OAKLAND – Luke Walton knows basketball. He also knows basketball fans. So he realizes there might be at least a hint of skepticism surrounding his promotion to lead offensive assistant coach for the defending champion Warriors.
He is, after all, entering his second season as a coach on any level.
Walton has only slightest trepidation, mostly because he’s moving into a new role under head coach Steve Kerr.
“I’m comfortable with our staff and our players,” Walton told CSNBayArea.com over the weekend. “I didn’t know if Steve was going to offer me the position or not. I would have been fine either way. But when he did, it showed me that he had a lot of confidence in me. And that makes accepting the job a lot easier.”
Walton’s promotion is about Kerr trusting his gut. It’s reasonable to trust Kerr, based on his work last season. He took an NBA coaching job last summer despite an absence of experience. He then hired an entirely new staff before opening training camp and made a significant change to the starting lineup he had inherited.
The rookie coach played roulette and, by copping an NBA championship, was a resounding winner.
Kerr’s response this offseason was to play it safe – with one exception. Rather than bring in another experienced hand to replace veteran Alvin Gentry as the assistant responsible for coordinating offense, Kerr promoted Walton.
Walton was born in 1980, the same year Gentry, who left the Warriors to become head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, took his first coaching job. Gentry accepted his first NBA coaching job in 1989 – around the time Walton finished third grade.
Insofar as the Warriors owned the most prolific offense in the league, this is not unlike handing a teenager the keys to the Ferrari.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Luke,” Kerr recently told CSNBayArea.com.
“He’s got a brilliant basketball mind,” general manager Bob Myers said of Walton.
Walton’s new role will be the only truly significant new wrinkle on display when the team gathers Tuesday for the first workout of training camp. In his first season on the bench, in the role of No. 3 assistant, Walton earned the trust of staffers and players with an approach that some folks neglect.
He practiced open, honest, explanatory communication, often with a dash of humor.
“Luke is fortunate enough to have played and coached under some great coaches,” Myers said. “And he’s got an innate ability to think the game, to learn the game and also to communicate the game.”
Walton grew in a hoops family. His father, Bill Walton, is one of the greatest collegians ever and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Luke also played under legendary Lute Olson at the University of Arizona before spending nearly nine seasons as a player with the Lakers under coaches Phil Jackson and Rudy Tomjanovich, both of whom own multiple championship rings.
So Walton knows how this offense, which implements elements of the famed triangle offense, is supposed to work. And there were times early last season, when the Warriors were new to the system, during which he would bite his tongue.
“Did it frustrate me? Yes, 100 percent,” Walton said of the first month of last season. “I would keep telling myself, ‘Luke, you were a player. You know what this is like.’ This was all new stuff for these guys. We’re up in the office watching hours of film. We see it. We know what we want. But this is brand new to them.
“So I’d tell myself, ‘Remember when you first tried the learn the offense?’ It’s hard. It took (ex-teammate) Lamar (Odom) three years to figure out the triangle offense.”
Walton says his role will expand with a heavier workload, requiring more detail. He will, as Gentry did, focus on offense.
“I’ll probably spend more time watching every game,” he said. “One of the things I learned from Alvin is he would watch every game, whether it was his team to scout or not. He would watch all the offensive clips and see what was working for us, what we needed to do at practice, things we needed to clean up. And he’d have clips after all those games and we’d watch them as a staff. Or he’d show Steve and we’d show certain clips to the players. I plan on adding that into the things I do.”
Hmm. Sounds like a sound direction to take.
“He certainly could be an Alvin Gentry one day,” Myers said of Walton, “and be a head coach in the NBA.”