The Lakers fired Luke Walton on Friday after the team finished a frustrating and disappointing 37-45 in a season that began with massive expectations following James’ arrival. Walton’s firing comes with two years remaining on his five-year contract.
Walton’s job security was something many executives, coaches and agents speculated about since the start of the season, not only because the Lakers had the makings of a flawed roster, but also because Walton wasn’t hired by the existing regime of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Walton was hired in 2016 by then-executive vice president Jim Buss and then-general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Johnson surprisingly resigned as president of basketball operations on Tuesday. Pelinka, the team’s general manager, will now begin a coaching search.
Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is considered a strong frontrunner for the Lakers job, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Lue won a championship with James in 2015-16. Former Milwaukee Bucks coach and California native Jason Kidd could also be a candidate for the job.
Charged with trying to blend a roster around James that combined eclectic veterans on one-year contracts, a core group of young prospects still learning how to play, and a plethora of ball handlers but not enough shooters, Walton had what many felt was the most daunting job in the NBA.
While Johnson preached patience in the preseason knowing that it would take time for the roster to mesh, he admonished Walton in a meeting just six games into the season. The Hall of Fame point guard was upset with the team’s defense and sluggish start, but he later told the Los Angeles Times and ESPN that Walton, barring something unforeseen, would not be fired.
Walton had the Lakers at 20-14 on Christmas night after a blowout win at Golden State and looking like they were on the verge of coming together. But the wheels came off in spectacular fashion when James and Rajon Rondo were injured during that game, sending the Lakers into a tailspin from which they would never recover.
Suspensions, injuries, constant drama, inexcusable losses to bottom-feeding teams and a buffet of on-court gaffes — enough to provide the internet with ammunition to come up with a “One Shining Moment” parody — smothered the Lakers’ season and ultimately doomed Walton.
Walton would lose Lonzo Ball (ankle) and Brandon Ingram (blood clot in shoulder) to season-ending injuries. The Lakers had James, Ingram and Ball together for a total of only 23 games, going 15-8 during that span.
Now, for the fifth time since Phil Jackson last sat on the Lakers’ bench in 2010-11, the Lakers will be looking for a new head coach to attempt to revive the proud franchise and take it to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13 season.