In one day, 5 1/2 weeks ago, the two people who brought Luke Walton back to the Lakers were gone from their positions. That day general manager Mitch Kupchak was fired and Jim Buss was removed as the Lakers’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
That kind of development might have tested his nerves, except for one fact: Jeanie Buss remained consistent in her support.
“That’s a tough spot to be in when the people who hire you aren’t here anymore,” Walton said. “Even before that happened, I’ve always had a good relationship with her and just having random talks with her before any of that went down, she was great with the vision she had and what she saw and the way she sees things playing out. I think that made it a little easier even before we had official talks.”
Jeanie Buss believes so much in Walton that before she brought Magic Johnson back into the organization, she asked for his thoughts on the Lakers’ head coach. She wanted to make sure they were on the same page, and that Johnson was comfortable building a team around Walton.
“He is somebody that I believe can be our coach for the next 10 or 15 years, as long as we don’t kill him,” Jeanie Buss said recently, on a podcast with Forbes Sports Money. “I saw from my experience with Phil Jackson, if you can build a foundation of players who know the system you want to play, the style you want to play, then you really have [something.] … I believe that if we build with Luke in mind that he’s somebody that can be around a long time.”
Johnson agreed that Walton was the right coach for the Lakers future. Now, in his role as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Johnson meets with Walton and other key members of the organization regularly. They’ve made an effort to replace the lack of communication that frustrated Buss under the previous regime.
There’s peace of mind for Walton in all of it.
“She’s been incredible, from text messages of support to conversations in person, having my back, just letting me know she believes in what we’re doing,” Walton said. “For us as a coaching staff it’s really nice to hear and to know that we can do things that we feel are best for the future of the team and not really worry about whether, for now at least, we’re part of that future or not.”
Zubac’s season ends
Rookie center Ivica Zubac suffered a high ankle sprain against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. An MRI on Friday confirmed that initial diagnosis and Zubac will not play again this season, which ends April 12.
Zubac became the Lakers starting center on March 12. He began to see real playing time in mid-January, but was splitting time between the Lakers and their development league team, the D-Fenders.
Zubac said after the game that he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury. It happened two minutes and 14 seconds into the game.
Zubac started 11 games for the Lakers. He averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.
Ingram makes progress
The Lakers had a light practice Friday after returning from Minnesota the night before. Brandon Ingram participated, and even did some work taking contact with coaches.
If he does not have any setbacks before Saturday’s game against the Clippers, he will play on a minutes restriction.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli