The Golden State Warriors geared up for the Western Conference Semifinals on Saturday, but the bulk of the attention was on the postseason plans for one of their assistant coaches.
Luke Walton, who was announced as the next head coach of the Lakers, met with the media for the first time since the decision was made official on Friday.
“I think they have some good, young, talented players,” Walton told the assembled reporters. “Obviously you need to mix in some good vets with that to not only win, but to have players on the court that can help the young players grow. I’m excited about the players and the pieces there.”
Walton will remain with the Warriors for the remainder of their title defense, but head coach Steve Kerr has already offered his opinion on the challenge of finding a new associate coach.
“You can’t replace Luke,” Kerr said. “He’s one-of-a-kind. They broke the mold after they made Luke. We’re gonna miss him desperately.”
Walton led the Warriors to a 39-4 record while Kerr missed the first half of the season due to complications stemming from offseason back surgery. The 36-year-old even guided the Warriors to the best start in NBA history, as they won their first 24 games, which earned him the Western Conference Coach of the Month award for the October/November period.
Walton even received one second- and two third-place votes for Coach of the Year, which was won by Kerr, as Golden State's 73-9 record topped the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the most wins ever.
“I can’t believe Luke Walton’s the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers,” Klay Thompson said. “I feel like I was just watching him play five years ago for them.”
Like Kerr, Draymond Green had a bittersweet outlook on Walton's departure from the team.
“I’m excited for him, but at the same time this one stings a little bit,” Green said. “He’s obviously a guy that we want around. But I think when you have the kind of success that we had, and you prove what he proved this year, he’s deserving. And that’s a dream job for him.”
Looking forward, Walton has already assessed the crop of young talent that highlights the Lakers' roster. Based on personnel, he doesn't plan to run the triangle offense that worked so well during his time as a Laker under Phil Jackson from 2003-2012.
“I don’t think the triangle’s the most appropriate offense for the players that they have in place right there,” Walton said. “I think I’m gonna bring more of the style and spacing that we use up here, which has elements of the triangle in its philosophy. But it’s more of the the style we play here at Golden State.”
Walton acknowledges that it won't be easy to turn around a team that reset the franchise record for most losses in back-to-back seasons. A big part of this is establishing a culture in his first season at the helm.
“The (challenge) here was to take a good team that had already established themselves and trying to make them great,” Walton said. “With the team in L.A., we need to go down there and build a foundation. … We’re trying to set the foundation for how we want to play, what’s acceptable, the style of play, how we compete — all these things.”