EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Luke Walton realizes he is reporting to his dream job a little late.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ new head coach is determined to catch up quickly as he starts the biggest project of his life.
The Lakers formally introduced the 36-year-old Walton on Tuesday, 53 days after they hired the Golden State assistant coach to lead their rebuilding from the worst season in franchise history.
“I’m so excited to get after it here,” said Walton, who played nine seasons and won two titles as a Lakers forward.
After wowing Lakers owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in a late-April interview, Walton still completed his second season as an assistant to Steve Kerr with the Warriors, who lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday.
With the sting of that loss still affecting him, Walton made the drive down from Oakland on Monday and immediately got to work with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. The Lakers are starting from the floor after Kobe Bryant’s retirement and a 17-65 season, but Walton only sees opportunity.
“I think we’re in an exciting time,” Walton said. “We have extremely talented young players. We have a ton of money to spend in free agency. We have draft picks this year, and the fact that Mitch and Jimmy Buss trusted me with this, in being part of this rebuilding, post-Kobe era, just means the world to me.”
The Lakers have the No. 2 pick in the draft on Thursday night, and they’re expected to add Duke scorer Brandon Ingram to a young core that already includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. They’ve also got ample salary cap space to add several veterans in free agency, and Walton immediately began his pitch to the game’s big names.
“We’re going to put our stamp on the culture that we want,” Walton said. “It’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practice every day. We’re going to play a brand of basketball that LA fans will appreciate. … We have money to spend. I know the Buss family and I know the Laker organization, and they’re going to do what it takes to win. To me, that’s all you really need to know. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to come here.”
Just three years after his playing career ended, Walton is under the spotlight that always shines on a franchise once run by Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Walton became one of the hottest coaching properties in basketball in the just-completed season with his remarkable work running the Warriors during Kerr’s medical absence.
Walton coolly led Golden State to a 19-0 start that eventually stretched to 39-4 before Kerr returned from back problems. NBA rules require the wins to be credited to a team’s head coach, even if he isn’t on the bench, which means Walton will coach his first official game this fall.
“That’s the decision that was made, but 0-0 still helped me get my dream job,” Walton said with a grin. “Looking back on it now, I would pay a salary to coach under Steve and learn under Steve, and to steal those ideas that he used up in Oakland. I’m putting all those into who I am as a coach now.”
That includes an up-tempo, aggressive approach patterned on Kerr’s schemes with the Warriors. While the Lakers don’t have Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, Walton believes they have the ingredients of a winner already.
Russell, last year’s No. 2 pick, showed up to greet Walton and new assistant coach Brian Shaw. Russell has been working out daily in Los Angeles after showing his ample promise during a tumultuous rookie campaign.
“Just the way he talks makes me ready for the first game, makes me ready for the first practice,” Russell said. “He knows what it takes.”
Walton’s mother, Susan, watched the news conference next to his wife, Bre, who is pregnant with their second child. The family still has a home in Manhattan Beach, so returning home won’t be complicated.
The coach’s father, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, didn’t attend, yet still managed to be a topic of conversation.
Luke Walton laughed when asked about his voluble father’s declaration in an interview that he shouldn’t have taken the Lakers job. Luke noted that his father didn’t even want him to get into coaching, believing the lifestyle was too tough.
“I love my father,” Walton said. “Sometimes he has great advice, and sometimes he doesn’t. … You’ll see him in the hallways wearing Laker shirts that are too small for him.”