Prior to the 2018-2019 NBA season, head coach Luke Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers were in unfamiliar territory as they were mired in a long rebuilding phase.
In the twilight of Kobe Bryant‘s career, the Lakers lost games left and right and accumulated lottery picks in the NBA Draft as a result. Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Larry Nance Jr. donned the purple and gold and developed under Walton and his coaching staff.
However, after president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka joined, Los Angeles began to trade away their young players in exchange for draft picks and cap space. All the aforementioned players have now changed teams and the Lakers are now fighting for a playoff spot.
After playing Russell and preparing for Randle, Walton mentioned he still keeps in contact with some of his former players, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers:
Luke Walton said he continues to communicate with Julius Randle, exchanging texts every so often (Lakers vs Pelicans tomorrow): “Very happy for him. He’s having a lot of success. It’s good to see.” Walton added he also keeps in touch with guys like Russell, Clarkson, Nance, etc.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 20, 2018
Walton’s youth and ability to communicate with all sorts of personalities made him a locker room favorite, so it is not surprising to hear he still talks his former players. All have had success on their new teams and Walton should be able to take some credit for their development.
While trading away players that helped the Lakers jump start their rebuild was difficult, it has paid off given the team’s favorable position going forward. Los Angeles was able to sign LeBron James in free agency and still have space for one more All-Star player in 2019 free agency.
The Lakers still employ a talented young core in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. However, it will be interesting to see if they are part of the long-term plan or trade pieces to pair another All-Star player with James.