Los Angeles California: The Los Angeles Lakers and head coach Luke Walton agreed to part ways Friday, the team announced.
The move came three days after Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson stepped down from his role with the organization. Johnson held an impromptu press conference Tuesday night and announced his decision to leave the team.
Walton finished his third campaign as the Lakers’ head coach with a disappointing 37-45 record in a season that began with high expectations after the acquisition of star forward LeBron James.
Walton had two years remaining on his five-year contract.
“We would like to thank Luke for his dedicated service over the last three years,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a statement. “We wish Luke and his family the best of luck moving forward.”
Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is reportedly a strong candidate to replace Walton in Los Angeles. Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams is also a potential candidate in the Lakers’ head-coaching search. Pelinka will run the league-wide search for the team’s next coach.
“I want to thank [Lakers controlling owner] Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” Walton said. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”
Walton had a 98-148 record in his three seasons with the franchise. Former Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and then-general manager Mitch Kupchak hired Walton in 2016.
There were suggestions that Johnson’s departure may have been enough to save Walton, a friend and favorite of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. However, a 37-45 record and the theory that it might be easier to attract big name free agents with a new coach in place, appear to have sealed his fate.
Walton came to Los Angeles on the back of a successful stint under Steve Kerr as a Golden State Warriors assistant, also presiding as interim coach in the 2015-16 season while Kerr was out with back issues.
His position in L.A. was made trickier by the power James wields over the franchise, amid reports that the three-time NBA champion was regularly calling his own plays, but he may find himself a popular candidate for other head coaching jobs.
8 candidates to replace Luke Walton as Lakers head coach
The next Los Angeles Lakers coach will be the franchise’s sixth since Phil Jackson last coached the team in 2011.
As high-pressure, high-profile coveted jobs go, this one is at the top of the list now that that Lakers have parted ways with Luke Walton after three seasons.
The Lakers are a franchise desperate for success after six consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance.
And the next coach is an important hire for the franchise. Los Angeles has LeBron James, but he is 34, and there are only so many elite seasons left. Plus, the Lakers need to fast-track the development of their young core and bring in another All-Star.
The front office, led right now by general manager Rob Pelinka after Magic Johnson’s abrupt resignation Tuesday, and owner Jeanie Buss can’t miss on the coaching hire.
It’s early in the process, but here’s a look at potential candidates.
The former Cleveland coach, who took over for David Blatt in 2016 and helped the Cavaliers to the 2016 championship, is close with James. He was 128-83 with the Cavs and also reached the Finals in 2017 and 2018, losing to Golden State both times. A former player who won a championship with the Lakers, Lue started the 2018-19 season with Cleveland but was dismissed after an 0-6 start.
The Philadelphia 76ers assistant will have multiple suitors, including Sacramento and likely the Lakers. Williams is back in the market for a job after working his way back into it following the death of his wife in 2016. Respected throughout the league, Williams has been an assistant, associate head coach and head coach (New Orleans). He spent 2016-17 and 2017-18 as a front office executive with San Antonio and then took the Philadelphia job before this season. ESPN reported the search will focus on Lue and Williams initially.
Kidd, who coached Brooklyn and Milwaukee, wants to get back in the NBA, and if the Lakers call, he will listen. Kidd and James are close from their 2008 Beijing Olympic team days, and James does like the idea of former players as a coach. Kidd had his moments with the Nets and Bucks, but it’s hard not to notice Milwaukee’s improvement this season without Kidd as coach.
Another former player turned coach, Jackson was 121-109 in three seasons with Golden State – just before the Warriors took off with an explosion of talent. Jackson works for ESPN/ABC as an analyst but is known to have interest in another NBA job.
The Miami Heat coach is a long shot. Spoelstra is Heat family, but he is also a coach who got the best of James and compelled him to play out of his comfort zone. It yielded fantastic results, including two NBA titles and two MVPs. Trying to replicate that magic might be too tall an order.
A Lakers assistant under Walton and another former Lakers player, Shaw was a head coach in Denver for nearly two seasons. He has been a Lakers assistant for 10 seasons, including the past three as associate head coach. It remains to be seen if his long-time connections to the Lakers hurts or helps.
Howard was James’ teammate in Miami then moved into coaching following his playing days. He worked his way up from behind-the-bench player development coach to front-of-bench assistant. Pelinka played college basketball with Howard at Michigan.
Like Spoelstra, this is a long shot. The Lakers went after the Duke coach in 2004, and Krzyzewski contemplated it. Krzyzewski is 72 now, and the jump from college to NBA likely has passed. But James has always enjoyed playing for Krzyzewski, the U.S. basketball coach, at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. In November, James wrote on Instagram, “Big FACTS! Love Coach K!! The absolute BEST! Hope he’s still at the helm when my boy comes up.”