Sheridan: Luke Walton on the Hot Seat for Lakers’ Christmas Matchup With Warriors?

Five games are on the menu for today’s NBA Christmas feast, and one of them matters more than the others: Los Angeles at Golden State.


Because Luke Walton is under intense scrutiny within certain factions of the Lakers organization amid rumblings that he is not the coach to lead LeBron James and his current cast of teammates to where they want to go: The NBA Finals.

One league executive told that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is the strongest person standing behind Walton with Los Angeles having lost four of six games, including an embarrassment at home against Memphis on Sunday night.

The news comes as James is on TV with a new interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that will air at halftime Tuesday, with James discussing his recruiting efforts over the years in trying to get top players to join him in Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles.

“I’ve been trying to get guys to come play with me since, like, 2007. I’ve got rejected a lot. But I’ve also have not got rejected a lot,” James said.

Nov 11, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton (right) and forward LeBron James (23) talk during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center. Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

“It wasn’t hard getting guys in Miami, I’ll tell you that,” James said, reflecting on his success with guys like Mike Miller and Shane Battier when he played for the Heat.

“So now that I think being in L.A., I don’t think it would be that hard to get guys here.

The story, written by Dave McMenamin, contained this paragraph:

James’ recruiting efforts could center on a couple of Warriors players — Durant and Klay Thompson — who will both hit the free-agent market in the summer of 2019.

McMenamin, for what it is worth, is particularly close to LeBron. And the paragraph carried no attribution.

“We got to win, and at the end of the day, it’s all about winning,” James said. “You know, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now, is to show prospects and free agents — and at the same time, show these guys that I got right now — that we can win now, and let’s not worry about the future.”

Coach Walton’s substitutions in the final four minutes against Memphis were particularly irksome to some players on the Lakers. With the Grizzlies leading 93-91, Walton subbed out Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Lonzo Ball, Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram.

Ball took two of the Lakers’ next three shots, missing a pair of 3-pointers while the man he was defending, Mike Conley Jr., knocked down a pair.

After Kyle Kuzma missed a 3-pointer with 1:42 left, Garrett Temple made one for Memphis to make it a 10-point game and send the moneyed masses streaming for the exits at Staples Center.

October 6, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

According to sources who spoke to on condition of anonymity, the clash of wills regarding the proper timetable for a roster and/or coaching change has a lot to do with James’ desire to have a strong enough roster go to a ninth straight NBA Finals.

‘What cannot be compromised, some in the organization maintain, is the Lakers salary cap flexibility next summer.

A deal for Anthony Davis remains priority No. 1, but with Boston’s ability to outbid the Lakers, that may be a pipe dream.

There is low-hanging fruit around the league (Exhibit A is Bradley Beal in Washington), and what is of particular concern to many around the Lakers is the timetable for making changes to the roster.


There is one school of thought that Los Angeles simply cannot compete this season and will make every effort to overhaul the roster when the timing is more fortuitous — such as the evening of June 30 when more than half off the NBA player population will about to become free agents.

But that cannot sit well with James, who took a cast of castoffs to the NBA Finals last season when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In case you missed it, Saturday Night Live had a bit of fun with it back when the U.S. government was still running and everyone’s 401-K was not taking a massive holiday hit.

Whether Walton, Scott Brooks or someone else becomes the next NBA coach fired will be impacted plenty by how the Lakers perform in the fourth game of the Christmas quintupleheader.

Golden State is favored by nine, and the over/under for point by both LeBron James and Stephen Curry is 28 1/2.

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About Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sports journalist who previously covered the NBA for ESPN. He worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, and also served as the 76ers beat writer for Sheridan is the host of Sports Betting Tips, a podcast covering all things gambling.

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Luke Walton on the Hot Seat With Lakers?
After an embarrassing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies two nights earlier, the late-game substitutions made by Luke Walton had left the Los Angeles Lakers coach under scrrutiny.

About Chris Sheridan

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sports journalist who previously covered the NBA for ESPN. He worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, and also served as the 76ers beat writer for Sheridan is the host of Sports Betting Tips, a podcast covering all things gambling.

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