Long before Luke Walton was unofficially leading the Golden State Warriors to a 31-2 record, he was teammates with Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. Even though Walton wasn’t a star, he played a key part in the Lakers’ success, fitting the Triangle offense perfectly with his passing and shooting. At the time, Walton wasn’t even considering coaching as his next career step, but Kobe could already see Walton would be a great choice to lead a team, according to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.
“I used to tease him when he was playing here about he’s destined to be a much better coach than a player,” Bryant said. “I used to rib him all the time. He didn’t want to hear it because he didn’t have the coaching bug yet, but I could see it in him. It was there. It was just a matter of time.”
“He’s extremely smart. He always saw the game in combinations and sequences. … I kind of just chuckle a little bit at it, because I see he’s thinking in threes. Most coaches think in combinations of twos, but he’s thinking in threes. This pass leads to that pass is going to lead to that one. And I remember sitting in the locker room and going over this stuff with him.”
Walton’s basketball journey didn’t lead to stardom, but it did allow him to learn from some of the game’s sharpest minds – from Lute Olson to Phil Jackson to Bryant. He’s since incorporated all of those lessons into his own philosophy, and as a result, he’s nearly guaranteed a head coaching job next season.
Walton’s earned praise throughout the league, from players to coaches to analysts, for keeping the Warriors humming in Steve Kerr’s absence. His name was already firmly on several short lists for potential head coaches before the season, and it’s fair to say that now it’s right at the very top.