LOS ANGELES – The NBA coaching carousel can be a fickle business, especially at the helm of one of the league’s most prestigious and decorated organizations. Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton is finding that out for himself this year.
The signing of LeBron James this summer, coupled with the development of the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, was supposed to propel the Lakers back into the playoffs, a place they haven’t been since 2013.
50 games in and the script hasn’t quite gone according to plan. James has missed 16 consecutive games with a groin injury — the longest absence of his illustrious career — and without him, L.A. has posted a 6-10 record. There’s even been recent reports that people in James’ camp want the second-year head coach fired.
On top of managing James’ injury, Walton has had to adjust his lineup on the fly when most teams are starting to find their stride. Ball will miss 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain and Kuzma sat out the game against the Phoenix Suns.
Despite missing three starters, the former Arizona Wildcat maintained his stoic tone about how the injuries have affected LA over the past month.
“I address it, I put it out there. We need everyone to step up, and that’s what being a team is about. The message is always the same. No one’s gonna feel sorry for us, so we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We go out there and do our jobs,” Walton said.
While the skies should brighten in the coming weeks with LeBron’s return on the near horizon, it hasn’t distracted Walton from the fact that the focus is to win games now. That message rings true when the Lakers look at the standings and find themselves ninth in the Western Conference.
“The clock is always ticking. We are aware of [the standings], but that’s not our focus. Our focus is doing what we can do today and try to become a better team,” Walton said.
So how do the Lakers become that better team without their best players on the court?
“We have other guys that are going to get more opportunities now, and they need to step up. We believe that they will,” Walton said.
Los Angeles saw a few different players rise to the challenge, albeit against the 11-41 Suns. Ivica Zubac and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both poured in 24 points, and Ingram posted 22 to help snap L.A.’s three-game losing streak.
Walton’s 2018-19 season coaching the Lakers has been a bumpy ride, to say the least, and it looks like it’s up to him to turn things around and rewrite the script that may just have a Hollywood ending buried somewhere in the drama.
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