Luke Walton made his official return to the Staples Center on Friday night, marking his first appearance in Los Angeles since parting ways with the Lakers and accepting the top job with the Sacramento Kings.
While that matchup didn’t go his way — the Lakers edged out a 99-97 win against the Kings behind a 29-point, 11-assist night from LeBron James — it did cause both James and Walton to reminisce about his time leading the organization last season, in which the Lakers missed the playoffs and finished with a 37-45 record.
“Throughout everything that was going on, [Walton and I] were two of the guys that just tried to remain positive and patient, even with the circumstances that we had,” James said, via ESPN.
A lot did go wrong for James and Walton last season in Los Angeles. Along with the constant trade rumors, injuries and talk about Walton’s job security, James suffered a brutal groin injury on Christmas Day that sidelined him for more than six weeks — the longest stretch in his career. The season ended with James missing the postseason for the first time 2005, Walton losing his job and team president Magic Johnson suddenly resigning.
Yet after everything that went down, James thinks that his former head coach handled himself well.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that, including myself and including Luke,” James said, via ESPN. “And we were just behind the eight ball. But throughout it all we just tried to remain positive, even throughout with the young guys, with the older guys and whatever the case may be. So I think he did as great of a job as you could do under the circumstances.”
Walton didn’t talk much about his time with the Lakers on Friday, but did say he agreed with James’ assessment.
And even though he’s now coaching another team almost 400 miles north, Walton is still keeping tabs on James and the Lakers this season — who are off to an impressive 10-2 start.
“LeBron, he’s one of the greatest players of all time, if not the greatest,” Walton said, via ESPN. “So I’m sure last year, getting hurt, not making the playoffs, I mean, he’s going right now. And this team kind of follows that lead. They’re playing incredibly well. Their defense and offense starts with him. He looks really good.”
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