As speculation about Luke Walton’s future with the Lakers continues to mount, co-owner Jeanie Buss offered some praise for the embattled coach.
However, she wasn’t willing to make any guarantees when it came to who would be at the helm of the franchise next season.
During an appearance Tuesday on a podcast called “Sports Business Radio Road Show,” Buss expressed confidence in Walton’s leadership style and said she still has good faith in him even though Los Angeles (35-43) missed the playoffs and are 11th in the Western Conference.
“Luke has always been somebody that — he came to the Lakers as a rookie,” Buss said. “The last year of Shaq and Kobe. He kind of bridged two Lakers teams in the Shaq-Kobe era and what you would call the Kobe-Pau (Gasol) era. He is somebody I think who doesn’t even realize what a natural he is and that leadership that he has in terms of getting people connecting with people in all ages. I think he’s done a terrific job.
“He’s a hard worker and somebody that players gravitate towards. He’s done an incredible job under a lot of challenging circumstances.”
Buss gave credit to Walton for working through the adversity of playing without a fully healthy roster for much of the season. She revealed the Lakers suited up the entire squad for just five games all season.
“That’s a challenge for a coach to constantly be changing lineups, and it’s hard,” she said. “But we were in a position where things were all going in the right way, and we beat Golden State on Christmas Day, which was a great present for me, but then also LeBron (James) got hurt. So it really puts a lot of pressure on the coaching situation in terms of what he’s able to do when he’s short-handed with players.”
As for what’s next for Walton? Buss sidestepped questions about the speculation. The interviewer began by asking: “If he were to be the coach going forward … ” But Buss cut him off and said, “I’m not gonna answer that question.”
“We’re as tight as any two people, any two executives,” she added. “We’ve got a mission and a purpose of what we’re trying to do and we’re not done yet but I think we’re going in the right direction. In terms of basketball decisions, I will always defer to Magic.”
Walton, 39, has two years remaining on his contract with one year guaranteed. The Lakers hired him in April 2016 after spending two seasons as an assistant to Warriors coach Steve Kerr.