Could Luke Walton Be Los Angeles Lakers' Next Head Coach?

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

EL SEGUNDO, CA - APRIL 12:  Los Angeles D-Fenders player development coach Luke Walton looks on before the game against the Santa Cruz Warriors on April12, 2014 at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, 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 2014 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

There has been no official word whatsoever on any head coaching candidates that the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in. Only that they wouldn’t mind having one in place before the June 26 draft.

As Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said recently at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: “I think that would be a goal, but not necessarily something that has to happen. We haven’t really had any formal interviews.”

Beyond that, it’s all rumor and speculation—a laundry list of names that either make a lot of sense, some sense or no sense at all.

Names like George Karl, Lionel Hollins, Jeff Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Mark Jackson, Mike Dunleavy, Kevin Ollie, Ettore Messina, Quin Snyder, Kurt Rambis, Derek Fisher…or Luke Walton.

Walton isn't actually that far-fetched of an idea. 

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He won a couple rings as a pass-first small forward for the Lakers, has amazing court vision and has spent some time on the sidelines as an assistant coach for the University of Memphis during the 2011 NBA summer lockout and this past season as a player development coach for the Lakers’ D-League team, the D-Fenders.

Growing up the son of NBA legend Bill Walton, Luke was immersed in basketball from a young age, playing two-on-two with brothers Nate, Adam and Chris at home in San Diego and following their father around the country on his NBA quest.  

In a Campus Insiders interview with Seth Davis taped in September 2013, Walton talks about key influences in his life—his father, who is a bluntly honest and larger-than-life figure in basketball, the legendary Hall of Famer Lute Olson at the University of Arizona and of course, Phil Jackson.

After graduating from U of A, Walton was drafted in 2003 as the 32nd overall pick by the Lakers. He wasn’t expected to get much burn in his rookie season but wound up appearing in 72 games. This was the season of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton and a run to the Finals that ended in defeat at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.

A season of too many team injuries gave Walton the chance to gain meaningful experience and to begin to absorb knowledge from the Zen Master. It would be the first of his 10 seasons in the NBA, including seven under Jackson and nine with the Lakers.

During his interview with Davis, Walton talks about the two great coaches he played for—Olson and Jackson—and what made them unique: “They have a special quality and a special ability to get their players to play the best and to do it for the better of the team as opposed to individual reasons.”

Walton, who won two rings with the Lakers, was plagued by back problems during his last years with the team before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the 2009-10 season in which he played just 29 games, Walton tracked plays on a clipboard from the bench and sat in on coaching meetings.

In his most recent book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, Jackson writes about Walton's journey as a young player and how he grew and matured over time: 

He didn’t have a killer jumper, nor was he gifted at creating his own shot. But he loved moving the ball and playing the game the right way. He was also gifted at shifting the flow of the action from one side of the court to the other, a critical move in the triangle offense.

Many coaches don’t place a high value on such skills, but I encouraged Luke to grow in that direction. Eventually, he blossomed into one of the best facilitators on the team.

Now, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne for ESPN, Jackson is looking at Walton as one of the possibilities for the New York Knicks' head coaching vacancy.

DALLAS - FEBRUARY 7:  Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers talks ot his teammate Luke Walton #4 during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Arena on February 7, 2006 in Dallas, Texas.  The Mavericks won 102-87.  NOTE TO
Glenn James/Getty Images

For that matter, it seems as if the majority of Jackson’s candidates have some sort of Purple and Gold connection, and it makes perfect sense—why wouldn’t you reach out to the talent pool that you spent so much time developing?

Meanwhile, Kupchak and Jim Buss aren’t naming any names, nor do they seem in any hurry to interview potential replacements for Mike D’Antoni, who resigned after the team’s 27-55 debacle this season.

Perhaps Lakers management is okay with letting their former champions migrate east. And it’s probably best that they don’t let their own important decisions be swayed by someone else’s actions.

But, it’s natural for fans to look at the Lakers' choices in recent years—such as passing Jackson over in favor of D’Antoni—and to contrast them with those that Jackson may make in his new position as president of the Knicks.

Is Walton someone the Lakers should consider as a head coach? He’s been an integral part of the organization for a decade now, as a player, an unofficial assistant coach and most recently, working in player development for the D-Fenders. Walton also acts as an on-air analyst for the Lakers’ Time Warner Cable SportsNet channel.

Those jobs, while all well and good, don’t necessarily qualify someone to take over one of those most prestigious jobs in basketball.

But, they are all part of the life experience of someone who has learned from the true legends of the game. The NBA is beginning to go through seismic generational shifts. More and more, teams are embracing a forward-thinking youth movement for coaches and front office personnel.

Luke Walton, who recently turned 34, seems as if he could be a part of this new transitional movement in the NBA, whether in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

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