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Los Angeles Lakers ‘Mutually’ Part Ways With Coach Luke Walton

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Then there was James, who had been incredibly durable in his 16-year career. But during the Lakers’ Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors, he limped off the court with a strained groin and missed the next 17 games. Without him, the Lakers struggled. The hope was that they could regain their footing once he returned, but he was not the cure-all anyone imagined. The Lakers continued to lose with James back in the lineup, even though he said he had “activated” himself for a playoff push.

It had become clear by then, however, that the Lakers lacked any discernible chemistry or cohesion, especially after Johnson and Rob Pelinka, their general manager, tried and failed to acquire the All-Star center Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of February’s trade deadline. (It was no coincidence, perhaps, that Davis and James shared the same agent, Rich Paul.) The Lakers were willing to send the Pelicans several of their promising young players, including Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Ball, but were rebuffed in their attempts to swing a blockbuster deal.

The result was a team that seemed distracted at best and fractured at worst. With their playoff hopes spiraling, the Lakers appeared to hit rock bottom on March 2 when they lost to the Phoenix Suns, one of the worst teams in the league. In a moment that quickly went viral online — and appeared a fitting symbol for everything that had gone wrong for the Lakers — James carelessly threw the ball off the underside of the backboard on an out-of-bounds play, leading to a turnover. Walton glowered from the bench.

Yet about two weeks later, it somehow did get worse for the Lakers: a late-game collapse and a loss to the Knicks (who were the worst team in the league) at Madison Square Garden. Not long after that, the Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention. James did not dress for the final six games of the season, as the team aimed to preserve him for more meaningful games in the future.

Walton, who spent most of his 10-year N.B.A. playing career with the Lakers, winning two championships as a reserve forward, was hired as their head coach in 2016 after two seasons as an assistant with the Warriors. In 2015-16, he began the season as the Warriors’ interim coach while Steve Kerr recovered from debilitating back issues, and guided the team to a 39-4 record, which included a league-record 24 straight wins to start the season.

It was certainly an achievement, but the Warriors were coming off a championship and primed to excel. With the Lakers, Walton was trying to build something. Now, that massive project — however onerous — will continue without him.


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