Luke Walton Lakers Rumors: Steve Kerr Defends Former Assistant

Getty LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lake reacts to the bench in front of Luke Walton during the first half against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Over the last few weeks, Lakers head coach Luke Walton has been the subject of rampant speculation about his future in Los Angeles. Just last week, Bill Oram of The Athletic reported that owner Jeannie Buss, one of Walton’s staunchest defenders, won’t stand in the way of a potential firing.

When asked about it on the Sports Business Podcast on Tuesday, she sidestepped the question, stating that “I’m not going to answer that question.” The non-committal to her head coach’s future with the franchise has been seen by some as a tacit acknowledgment that his days are numbered.

One person still defending Walton is Steve Kerr, his former boss for Golden State. Walton assisted the Warriors from 2014-16, leading the franchise to a 19-0 start as interim coach when Kerr took a leave of absence to rehabilitate his back.

Kerr praised how Walton has handled this season for the Lakers, who will miss the postseason for a franchise-record sixth straight year.

“Luke is one of my best friends,” Kerr said to reporters Thursday, “and it’s been a tough season to navigate. So I feel bad for everybody involved.

“Luke is holding up fine. He was born for this job, he really is. Not only his basketball mind, which is top notch. The guy really has a feel for the game better than anyone I’ve ever been around. His temperament is really perfect for this job…he’s down a good job being poised.”

As mentioned last week, Walton is running out of defenders. The front office, particularly Magic Johnson, was talking job security as soon as November. Buss was considered the last backstop, which appears to be waning.

As Silver Screen and Roll wrote last week:

“Not only did president of basketball operations Magic Johnson tell reporters he wouldn’t fire Walton in November (!!!), but there was also a belief that team president and controlling owner Jeanie Buss would step in if the front office decided to fire Walton this season. With seven games left in the season, that’s held true.

As Christian Rivas reports, “Once the season is over, though, Buss will reportedly let Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka do their job as they see fit.”

The current odds-on favorite to roam the Staples Center sidelines for the Lakers next season is Miami assistant Juwan Howard. He played with LeBron James in South Beach, as well as Rob Pelinka when both were at Michigan in the early 90s.

As Rivas points out, Howard specializes in player development and defense. The Lakers young core of Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball would theoretically benefit from this hire. The Lakers need a boost on defense, as it currently ranks No. 22 in the league by allowing over 113 points a game.

Hired by the Heat almost immediately after he retired in 2013, Howard got his coaching career started in player development. Almost six years later, Howard is still working in player development and also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Heat have a had a top-10 ranked defense in each of the last three seasons, and are currently ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating.

The Lakers play the Warriors today (10:30 p.m. EST, TNT) before 3 more games to end the regular season. A decision will probably wait until after the finale on April 9.