The thickest branches of the Phil Jackson coaching tree have not, for a variety of reasons, fared well in the NBA. Five Jackson protégés thus far given “opportunities” ended up taking losing records to the unemployment line.
None lasted more than two full years.
Warriors assistant Luke Walton, shrugs off the sad history of those that, to be fair, didn’t exactly land richly desired positions.
Well, except for one: Steve Kerr, who cites several influences in addition to Jackson. Kerr shunned a bad job with the Knicks to take a good one with the Warriors.
So Walton, 35, is prepared to wait. Not forever, mind you, but for a position that offers a real chance at success while not totally wrecking his “California” lifestyle.
And, yes, he considers himself part of the Jackson coaching tree.
“Absolutely,” Walton told CSNBayArea.com by phone Tuesday night. “I’m part of the Phil Jackson coaching tree, the Steve Kerr coaching tree and the Lute Olson coaching tree.
“When you’re blessed as I’ve been to play for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever had – and I feel Steve is one of the top coaches in our league, even though he’s still new at it – you draw off what you learn from them. You don’t try to copy exactly what they did because you have to be your own person. But you definitely draw off what you learn from them. Those three would be huge influences in the style of coaching that I believe in.”
Walton suddenly is a hot candidate because he excelled as interim coach of the Warriors when Kerr took a medical leave of absence in the preseason. The team went 39-4 under Walton, who hadn’t coached on any level until hired by Kerr as an assistant roughly 20 months ago.
That’s long enough for Walton, who spent 12 seasons as an NBA player, to have formed an opinion of what he’s seeking should an opportunity be presented.
“Being on this side, I’ve really seen how important the overall culture is,” Walton said. “That comes from working with the GM to communicating with the owners to having an entire coaching staff on the same page to empowering the players.”
Ideally, then, Walton would bring the Warriors ownership, front office, coaching staff and roster to whatever job he lands, perhaps as soon as this summer.
“That would be perfect,” he said, laughing.
“But, obviously, that’s not how it works,” he added. “You take what I’ve learned from being here and try to reproduce what we have. You have to do things differently because you’ll have different personnel. But as far as the way we approach things and our style of basketball, I feel it’s a very effective way and a productive way to play this game.
Though he most often is linked to the New York vacancy created last week, when Jackson dismissed Derek Fisher, that job is not exactly considered ripe for winning. The roster needs help and the ownership is poorly regarded.
Jackson was hired in part to establish credibility with the Knicks. It’s a tall task.
“It’s an honor to have your name mentioned,” Walton said. “But I learned a long time ago in this league not too put too much behind rumors, whether it’s a player getting traded or any other rumor. Most of the time they don’t happen.”
So Walton will be on hand late Wednesday afternoon, when the Warriors reconvene at their Oakland facility for Part 2 of what has been an incredible start. Kerr returned Jan. 22 and the team kept on rolling. The Warriors are 48-4, and now heavily favored to win a second consecutive championship.
“I would love to be a head coach,” Walton said. “But I’m in a very, very good place right now. We have our goal of winning another championship; there are not very many opportunities where you have a realistic chance of winning a championship. I’d be foolish if I had my time and thoughts and efforts going other places right now.”
That Walton’s time will come is ensured by his fabulous combination of NBA experience, basketball smarts and people skills. But it’s tough to imagine a laid-back Southern California son of the esteemed counter-culture figure Bill Walton diving into the Manhattan beehive.
He at least has an understanding of what to expect when he moves to the next chair. He is not deterred by the experiences of previous Jackson disciples, whether it’s Jim Cleamons or Bill Cartwright or Kurt Rambis or Brian Shaw – who was a Lakers assistant under Jackson when Walton was a player in Los Angeles.
“It is definitely a grind,” Walton said. “It’s a lot more stress put into your life when you move one seat over.
“But I love the competition. It’s the next best thing to being a player. I obviously can’t be a player any more, so the challenge and responsibility of coaching is exciting to me.”