Luke Walton oversaw a nine-win improvement from his first year as coach to this season.
Walton spoke at length about several topics, including individual members of the young core, plans for the offseason and working with Magic Johnson.
Below is a summary of his exit interview.
- Walton was impressed by the way his players refused to fold when they went through a rough stretch in December, winning 17 of their next 24 games.
“I think I’m most proud of the fight that our team has,” he said. “When we were on that nine-game losing streak, we didn’t give in. We pulled together. … We did that by playing as a team, by continuing to work. There’s really no substitute for experience.”
- The Lakers finished 12th in defensive rating after sinking to the bottom three in each of their past four seasons, including 29th last year.
“The overall goal that I’m most proud of is that we finished 12th in defense,” he said. “… We started day one of training camp doing nothing but defense and talking about nothing but defense.”
- The day before, Lonzo Ball said that he was told in his exit interview that this offseason will be the “biggest summer of his life.” Walton said that he needs to be dedicated to the weight room and the practice court, not out of obligation but because he wants to be the best he can be.
“He’s an incredible young man,” Walton said. “He’s got more people judging him and more pressure and stress than most rookies who have ever come in this league.” … “He deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled himself in his first year in the NBA.”
- Walton’s relationship with Julius Randle has been well-documented. Perhaps the most notable instance of their clash of mentalities was when Randle began the season by coming off he bench.
“We did not agree on things early in the year — later in the year, too,” Walton said. “… When you have players with the type of potential that Julius has and some of our others have, they have to be pushed to be great. … He earned everything he got this year, and I’m happy and excited for how his offseason’s gonna turn out.”
- Randle’s restricted free agency will be one of the biggest topics of the Lakers summer. While Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have the ultimate say on what the team will offer Randle, Walton certainly would like to coach him again.
“Julius is a big part of what we’ve accomplished this year,” Walton said. “I think continuity is a big thing for us. I think it’s obvious that, yes, I would love to have Julius back next year.”