There is no NBA team demanding more attention than the Golden State Warriors. The defending champs are off to a 15-0 start after their latest win, an 118-105 defeat of the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
The Warriors are not only a favorite to reclaim their title, but also challenge some of the sport’s all-time greatest teams, most notably the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won a record 72 regular season games.
It’s amazing to watch Golden State play as such a cohesive team, which may be all the more impressive without head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr — who is in his second season with the Warriors — is recovering from back surgery and, due to complications, is expected to miss an undetermined period of time.
In stepped Luke Walton, who joined the franchise as an assistant coach in 2014 after a 10-year career that included two NBA championships as a role player with the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton, obviously, stepped into the best scenario possible for an interim coach with both the reigning NBA champions and MVP Stephen Curry, who, like his team, looks even better through his first 15 games.
But still, the former NBA veteran deserves credit for his team’s perfect start. Walton is a product of several Phil Jackson teams and — without sounding blasphemous to the coach with more NBA championships than any other — draws several similarities to his former tutor.
Like Jackson, Walton was a big man off the bench on several winning teams. Never the star, but someone who did enough on the boards and in the paint to play a role on multiple-time champions.
It also doesn’t hurt that he spent seven of his eight seasons sitting by Jackson on the Lakers’ bench, which he credited for paving his road to pursuing a career in coaching.
“I was really into what they were doing and I figured if I can’t play. I’d like to do this coaching thing,” Walton told KNBR in October. It was more of seeing what it was like in the day-to-day life of a coach. Because even though you’re a player, and you’re around the coaches you have no idea of the extra work you’re doing. Coming in early, having staff meetings, watching the film after the game. So it was more gaining the experience on how to be a coach.”
Walton’s run as Golden State’s coach will undoubtedly gain attention from other franchises this offseason. Here’s a look at four potential destinations for the Warriors interim coach.
Los Angeles Lakers
Walton spent his first eight seasons in Los Angeles. And although his tenure as a player may be even more incentive for the Lakers to have interest, Byron Scott’s history with the team won’t be enough to save his job. Kobe Bryant is likely in his last season and the franchise is early in its rebuilding process. It’s obviously not Golden State by any means, but with a nucleus of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, there is hope for a bright future in Hollywood.
Staying in The Golden State — but leaving the Warriors — Walton could earn interest from the Sacramento Kings. George Karl’s days as the Kings’ coach are rumored to be numbered, which for the time being could lead Nancy Liebermann — who would become the first female coach in NBA histor—or former King Corliss Willamson as an interim for the remainder of the season. But the ultimate pipe dream would be for Sacramento to lure John Calipari away from Kentucky with the chance to reunite with former Wildcats DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein. If that doesn’t work out, Walton would be the primary target for Vivek Ranadive this offseason.
The Nets are off to a 3-11 start, which is the second worst record in the Eastern Conference. Lionel Hollins is coming off a 38-44 debut in 2014-15 and could see a short tenure in Brooklyn if things don’t change quickly. Nets GM Billy King has claimed that Hollins’ job isn’t in trouble, but there’s a long way to go between November and April. Brooklyn is still feeling the repercussions of the 2013 Draft trade with Boston, but could have up to $40 million in cap space this offseason.
Okay, this is a long shot given the Cavaliers spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. But it’s championship or bust in Cleveland, and we witnessed potential turmoil all last season between LeBron James and head coach David Blatt. The Cavs will definitely be a playoff team, but could part ways with Blatt if he falls short of expectations. Walton spent his final NBA season in Cleveland and could be the right match for the league’s biggest star.