Walton wants to be head coach, willing to wait for right job


Walton wants to be head coach, willing to wait for right job

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.

[POOLE: Kerr: Walton will be head coach candidate for 'lots of jobs']

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.

[RELATED: Walton 'not in a rush' to leave Warriors for head coaching job]

“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.”

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors exited Chase Center on Sunday after adding another defeat to their tally, this time against the New Orleans Pelicans. But Golden State, along with the remainder of the NBA, is preparing to reckon with its toughest loss in years.

The league momentarily will come to a standstill Monday, when all eyes will fixate on Staples Center in Los Angeles for the memorial service of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died last month -- along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others -- in a helicopter crash.

Golden State pillars Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are expected to attend the service, along with general manager Bob Myers. But the other Warriors, armed with memories of their hero, will be left to reconcile his death in the confines of practice and search for closure in a familiar setting.

"It's going to be emotional," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday. "I think it's going to bring back up a lot of emotions that everybody was feeling on the day that it happened. I think people aren't going to know how to feel. It's going to make it real."

The practice court serves as a unique reminder of Bryant's death. That's where the team received the news five weeks ago, just as it began pre-practice workouts.

An assistant coach relayed the initial message, and practice soon was stopped as Warriors players and staff gathered their thoughts.

"You could hear a pin drop in there," rookie forward Eric Paschall said. "It was stopped."

From the bowels of the billion-dollar basketball facility, Warriors assistant Jarron Collins walked through the adjoining weight room, up the steps and down a corridor to Chase Center's main court to tell Chriss the news. Chriss, then on a two-way contract and away from the team as to not burn his NBA service time, was floored when he heard it.

Chriss and Bryant once shared an agent, Rob Pelinka, who represented them both before he became the Lakers' general manager in 2017. The legendary Lakers guard even stopped by Chriss' college pro day at an LA-area high school ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft, bringing a buzz with him into the gym.

"It was dope to see his energy," Chriss said. "He walked into the gym, and the energy in the gym changed. He had a presence about him. Everybody wanted to talk to him, kind of pick his brain and be around him."

Similar stories are told throughout Golden State's locker room. Thompson -- whose father, Mychal, still calls Lakers games for the local radio affiliate -- met Bryant when he was a child, and he occasionally worked out with him at UC Irvine.

“He was obviously the best player in the world at the time," Thompson remembered after Bryant's final game at Oracle Arena in 2016. "I just remember watching him work out, how methodical [he was] and attention to detail he gave to every drill. It inspired me a lot.”

When Thompson was charged with marijuana possession during his junior year at Washington State, Bryant sent him an expletive-filled text.

“He said, 'Forget about that,' said it with a couple expletives and, 'Just go out there and kill,' " Thompson recounted.

“I have a potty mouth,” Bryant added that evening when asked about the exchange. “I just told him, 'Listen, man, we all make mistakes. You can’t worry about that stuff. Just keep your focus on basketball, and everything will work itself out.' "

While Thompson personally knew Bryant for much of his life, Green admired the five-time NBA champion from afar as a kid. Nonetheless, he still finds himself reconciling the loss of his idol.

"I think I'm still at the point where every time you see it, you're like, 'Damn.' Like is it a real thing?" Green said Sunday. "I don't know. Maybe tomorrow brings closure. Maybe it don't."

The topic of Bryant's memorial brought Green back to the first time he played against the guard at Oracle, which forced the forward out of his routine.

"I'm never really a guy to get star-struck," Green said. "There's two people that I've ever been star-struck by in this league, and that's Kobe and Grant Hill."

"I was finishing my pregame shooting, and Kobe was coming out," Green added. "And you have your stuff you have to do in the back when you're done shooting, and so I finished my shooting and Kobe was coming out, and I just sat on the end of the bench, and before I knew it, 20, 25 minutes had passed, and I was late as hell to finish my pregame prep, but that was just a moment for me where I was stuck like, 'Wow, I just saw Kobe work out.' "

When Green wasn't in awe of Bryant, he wanted counsel from him. Four years ago, following Green's suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism during a time Green called "the lowest point" of his career. After hearing Green vent, Bryant responded with a message: "You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?"

Green keeps the advice close to this day. 

"It helped me a lot," he said. "Because you kind of deal with things a certain way, and when you're dealing with things a certain way, you can only do what you think is best at the end of the day. But when you get reassurance from someone who's been through it at the highest level that the way you're dealing with something is like OK, it gives you that confidence to carry out whatever it is in the way you think it was right. It gives you that green light, like it's cool."

[RELATED: Steph looks sharp before Dubs-Pelicans as return nears]

Now, as his Warriors teammates say one last goodbye Monday, each will try to follow Green's credo in carrying on Bryant's legacy.

"The way you approach this game," Green said. "I think if there was anything he could ask for, that's what he would ask for. That he gave everything he had to it."

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Steph Curry didn't take the floor during the Warriors' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. 

The injured Golden State star did beforehand, however, looking game-ready as he went through a pre-game workout. 

Curry hasn't played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30. He was cleared for contact in practices Saturday, scrimmaging with his teammates for the first time since picking up the injury and subsequently undergoing two surgeries. The 31-year-old said Saturday that lingering nerve damage in his left hand has taken some getting used to, but that he is targeting a March 1 return

Former Warriors Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin dealt with the same injury during their NBA careers. Mullin had three separate hand surgeries during his, and he said Curry's biggest adjustment will come from playing with his teammates again.

"He practices at game pace," Mullin said of Curry on Sunday during Warriors Pregame Live. "He takes game shots all the time. His fitness will be there. It's (about) getting acclimated to the players around him, finding the spacing and the timing."

[RELATED: Why Bender signing is 'great opportunity' for him, Warriors]

Though Curry didn't injure his dominant hand, he relies on his left a lot to pass and when he finishes at the rim. He won't lose trust in his shot, but Richmond thinks the two-time MVP has to ensure  

"I went through that same injury [and so did] Mully," Richmond said Sunday. "It's all about confidence when you come back. ... I think, for him, he wants to find that confidence that it can be hit, and then he can come back from it." 

The Warriors owned the NBA's worst record after Sunday's loss, which clinched their third losing streak of six games or more. Curry's return won't lift Golden State out of the league's cellar, but it undoubtedly will lift his teammates' spirits in an otherwise dreary season.