It’s been a crazy couple of days for Luke Walton. On Sunday, he watched the Golden State Warriors lose Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and on Tuesday, he was introduced as the new head of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s been a little bit of an emotional roller caster down here,” Walton said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of stuff happening, a lot of stuff that needs to happen. All good things outside of losing the NBA Finals, but that was still an incredible experience and an incredible ride this year. So there’s a lot going on right now.”
Walton, who led Golden State to an unprecedented 39-4 start this season as Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery, watched the Warriors rally from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals only to squander a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Walton took lessons from both series.
“Nothing is ever over,” he said. “We had an incredible team up there, and you continue to grind away and do what makes you successful. You take it one game at a time, you take it one quarter at a time. When you have players that have confidence in what we do, anything is possible. That’s the great thing about sports. It’s what makes it so fun. It’s what makes it entertaining for the fans. We did an incredible thing coming back against a great team (like Oklahoma City) and being able to advance in the NBA Finals.”
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook certainly didn’t help their cause when they laughed at the notion that Steph Curry is an underrated defender. In fact, they may have poked the bear with that disrespect.
“I think it poked the bear for sure,” Walton said. “I know Steph and I know how competitive he is. I don’t think he needed that to motivate him. I think he was going to show up and perform either way, but as a team and as the defending champions, it gave the group as a whole a little more excitement and (desire) to come back and help win that series.”
Walton, however, isn’t sure whether the Warriors poked the bear in LeBron James, even though Ayesha Curry insulted his character on Twitter and Klay Thompson questioned his toughness in the media.
“I don’t know,” Walton said. “I’m not in their camp. I don’t know how they work. LeBron’s one of the greatest players this game’s ever seen. His stats in elimination games are out of this world. I’m sure he would have had a big game either way. I like that part of sports. I like the competitive nature. I like the trash talk back and forth. It makes it more fun, more real, more entertaining. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. . . . But in my opinion, it was such a great year and experience. I still view this year’s Warriors team as one of the great NBA teams we’ve ever seen.”
Now Walton will face the toughest challenge of his coaching career: restoring glory to a once-proud team that is coming off the worst year in franchise history (17-65). Walton, 36, is a young coach coaching a young team, but he believes he can get the Lakers back to their winning ways.
“You put the emphasis on competing and doing things the right way,” he said. “You hope to develop a defensive mindset and you hope to develop a culture where we compete in everything that we do. You don’t overreact to wins and losses at this stage. You put the emphasis on, ‘Are we getting better? Are our individual players getting better? Are we getting better as a team?’ We have a lot of young talent here – guys that, from what I’ve talked to, are really excited about playing. They want to win and they want to get better. From a coaching standpoint, that’s all exciting. That’s what you hope for.”