The Coach of the Year Award doesn’t always go to the best coach, but rather to the coach of the best team. Last year, Steve Kerr inexplicably won the award after missing over half of the season while taking a leave of absence to deal with his back problems. While he was figuring out whether or not he liked medicinal marijuana, Luke Walton stepped in to lead the team, earning 39 wins and only four losses, although he would not officially be credited with those numbers. This set the record for most wins to open a season and helped Walton earn some credibility as a coach. Regardless, Kerr won the award off of the merits of his team, not on his ability to coach. This year, I’m hoping there will be a different outcome, ideally involving the man who coached the Warriors for half a season last year.
It was announced late last year that Walton would head back to Los Angeles to take the reins. Byron Scott had not worked out as head coach, and upper management was afraid he was losing the team’s collection of young stars. Walton’s history with the team was something the Lakers couldn’t have overlooked either. He spent almost 10 seasons with the Lakers during the Kobe years and was part of two NBA championship teams. Transitioning to a head coach that is familiar with an organization already makes things much easier than trying to find someone from the outside.
The Lakers had to make sure that guys like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were not dissuaded by the chaos that Scott and Kobe Bryant brought to the table. Kobe was going to play his game last year and be the number one guy on the team, no matter what. It would have been easy for Russell and Randle to lose motivation or respect coming off of a season like that. However, those two players are going to be instrumental to the future of the franchise, so bringing in a respected guy like Walton was a smart move. He has already made a huge impact on the team, leading them to a 10-12 record so far this year. Last season, they crawled to a 17-65 record.
Walton has completely changed the culture of the Lakers locker room. He’s moved away from the hero ball, Bryant Era to a team oriented one. He’s received praise from coaches around the league from guys like Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, who said that “Luke Walton is a hell of a coach” in his post-game press conference following the Grizzlies 103-100 win over the Lakers.
Walton has managed to turn a terrible team into one of the most exciting in the NBA. They no longer get steamrolled by better teams, but instead compete for all 48 minutes and force their opponents to play their best. His coaching has changed the franchise for the better, which is why he should be NBA Coach of the Year this season.