Eric Pincus:m Luke Walton’s Exit Makes LA Lakers Hierarchy Even More Unclear

If general manager Rob Pelinka is indeed running the Los Angeles Lakers long term, then he should hire a replacement for now-former head coach Luke Walton.

If not, then the Lakers need to put a pause on the search and lock in an executive who will map out the team’s path for the next five years. Let that person pick their coach; otherwise, the team is setting itself up for yet another coaching change in a couple of seasons.

The Lakers’ offseason was sent into chaos on Tuesday when Earvin “Magic” Johnson stepped down as president of basketball operations. The departure gave Walton a stay of execution, albeit a brief one. The team announced on Friday that it had “mutually agreed to part ways” with its coach of three seasons.

Per a source close to the team, the Lakers planned to move forward slowly after the Johnson bombshell. That probably didn’t work for Walton, who could ill afford to let other opportunities die out as he waited for Los Angeles to decide his future. The Sacramento Kings fired coach Dave Joerger on Thursday, and Sam Amick of the Athletic reported “Walton is [general manager Vlade] Divac’s first choice for this job.”

Had Johnson stayed on, Walton wouldn’t have made it to exit interviews on Wednesday, but the team had to regroup after Tuesday’s stunning turn of events. The Lakers obviously need a replacement, and as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, both Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue are options.

But who is making that decision for the Lakers? Is it owner Jeanie Buss? Has Pelinka—who was brought on to execute Johnson’s vision—established himself as the leading basketball operations voice for the franchise moving forward?

Walton is a good coach. It’s uncertain if he’s a great coach, and with all the drama this past year, he’s better off getting a fresh start in Sacramento with a promising young roster. It’s the right decision for the Lakers if they upgrade in their hire, but again, who is making that decision?

Per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, it’s Pelinka, but that only makes sense if he’s mapping out the Lakers’ basketball vision long term.

In Lue, the Lakers would be bringing in the only available coach to have led LeBron James to a championship. He is a former Laker (perhaps a factor), but that shouldn’t be relevant. The team should be hiring the best candidate for the job—regardless of ties to the franchise—and that may well be Lue.

Williams has a relationship with James from his time as an assistant with Team USA. He also coached Anthony Davis, still the Lakers’ top summer target, with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Whomever is hired needs to handle the expectations and pressure that come with coaching James, a clear check for Lue. The Lakers are still in the business of building a contender, and part of that entails making sure James is surrounded by the right coaches and players.

The team no longer has Johnson to recruit free agents, but James also looms larger than life in NBA circles. Whether he can convince other stars to join him—such as Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson—remains unclear.

Lue, who also coached Irving, might be an asset in signing the Boston Celtics point guard, who can become a free agent this summer. But then, Irving demanded a trade from Cleveland. Does he want more of the same out West?

Regardless, the Lakers need to lock in front-office stability well before June’s NBA draft and free-agent period in July. That may be Pelinka or another executive. David Griffin, who helped guide the Cavaliers to a championship in Cleveland, is off the Lakers’ potential list after agreeing to take over the Pelicans, per Wojnarowski.

Any candidates are speculative, like Jerry West (a consultant with the Clippers), or Kobe Bryant (who hasn’t made any indication since retirement that he’s interested in joining a front office). One competing executive suggested the Lakers may wait until the Golden State Warriors are finished with their season to pursue general manager Bob Myers.

Understandably, the Lakers need some time to weigh their options. Walton didn’t have that luxury—not if he wanted to make sure he was employed next season. The Lakers are at a crossroads, with more important decisions ahead than hiring a head coach (such as hiring a top decision-maker).

After six straight years of missing the playoffs, they need to nail their next set of hires.