike Brown getting the nod instead. Speaking with Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomson that year, Shaw expressed misgivings about his job interview, including how Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss spoke about Jackson.

"There were some things that were said that I won't really get into," Shaw said. "It was kind of bashing Phil Jackson, that I just refused to just sit and listen to."

It has been a bumpy stretch since then to say the least, with progressively worse records and a carousel of coaches that most recently included Scott.

Perhaps now, the sins of the past are being healed. Buss is certainly riding a more uncertain wave these days, having previously pledged to step down if the team isn't making a deep playoff run by this time next year. Meanwhile, Walton represents the perfect confluence of a rising star and favorite son, while Shaw makes sense as a familiar and steady hand.

But the team still has some important hires ahead of it.

 

Looking Around the League

J.B. Bickerstaff is examining options after Houston.
J.B. Bickerstaff is examining options after Houston.Jason Miller/Getty Images

Filling the next key slot under Walton and Shaw means competing with multiple other teams that are in the same position.

One obvious name is J.B. Bickerstaff (son of former Lakers assistant and interim Bernie), who was interim head coach for the Houston Rockets this past season. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Bickerstaff interviewed for the vacant Orlando Magic head coaching gig before Vogel nabbed it. Bickerstaff could certainly be a lead assistant somewhere, but those jobs are filling up fast. Could the Lakers bring him on board as second chair?

Elston Turner, former lead assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies, may join Dave Joerger in Sacramento, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. If that doesn't happen, the defensive guru would be a huge get for L.A. A more available Grizzlies assistant might be Bob Thornton, an L.A. native and former NBA power forward from the 1980s. He's the type of solid veteran presence that would complement a young Lakers team.

But with all that said, Walton may be focused on a fellow Warrior, according to ESPN's Ethan Strauss on The Lowe Post podcast.

"I assume Chris DeMarco, who's [Walton's] guy in Golden State, is coming down to L.A," Strauss said. "That would be my assumption, even if nobody's told me that officially."

DeMarco is a player development coach in Golden State, having worked his way through the ranks from the video department to scouting before graduating to the bench.

 

Homegrown Solutions

Casey Owens led the D-Fenders to the D-League Finals.
Casey Owens led the D-Fenders to the D-League Finals.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

There's also current Lakers personnel to consider. As with other teams, some will stay, and others will go.

Casey Owens just wrapped up a season as head coach for the Lakers' NBA D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The squad lost in the D-League Finals, and Owens has coached around the world, using an uptempo, multipositional scheme along with defensive responsibility.

Mark Madsen is another local component, drafted by the Lakers in 2000 and playing alongside Shaw for three seasons before segueing to the Timberwolves for six more years. Mad Dog eventually returned to L.A. and has worked in player development and as an assistant coach to Scott. Madsen is a smart, outgoing type who also spent time as a liaison between the team's coaching and analytics operations.

But what L.A. really needs is someone who can light a fire defensively under young Lakers players.

Metta World Peace could fill that latter bill nicely. He mentored Julius Randle this season while also acting as a backup small forward to Kobe Bryant. World Peace played along Walton for three seasons, including a championship.

Walton and World Peace together again?
Walton and World Peace together again?Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/Associated Press

"When I was in the Finals, I would talk to Luke," World Peace recalled to Rachel Nichols on ESPN's The Jump. "So I would go back to the bench and like, 'Luke, what's going on, what should I do?' He would just tell me, he would give me tips throughout the whole entire playoffs."

World Peace wants to play a couple more years, but maybe Walton could talk the defensive stopper into taking a player development role instead.

And while Scott has now exited the building, his son is still present. Thomas Scott is a development coach for the team and works closely with young guards D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. He can be seen in a TWC SportsNet segment from Wednesday, helping Clarkson with offseason shooting drills. 


There are so many candidates and yet only a handful of seats to fill. The front office will look to surround Walton with assistants he feels comfortable with as well as finding the right balance on both ends of the floor.

That front-line mix should be Walton and Shaw, plus Owens for his wide-ranging experience and DeMarco for his ability to analyze and break down opponents' tendencies in real time. Throw in World Peace for his defensive insights and Scott, who has the ears of L.A.'s youth corps, as player development coaches, and the Lakers have a successful blueprint after too many years of missteps on the bench.

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