The fate of Lakers coach Luke Walton may well have been sealed, oddly enough, on one of the better days in the recent history of the franchise: July 1 of last summer, when the team got LeBron James to sign a four-year contract. That’s because in meeting with James that day, team president Magic Johnson did not include Walton as part of the group making the Lakers' pitch.
James didn’t meet with Walton until two weeks after he joined the team last summer, reminiscent of the weeks he waited before sitting down with coach David Blatt when he signed with the Cavaliers in 2014. Blatt lasted the next season thanks to a Finals trip, but he was axed midway through the following year.
Now, as the Lakers slog through the final month of this miserable season, Walton appears to be on a countdown to the end of his tenure in LA.
There’s been a wave of speculation about Walton all year, which makes him an excellent subject of this week’s Friday Rumor-rama.
First, while the focus has been on whom the Lakers will target to replace Walton, there is also the issue of Walton’s future. Despite the battering he’s taken from fans, the media and within his own organization this year, Walton will still be an active candidate for coaching jobs this summer.
He did, of course, go 39-4 filling in for Steve Kerr with the Warriors in 2015-16, and in two years with the Lakers, he brought them from 17 wins before he arrived to 26 wins, then to 35 wins last year. He could take time off, but if he decides to seek another job, he’ll be a wanted man for rebuilding teams.
The Suns have not committed to bringing first-year coach Igor Kokoskov back for next season, and with just 16 wins, Phoenix could take a step backward in a season in which improvement was expected. A source told Sporting News that Walton, who starred at Arizona, is seen as a top potential replacement for Kokoskov should the Suns make a move.