Luke Walton: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Luke Walton appeared in 54 games for the Lakers, averaging 9.0 minutes in such contests for 1.7 points, 1.3 boards and 1.1 assists. He played only four total minutes in the postseason.

Below is a summary of his exit interview:

- On what was a tough season for him individually due mostly to being out of the rotation: “It was very hard. I worked extremely hard this summer to get my back to a level that I could compete and play and help this team, and obviously getting hurt in training camp didn’t help, but I still felt like once I was healthy again and coach knowing what I could do, I’d be able to contribute a lot more than he let me. But he told me that his game plan was to have the second unit play at a much faster speed than the first unit. I’m more of a let’s bring it up, run the offense and execute, and it kinda left me out of the rotation a little bit, which hurt a lot. But the team was winning, so as long as the team was winning, that’s all that really matters … So with the sudden loss in the playoffs, now it looks even a little worse.”

- On Phil Jackson going out the way he did: “That sucks. He’s a great coach, a great man. I’ve learned so much from him over my eight years as far as basketball, but then just growing as a person and a man and the way I live my life just from watching him and talking to him. Seeing all his kids at the game and knowing it was his last run is tough to not send a guy like that out on top.”

- More on talking with Jackson: “I talked with coach for a while, I felt like I had to get some stuff off my chest that had been bothering me, but all in a very respectful way. I told him he means the world to me.” The gist of Jackson’s response to Walton’s wish that he could have helped the team on the court is that Jackson wanted the second unit to be able to run, to get up and down the floor, not Walton’s skill set. That was very hard for Walton, but he wanted to get everything off his chest because of his respect level for Jackson, and for the sake of their relationship moving forward. Jackson told Walton that he was proud of him for working so hard to rehabilitate his back.

- On thinking assistant Brian Shaw should be the coach next season: “If we keep the triangle, I don’t see where we’d go other than Coach Shaw. No one else knows it but this staff. I think it kind of depends on that.”

Walton later described why he thinks Shaw would make a good head coach: “He’s hungry, he’s young, he knows this team. He’s going to be a head coach somewhere, I’m pretty sure of that, and I just think he has a unique ability to relate to players. He’s almost a new style coach, where he likes to mix it up with the players. He’s out there playing 1-on-1 and shooting with us and talking trash. It’s a different style, but it works. He knows how to challenge you, and loves the idea of a challenge. He uses that as a mental game to keep everything intense and sharp.” Walton shared that Jackson used to yell at Shaw as such: ‘You’re a coach. You’re not that friend.’ But, said Walton, “Brian has a unique way of being your friend, but at the same time challenging you all the time to improve and get better and win.”

- On being confident about the team coming back strong if it stays in tact for next season: “I know if you bring back this same team with the pain that we have right now that we haven’t felt in a few years, the hunger that we’re going to have to get back on top, we’re going to be a lot better next season than we were this season. There’s no reason to break us up. We’ve been to the Finals three years in a row before this year. Do we feel we should have been there? Absolutely. Did we underachieve this year? One-hundred percent. I think there’s no reason that whoever comes out of the West this year is going to be better than us next year with this same team. The first thing that came to me when I heard Magic (Johnson) talking about blowing up the team. They won in ’85, lost in the Western Conference in ’86, and then kicked butt again in ’87 and ’88 and won more titles. So, I don’t really see how it’s any different from that, other than we’ve been there three straight years right now. We had a bad year, we’re all upset about it, it’s a deep hole right now. Unfortunately it’s going to be a long summer of dealing with that, but I don’t see any reason why this team can’t come back next year and win another championship.”

- One health bit: Walton’s back really, really bothered him throughout 2009-10, but it felt much better throughout this past season, an item he feels good about.

- Walton broke down what may have gone wrong with the offense and defense in detail, as you can see: “As much as the defense we were trying this year was a lot of positives about it, I don’t think this team was ready for all that adjustment. I think we were just too inconsistent on the defensive end, teams were getting too many open shots. I think our execution of the triangle was not at the same level its been over the past few years, as far as picking teams apart. It was basic this year, a lot of simple aspects of the offense, not the second and third and counter options that make it so hard to guard especially in a playoffs series, when everyone else runs sets and we know what sets they’re running, where they’re going to go. With us, no matter what you do defensively, there’s always a counter to counter that. We never got into that too much this year. I think with just being a little more sharp offensively, and if we do keep the same defense, having that much more time starting it in training camp. It was a complex defense, and it took all five people (being) on the same page. I think just being more aware of that and offensively (paying) more attention to the details .. there’s no reason this team can’t win another championship if not two.”

- Another potential problem for L.A., according to Walton: Thinking that they were the best, that they’d win again, and not being quite as willing to really get in and sacrifice. It was easier to just give the ball to Kobe, Gasol and Bynum and let them score because “they’re the best out there and no one can stop them” instead of really running the offense the right way, which makes L.A. “nearly impossible to stop.” That frustrated him because that’s what he loves about basketball and the triangle, how “you can just pick other teams apart and make them look helpless out there,” which L.A. “didn’t do that down the stretch this year.” He also said it was simply difficult for L.A. to practice without a lot of bodies, with various players getting treatment or ice on their knees regularly. “We didn’t have the bodies to go as hard as we usually go.”

- Walton does not expect the offseason to be dull in the least, with potential player movement, a new coach, the potential circumstances with the league and so on. He has no idea what he’s going to do, as he never makes plans until July, always expecting to be in the Finals.