Warriors aren’t missing a beat with Luke Walton as fill-in coach
The Golden State coaches were enjoying a retreat of sorts, a weekend in Napa Valley before training camp began.
They talked about the importance of defending the NBA championship and, sure, enjoyed some of the area’s grape-and-vine trappings.
But assistant coach Luke Walton knew something was amiss. The Warriors’ head coach wasn’t there.
Steve Kerr had undergone back surgery during the team’s short off-season and hadn’t returned.
A couple of days into training camp, Kerr called Walton at 7:30 a.m. and said he wouldn’t be ready for the season. Walton, approaching only his second season as an NBA assistant, would be the interim coach for a still-undetermined time.
It’s an easy job, right? Tell Stephen Curry to keep shooting threes. Same thing for Klay Thompson. Make sure Draymond Green remains one of the most versatile forward-centers in the game. And keep bringing valuable veteran Andre Iguodala off the bench.
Coaches around the league admire how Walton has helped the Warriors out of some jams on the way to a 15-0 record. They had to beat Brooklyn in overtime. Had to overcome a 23-point deficit to beat the Clippers. Had to hold a late one-point lead over Toronto without the ball.
If the Warriors beat the Lakers on Tuesday, they’ll set the NBA record for best start in a season.
“Let’s talk about pressure,” Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen said Monday. “You talk about being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You talk about being the CEO of Twitter, Facebook. Being the head coach of the Warriors, coming off the championship, that is one of the most high-pressure jobs in America. And learning that you’re going to do it early in training camp, that is pressure. Luke has done a phenomenal job.”
Walton, 35, has led an enchanting life.
He won championships in 2009 and 2010 as a role player for the Lakers and earned $34 million in an 11-year playing career, nine with with the team that drafted him 32nd overall in 2003.
The Lakers informally offered him a job as a player-development coach after he averaged 3.4 points for Cleveland in 2012-13. He declined.
“I remember my brother giving me grief about it, but I was more interested in trying to play one last year because playing is the best thing in the world,” Walton said.
Nobody ended up signing him. His playing career was over.
He picked up a part-time gig as a TWC SportsNet analyst and became player-development coach for the Lakers’ minor league affiliate, the L.A. D-Fenders.
Then Kerr called after becoming coach of the Warriors. Walton said yes. Quickly.
Golden State’s 118-105 victory over Denver on Sunday was standard Warriors basketball — they had 35 assists and made 15 of 29 three-point shots.
The only atypical part was Denver’s 51-50 lead. Walton called timeout and told the players they were acting soft. The Warriors answered with an 8-0 run and never trailed again.
“Some of the good advice that Steve gave me when I took over was to just continue to be myself. Be honest with the guys,” Walton said. “I told them early on that, look, it’s my responsibility to get on you guys if we’re not playing to a certain level, to get upset if it needs to come to that. Obviously, that’s not the role I’ve had before but this is the situation our team is in so that’s kind of the direction this has to go. They were receptive to it.”
Then there are the Lakers.
After Monday’s practice, Coach Byron Scott sat in a chair while addressing reporters.
“I have to get some rest. I didn’t get a whole lot last night so I’m a little tired,” he said. “My head was hurting.”
How come? Probably from watching video of the Lakers’ 107-93 loss to Portland, Scott said.
“I woke up like I had a hangover, and I didn’t drink. Seriously,” he said.
Scott said his leniency the last two months would start to change.
“I told them today my patience has run thin,” Scott said. “So defensively if you’re not doing the things that I need you to do, if you’re not getting back in transition, if we say we’re going to ‘red’ on pick and roll, which means a trap, if we don’t do that, then I’m just going to start taking guys out.
“The same thing offensively. If you’re not keeping your spacing, setting screens and rolling to the basket, if you’re just holding the basketball, I’ve just got to start making some changes as far as that’s concerned.”
There wouldn’t be wholesale modifications, just one or two players who weren’t doing the job correctly, Scott said.
“I think guys are getting a little too comfortable,” he said. “They’ve got to be held a little bit more accountable for their actions out there.”
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