As soon as the New York Knicks showed Derek Fisher the door, speculation started that Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton would be the guy stepping onto the Madison Square Garden sideline next season. Indeed, the popular view is that Walton will be the first choice for whatever NBA job comes open next.
That’s great for him, of course. Or at least it would appear so on the surface. But Walton may want to tread with care when it comes to accepting any job offers. Because wherever he goes, the chances are he will be setting himself up for a pretty major fall.
All of this speculation is, of course, based upon Walton’s record as the interim coach of the Warriors this season. The Warriors were 39–4 during that period, and much of the media drooling over Walton’s potential as a head coach–particularly with the Knicks, where he’d be reunited with his old Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson–imagines that Walton would have about the same level of success with the team he takes over as he did in guiding the Warriors to that record breaking start.
That statement seems ridiculous on the surface; how could anyone possibly expect Walton to be that successful with a new team? After all, Walton got all those wins with the Warriors. This is not to say that he did a bad job steering the squad during his interim tenure, but the Dubs are clearly the best team in the league, and even Fisher might have had similar results had he been the one leading Golden State while Kerr recuperated. If Walton joins a team that was bad enough that they felt the need to fire their coach, it only makes sense that Walton will see a dip in his success level as he goes through the process of building up that new team.
Lest we forget: this scenario (almost) has already played out before. Alvin Gentry took his championship ring out of town and over to New Orleans before the start of this season to lead the supposedly up-and-coming Pelicans. It has not worked out well, to say the least. Part of that is the product of injury–Anthony Davis has missed significant time this year–so Gentry can’t really be blamed for a team that was in the playoffs last year but has now fallen so far down that they’re behind perennial laughingstock Sacramento (more about them tomorrow). Nevertheless, if things don’t rapidly improve in the Big Easy, Gentry will soon be cashing the Big Unemployment Check.
Those sky-high expectations, irrational as they may be, will similarly come back to damage Luke Walton. Even with reasonable of success next season, there will still be people who will expect him to lead his new team to a single digit loss total for the first half of the season. And if all that takes place in New York–where calm, reasoned rationality is not the hallmark of the local sports media–Walton may find himself covered in a stink that will be hard to wash away for the rest of his coaching career (if any).
The prudent choice for Walton might be to make no choice at all. Stay put with the Warriors after this season, give them one more go-around, and then accept a gig for the 2017-18 season–when all the hoopla and hype have died down and he has a chance to step into a new situation without the lunacy that will greet his hiring right now.
That won’t happen, of course. Walton will undoubtedly accept an offer from some team once the Warriors have finished playing this season, most probably in June. I certainly wish him luck wherever he lands–but the landing may wind up a lot harder than anyone, including Walton himself–currently thinks it will be.