LAS VEGAS – For most of the past two seasons, all but one Golden State Warriors assistant coach would be showered and dressed in their suits, ready for the start of the game, well before the national anthem.
Not Luke Walton.
Fifteen minutes before tipoff, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr often found Walton still in a towel, with his feet kicked up.
“He’d have a dip in his mouth; most laid-back guy ever,” Kerr said. “He’d hop in the shower about six minutes left.”
The national anthem would play, the starting lineup announcements would pass, and then finally Walton would stroll onto the court, grinning.
That memory stood out for Kerr before Saturday’s game, but his list of anecdotes is long. Walton spent two years on Kerr’s staff at Golden State and Kerr now calls Walton one of his best friends. He is also one of Walton’s coaching mentors. Saturday the affection between the two was apparent. So were the threads linking Walton’s coaching style to Kerr’s.
The Lakers lost, 112-107, after trailing, 74-47, at halftime. The Warriors play offered Walton a chance to show his players the end result of the process they’ve just begun.
“There’s a good lesson for our guys,” Walton said. “The way the Warriors cut. How quick the ball moves from one man to the next. Playing aggressive on the defensive end. These are all things we want to get better at. There’s a lot to be able to watch the tape on and learn and hopefully grow from as a group.”
The gap that separates the Warriors from the Lakers isn’t lost on anyone. While the Warriors added All-Star Kevin Durant to an already loaded lineup that won 73 games last season, the Lakers have drafted lottery picks for the last three seasons and are working to develop a young core of players.
As he does that, Walton is drawing from what he learned from how Kerr interacted with his players.
“It was the first time I’d been around that type of open relationship between player (and) coach,” Walton said. “That’s naturally who I am. I like being able to talk to the guys, can include them in decisions and get their feedback. The way he did that and the success we had and how much that helped in having players take ownership of what we were doing as a team is something that is a big part of my coaching style now.”
As Kerr sees it, Walton won’t find it difficult to carve his own path even as he draws from his past experiences. His laid-back personality might also help him through the inevitable struggles his team will experience this year.
“I just think he’s smart,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “He knows it’s not rebuilt overnight. He understands it takes time to be great. He’ll lose sleep over losses because he’s competitive but he won’t be killed if they don’t have great success early on because it takes time, especially for such a young team like that.”
Some are different for Walton since he became a full-time head coach. He’s had more demand on his time. He’s implementing his vision, not helping carry out someone else’s. These days he’s always on the court in time for the national anthem.
But the person the Warriors all knew still exists. The qualities Kerr admired are still there.
So are some of his quirks, like the laid-back attitude toward timeliness on certain matters.
As Walton arrived late for his pregame media availability on Saturday, Warriors General Manager Bob Myers chided him for being late, smiling as the two greeted each other.
Walton’s face crinkled into a grin.
He protested: “You told me not to change!”