Warriors

Warriors

OAKLAND -– Luke Walton knew what his father would think, that the old man would point out the advantages of being part of a winning team and the disadvantages of being chiefly responsible for rebuilding a loser.

Bill Walton has been outspoken about his son remaining with the successful Warriors, who followed up their 2015 NBA Championship with a league-record 73-win season. Bill’s message: Continue living comfortably and well, son, and don’t dive into the first bank that comes along waving cash under your nose.

So Luke didn’t bother consulting with his father, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, upon meeting with the Lakers on Thursday. Nor did he tell Bill that he was thinking about taking the job, which he accepted Friday afternoon.

“I didn’t tell him until after,” Luke told CSNBayArea.com.

[RATTO: Walton signs on with Lakers, a job he will inevitably hate]

Asked what Bill’s response was, Luke launched into an impersonation of his rhapsodic dad.

“He said, ‘I’m the happiest, proudest father in the world,’ “ Luke rumbled.

How can a father with basketball in his blood not be proud of a son who was an assistant coach for all of two years before becoming the head coach of one of America’s truly storied sports franchises?

This, not being an assistant coach with the Warriors, is Luke Walton’s dream job, and it doesn’t much matter that today’s Lakers are not the Lakers we used to know.

 

The man at the top of these Lakers, Jim Buss, who inherited the franchise from his father, Jerry, has generated a catalog of questionable, even inane, decisions. The roster is largely a bunch of ill-fitting puzzle pieces with curious chemistry. This once-proud organization has never been so low.

Why would Luke ever leave the Warriors, where all the ingredients to success are in place, to go to work for the Los Angeles Lakers?

Because, first and final, it’s the Lakers, for they are No. 1 among three of four NBA jobs Walton would have considered accepting.

“The fact I played for the Lakers and I feel part of that family; I still root,” Walton said. “Even before I took this job, I watched Lakers games and hoped that they succeed and win. So it’s kind of nice to be able to go back and try to help rebuild what we used to have there.”

Even now, as they feed at the bottom of the NBA, the Lakers remain the crown jewel of the Southern California sports scene, synonymous with accomplishment even if they haven’t done much in recent years. Walton is a Laker at heart. They drafted him into the NBA in 2003 and he spent nearly nine seasons wearing the purple-and-gold. He was on the roster of their last two championship teams, in 2009 and 2010.

So Walton was a captive audience when he met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Buss on Thursday at Jack London Square. Luke, who owns a home in nearby Manhattan Beach, says he “didn’t have to sleep on it.” It didn’t hurt that the Lakers’ brass was offering $25 million, over five years, as a financial incentive.

[POOLE: Walton to be next Lakers head coach: 'He's certainly ready']

He was sold. Never mind that D’Angelo Russell, drafted last June to be the point guard of the future, has alienated his teammates and the rest of the NBA by going public with private locker room business. Never mind that loose cannon Nick Young is under contract for at least one more season, with an option for 2017-18. Never mind that Roy Hibbert, signed as a free agent last summer, looks like a third-tier center, or that the Lakers are coming off a 17-65 season, which followed 21-61, which followed 27-55.

There is hope, assuming Buss doesn’t get in the way. Kobe Bryant and his imposing shadow have left the premises. The Lakers have about $60 million to spend on free agents this summer, and Buss and Kupchak dropped a few names when meeting with Walton.

Walton, 36, couldn’t stand the thought of someone else taking over as coach, finding success and locking themselves in for the next 10 years.

“It’s obviously tough to leave this place,” Walton said of the Warriors, “but, you know, I think it’s one of those opportunities you can’t pass up on.”

 

Walton’s exit after this postseason will leave a massive void with the Warriors. He’s that guy nobody says bad word about, ever. He’s that guy players can confide in, management can consult with and ownership can trust.

With the Warriors going 39-4 this season – including winning their first 24 games –with Walton as interim head coach, it appears he knows his way around a clipboard.

“It’s bad news for all of us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You can’t replace Luke. He’s one of a kind. They broke the mold after they made Luke. We’re going to miss him desperately.

“When we put our staff together last year, I kind of figured Alvin would be gone pretty quickly. I didn’t think Luke would be gone this fast. ‘Disappointed’ is not the right word because I’m thrilled for him. ‘Sad’ is probably the more appropriate term. He’s a huge part of our culture and so much fun to be around. He’s going to be fantastic. It was just a matter of time until he was a head coach. It just happened quicker than we expected.”

It happened quicker than Walton expected, too, and that applies to both father and son. And, for now, both are ecstatic about the possibilities.