Lakers forward Luke Walton has devoted nearly his entire summer to rehabilitating and strengthening a bothersome back that limited him to 29 regular season games last season.
To find out about how that process is going, we chatted with Walton on the phone as he drove from L.A.’s practice facility down to visit family and friends in San Diego:
MT: So Luke, is it just a family trip back home for the weekend?
Luke Walton: Exactly, family time. I haven’t been down there all summer. It’s my first weekend down there, so I’ll have dinner with Pops, see my mom and some friends as well.
MT: What’s the latest with your father? How’s he feeling these days?
Walton: My dad is feeling great. He’s working a few different jobs in San Diego, and having a blast doing that. He also signed on to do 10-15 (Sacramento) Kings games just for fun because he’s friends with the (team owners) Maloof’s, but I don’t think he’s going to get back to the every day grind of broadcasting.
MT: Very good. In your exit interview back in June, you detailed how you’d planned on spending the majority of the summer getting your back ready for 2010-11. How’s it going?
Walton: It’s definitely been a summer completely focused on getting my back stronger and healthier, and hopefully allowing me to get back on the court more and play a bigger role trying to get this third championship. That’s really been the only point of emphasis.
MT: In that case, how are you feeling at this moment? Do you have confidence that you’ll be able to make it through the NBA season, or is it simply a process that you have to monitor constantly throughout the campaign?
Walton: My back feels great right now. It’s a lot stronger. I’m feeling confident in it and am excited to test it out. That being said, at the same time I’m a little nervous, just because I know how much of a grind the season and training camp can be. I dedicated the whole summer to making it strong enough to last, and that’s what I’m hoping for. If it doesn’t, I’m in a pretty bad spot. But I’ve put together a great team of people to work with, with our strength coach with the Lakers (Chip Schaefer), a back specialist for some exercises, a Pilates teacher and a yoga teacher. I’ve just been mixing and matching all of those people every single day for the past two months to get this as strong as I can.
MT: I know that while you’ve been up here at the practice facility, you’ve run into Kobe doing some rehab as well?
Walton: Yes, I’ve seen Kobe at the gym the last couple weeks rehabbing his knee. He’s itching to get back on the court. He shows up every morning at 7 a.m. at the team’s facility and is kind of wrapping up around the time I get there at around 9 a.m. Kobe looks great – he says his knee feels great. He’s just about to start doing basketball workouts again and can’t wait for it.
MT: All right, I’m sure people will be happy to hear that. Let’s switch tone quickly to talk about another sport you’re pretty good at, volleyball. I was down at the Manhattan Beach 6-Man tournament last month, and kept trying to envision what an all-Lakers team would look like. How would you build your squad?
Walton: Well, the only guy on the team I’ve actually played with is Sasha (Vujacic).
Sasha is a pretty good volleyball player – both of his parents played back in (the former Yugoslavia). I haven’t played with Pau (Gasol), but I heard he’s really good too, so he’d obviously be on the team. We’re definitely throwing Bynum in there as the middle blocker, just have him put those hands straight down. I would have had Jordy (Jordan Farmar) in the back row if he were still here, but he’s in Jersey now.
MT: Sure. You have to put No. 24 in there, right?
Walton: Of course, you gotta have Kobe in there. And if for some reason he wasn’t good, which he would be, he’d just train every day for 6 months until he was the best one out there. It’d also be fun to watch Shannon Brown jump, to see if he could get as high in the sand as he does on the hardwood.
MT: OK, so you, Kobe, Brown, Vujacic, Bynum and Gasol. It’d be a bit tough looking up across the net at that stupid mix of athleticism and height, but there are some pretty ridiculous teams in that tourney, right?
Walton: Oh, we’d have no chance at all against the professionals, but we’d have a lot of fun trying. We could beat some teams, but the pros? That’s what they do for a living. It wouldn’t happen.
Editor’s Note: We’ll have more from our conversation with Luke Walton next week, including details of his vacation through South Africa, France, Italy and Hawaii, as well as updates he offered on the teammates that he’s kept in touch with throughout the offseason. Stay tuned.