Lakers' overhaul continues with firing of head coach Luke Walton
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton gives instructions during an NBA game on April 4, 2019, against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. EPA-EFE/Etienne Laurent USE BY SHUTTERSTOCK PROHIBITED
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton gives instructions during an NBA game on April 9, 2019, against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center in Los Ángeles, California. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT/USE IN SHUTTERSTOCK PROHIBITED
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton looks on during an NBA game on April 2, 2019, against the Oklahoma City Thinger at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. EPA-EFE/Larry W. Smith USE BY SHUTTERSTOCK PROHIBITED
Los Angeles, Apr 13 (efe-epa).- A major overhaul under way within the Los Angeles Lakers' organization continued with the announcement that head coach Luke Walton's tenure at that storied NBA franchise will end after three seasons.
The departure of the 39-year-old Walton on Friday came as no surprise after the team failed to make the playoffs despite acquiring four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James as a free agent prior to the start of the season.
The move came just three days after Lakers legend Magic Johnson made the surprise announcement that he was stepping down as the team's president of basketball operations.
Walton's presence on the Lakers' bench was never to the complete liking of Johnson nor the team's general manager, Rob Pelinka, in part because he had been hired by the latter's predecessor, Mitch Kupchak.
"We would like to thank Luke for his dedicated service over the last three years," Pelinka announced Friday. "We wish Luke and his family the best of luck moving forward."
Walton, for his part, expressed appreciation for his time in Los Angeles.
"I want to thank (team president and owner) Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers," Walton said. "This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family."
The former player and son of NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton came to the Lakers after serving as assistant coach for the team that has been the NBA's biggest success story in recent years, the Golden State Warriors, a franchise based in Northern California that has won three of the last four league titles.
Whereas the Golden State players have bought into a team concept in which, as star shooting guard Klay Thompson once said, "no one cares who gets the credit," this season's Lakers revolved entirely around James and his towering presence.
While the 34-year-old James was consulted on every potential Lakers personnel move after signing a four-year, $154 million contract last summer, Walton's refusal to allow his superstar do as he pleased led to an inevitable clash of wills and personalities.
Walton was on the hot seat early in the 2018-2019 season after the Lakers got off to a poor start, although Johnson did not fire him then because Buss backed her young head coach.
The team also turned things around and even punctuated their strong run of form by going on the road and routing the Warriors 127-101 on Christmas Day to run their record to 20-14.
But it was all downhill from there.
James, who won three championships between 2012 and 2016 as the biggest star on Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers teams, suffered a groin injury in that game that kept him out of action for 17 contests, a stretch in which the Lakers went 6-11.
Questions about whether that injury was still lingering persisted when the team's losing ways continued after his return to the lineup in late January.
With the Lakers far out of playoff contention, James did not play the final six games of the season and the team stumbled to a 37-45 record.
Walton, who joined a rebuilding Lakers team in 2016 and was entrusted with restoring glory to a franchise that has won 16 championships dating back to its origins in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1947, compiled a record of 98-148 during his tenure in Los Angeles.
He departs despite having two years left on his five-year contract but reportedly could be signed as head coach soon by the Sacramento Kings.
Among those rumored as possible replacements for Walton are Tyronn Lue, who coached James in Cleveland and helped lead that franchise to its lone NBA title in the 2015-2016 season; and Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams.