Former Laker Luke Walton Coaches Warriors To NBA Record
December 3, 2015
By Mitch Chortkoff
Bryant says he's not surprised that Walton has done so well this season filling in for Steve Kerr as coach of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Bryant saw Walton's potential many years ago.
"I often told him you're the next Phil," said Bryant, who of course was comparing his teammate to their then-Laker coach, Phil Jackson.
"You were both average players with a messed-up back."
Jackson managed to become a championship coach while dealing with his back injury.
Walton, the son of former NBA great Bill Walton, missed considerable playing time with a back injury too.
But Bryant noticed that Luke was a student of the game.
"He sat in on a lot of meetings and he had a brilliant mind," said Bryant. "He knows what it takes for a team to be cohesive.
"Phil recognized his qualities and helped him a lot."
When Walton was unable to play because of his back injury Jackson said "sit next to me on the bench."
The studious Walton learned how a successful coach operates.
This season Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been sidelined due to complications following back surgery.
With Walton in charge the Warriors have broken the NBA record for wins at the start of a season. They had 15, then they defeated the Lakers and won three more games to reach 19 on Monday night.
Before a recent Warriors game against the Clippers at Staples Center Walton was surrounded by a large contingent of journalists.
Asked what was the toughest task he's facing as the Warriors' interim head coach he replied with a grin "meeting so often with you people."
Because of an NBA rule, none of Walton's victories this season will go on his coaching record. An injured and unavailable head coach officially gets the wins and losses during his absence.
"It's ridiculous," said Kerr. "As ridiculous as anything I've ever heard."
The rule became well known among the Lakers one time when head coach Pat Riley was heading for an undefeated month when he had to miss a game.
Walton wasn't a big scorer. He averaged only 11.4 points per game in his best Laker season. But he was an outstanding passer and played good defense.
When Kerr was told he needed rest and couldn't coach at the start of this season Kerr phoned Walton.
He told Walton he'd be in charge and gave him some advice.
"Be honest with the players," he suggested. "That's very important."
Walton called a team meeting and explained the situation.
"I may have to get on you if I think we need that," he said. "I know that wasn't my role before but it's where we are now."
Most likely Kerr will resume coaching the Warriors sometime this season or next season.
But several NBA teams who'll have a head coaching opening next season are likely to have Walton high on their list.