While Kevin Durant never met with or seemed interested in joining the Los Angeles Lakers, team president and part-owner Jeanie Buss is optimistic about next season, as she told ESPN’s Hannah Storm.
With Kobe Bryant retired, the Lakers are preparing for life without their legendary five-time world champion. The first of many moves was bringing in former longtime Laker and Golden State Warriors’ assistant coach Luke Walton.
Walton played for the Lakers from 2003-11 and took on a coaching role with the Warriors prior to the 2014-15 season. During his two seasons in Golden State, Walton was a part of the Warriors’ championship-winning season in 2014-15 and led the team to the NBA Finals last season.
In head coach Steve Kerr’s absence last season, Walton coached the Warriors to a 39-4 record – including a 24-0 start. However, per NBA rules, interim head coaches are not credited with wins, head coaches are.
“I’m excited,” Buss said about the Lakers’ new head coach. “I think Luke Walton is the exact, right person to coach this young team. He has the enthusiasm and he has a charisma that I don’t even think he knows he has. In terms of connecting with people of all different ages...the time is perfect for him to come in and be part of this franchise and lead with these young guys.”
The Lakers drafted Duke University product Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. The lanky, 6-foot-10 forward has impressed with his play in the NBA Summer League, averaging 12.2 points and 4.2 assists. The 18-year-old is expected to be a major building block for future Lakers teams; in addition to D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Julius Randle.
The team inked veteran free agents Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng this offseason, adding some experience to a relatively young team.
“We also have some good veteran players, the players we picked up in free agency,” Buss added.
In recent years, free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Durant spurned – or completely ignored – the Lakers’ interest in free agency. Despite a young core in Los Angeles, there was never much traction between the Lakers and NBA's elite.
Fans were not happy that the historic franchise has seemingly ceased to become an attractive free agency destination. Buss, however, believes the team’s roster situation and other circumstances played a role in those decisions.
“Every player is different,” Buss said. “Each individual chose the situation that was right for them. Where the Lakers were at the time was not the right for any of those guys.”
Following a 2015-16 season in which the Lakers were only behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in the league (17-65), the team, with a new coach, new players, and a new core, are poised for an improvement.
“The free agents that we have are the pieces we need to get back to Lakers basketball, which is winning,” Buss emphatically stated.