Luke Walton gets to Lakers in time for the NBA draft

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On Tuesday, June 21, the Los Angeles Lakers introduced their new head coach Luke Walton. He had been an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors until Sunday night, after the Cleveland Cavaliers won game 7 of the NBA Finals, capturing the championship. At 36, Walton is the youngest head coach in the NBA.

Luke Walton coaching with the Golden State Warriors before game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Luke Walton coaching with the Golden State Warriors before game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Losing to the Cavaliers is still fresh on his mind and it was no surprise game 7 was in one of the first questions. Walton told the media he won’t get over the loss and said he never really gets over any of the losses in big games. “I don’t think you ever get over that disappointment, to be honest. Still haven’t gotten over the disappointment of losing to Detroit (Pistons) my rookie year, to losing to the Celtics when they were pouring Gatorade with five minutes left in the game … when they are up 30 in Boston. You don’t get over those things, but they do motivate you and they do make you appreciate winning championships and what it feels like to be on the other side of that.” Walton added, “I look forward to trying to get on the other side of that down here.”

Walton was drafted by the Lakers in the second round of the 2003 draft, the 32nd pick overall. He spoke about this year’s draft, which takes place today beginning at 4 p.m. Pacific Time, during the press conference, when he expressed optimism for the future of the Lakers. They have the number two and 32nd pick in this year’s draft and Walton was as  optimistic about the 32nd pick as he was about the second pick. They are expected to take Brandon Ingram of Duke University with their first pick in the draft.

He is excited to be back in Los Angeles, as the head coach of the Lakers, “Everything excites me,” he told the media. “We have young, talented players, we have draft picks, we have $60-70 million in free agency, we have one of the greatest fan bases of all time. It’s an organization that free agents want to play for. As far as being a young coach and being able to help rebuild an organization, a team, that I love, that I grew up with, it’s all exciting to me.”

Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell

Part of his style, the culture as he put it, is the team has to love to compete. “We have to love to win. By by doing that you have to love the process. You have to love the details of the game. You have to hold players accountable. They have to want to hold themselves accountable.”

He said his view was that a coaching staff succeeds when it gives the players more freedom. “Even though that may look like your doing less coaching, that means they’re taking ownership for what they’re doing.”

D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers young point guard, was at the press conference and spoke to reporters. He said he was excited to get started with Walton, echoing what the new coach said from the podium about having fun at practice and during games. “That’s what we need,” Russell said.

For Walton the decision to coach the Lakers, what he calls his dream job, wasn’t made alone. His wife Bre, a standout volleyball player at the University of Arizona where the two met, was at the press conference as well. “Obviously you don’t make this type of decision without getting permission from your wife first. I don’t know a bunch, but I know that much.” They have a home here in the Los Angeles area. Walton added, “To me that’s not a huge part of it. You can make home wherever, as long as you have the right people with you. The special part of this was more doing it with the organization, doing it with the fans that you build these bonds with, here in L.A. more so than I enjoy spending time here in Manhattan Beach.”

Lakers G.M. Mitch Kupchak welcoming Luke Walton to the podium
Lakers G.M. Mitch Kupchak welcoming Luke Walton to the podium

Walton was asked about his father, NBA legend Bill Walton who told the press he advised his son not to take the head coaching job with the Lakers. “I love my father. Sometimes he has great advice and sometimes he doesn’t. He also told me to never get into coaching in the first place because the lifestyle is too crazy — and I love coaching. So I didn’t listen to him on that, and obviously I’ve had a successful start to this thing.” He added a little jab at his dad, saying “You’ll see him in the hallways wearing Lakers shirts that are too small for him and chanting ‘Lakers’ and all sorts of things we’ve come to love about him”

After being drafted by the Lakers Walton spent nine seasons with the team, winning two championships: 2009 and 2010. He will now coach the team in the post Kobe Bryant era. Our reporter Claudia Gestro asked Walton what of Bryant’s qualities would he try to instill in this new Lakers team. “Something from Kobe? That’s easy: his work ethic. He was the hardest working player that I ever played with. When you have superstars willing to work that hard it sets an incredible tone. It did for us as his teammates; I’ve seen it with Steph Curry up in Golden State now. MVP of the league is in the gym every day shooting. ” He added his personal experience, “The work ethic that I saw, that he had and I learned from him, I will be bringing into this job.”

On October 4, 2016 the Lakers will have a preseason game at the Honda Center in Anaheim, facing the Sacramento Kings. On October 15 the Lakers will face the Golden State Warriors at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV and then the two teams will meet again in the preseason on October 19 at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, CA.

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UPDATE: 4:30 P.M.: As predicted the Los Angeles Lakers selected Brandon Ingram of Duke University, with their first pick — #2 over all — in the NBA Draft.

Claudia Gestro contributed to this article, including all photos and the video.