The Los Angeles Lakers would not be in the playoffs if the season ended Tuesday, but controlling owner Jeanie Buss still thinks head coach Luke Walton has done a fine job in the face of numerous injuries.
Buss appeared on Zach Lowe's The Lowe Post podcast and revealed as much, saying president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka feel the same way:
"I can tell you right now, that everyone, Magic, [GM Rob Pelinka] myself, everyone in the organization is behind Luke... We are doing everything we can to make sure that Luke is successful in his job. That's our job... I think he is doing a terrific job. Given the injuries that we've had, it's a challenge and people forget that he has had two of our starters taken away from him and they've won really important games on the road, proving what is possible even without LeBron... I think Luke has done an impressive job."
Walton's job security has been a topic of conversation throughout the season.
Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com reported in November that Johnson "admonished" him during a meeting following the team's 3-5 start to the season. In December, Sam Amick of The Athletic cited coaching sources who said Walton is "the most likely to feel his seat grow warm if there's an extended Lakers losing streak."
However, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported earlier this month the head coach "has the strongest possible backing" from Buss, who "almost certainly would prevent such rashness" even if Johnson and Pelinka wanted to make a change during the regular season.
It is also hard to blame Walton for the Lakers' current predicament, as they are without LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball because of injuries. James and Rondo have been out since Christmas Day, and the Purple and Gold are just 5-9 without the four-time MVP.
Ball will miss four to six weeks with an ankle injury, so the depth will be tested even when the two veterans return.
Los Angeles is one game behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed, and making the playoffs won't be an easy task even when James is healthy. The Jazz won a playoff series last season and have a talented core featuring Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
What's more, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers are above them. The former has head-turning infrastructure in place with head coach Gregg Popovich and 21 straight playoff appearances, while the latter is deep with plenty of talent throughout the roster.
Even though the Lakers making the playoffs is no guarantee, Walton can take solace knowing he has the support of Buss.