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Warriors’ Season Review: Luke Walton’s Place in Warriors History

Luke Walton wrapped up his tenure with the Warriors by helping the team set the record for consecutive wins to start a season in Kerr’s absence. What will his legacy with the team be?

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

July 2nd, 2014 - The Warriors hire Luke Walton as Assistant Coach

Warriors fans knew Luke Walton as that annoying bench guy who got all the rings while riding Kobe’s coat tails. Walton, a Southern California guy, seemed like an odd fit for the Bay Area until you realized his ties to Steve Kerr back in Arizona. Were the Warriors serious about this, or did they need an extra body to play five-on-five? Walton had coaching experience in the D-League and back with the University of Memphis, but seemed like an odd take for a guy with no experience.

May 31st, 2015 - Pelicans Hire Alvin Gentry as Head Coach

The Warriors lost their “second head coach” in Alvin Gentry to the Pelicans. This sparked rumors of the franchise hiring a second assistant with head coaching experience to help out Kerr, who was still getting his footing leading the bench. Could David Blatt come over from Europe? Could they find another body out there on the market? Instead, the Warriors announce they are promoting Luke Walton up to the associate head coach position. Some guess he won it in a shooting contest with Kerr.

October 1st, 2015 - Steve Kerr needed to take time off to rest his ailing Back
On the eve of the regular season starting, coming off a championship win, Steve Kerr announces that he will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team to rest his ailing back. This is a huge blow for the defending champs, and fear runs through the fanbase and commentators. He will be replaced by none other than Luke Walton, who has barely coached the Warriors Summer League team — taking over for the World Champions who had a target on their back seemed like a talk task. Could Walton lead the team to success without crashing the ship in Kerr’s absence?

November 23rd, 2015 - Warriors start the season 15-0, setting the mark for the best start to regular season in NBA history
Walton uses an odd lineup of bench players to fuel a victory on the road in Denver for the team to set the all-time record for consecutive wins to start the season. Fans ride Walton at times for questionable rotations, for not taking timeouts while other teams are making runs, for not adjusting to tactics on the floor. But the Warriors keep winning and you can’t question the success. There is no word of when Kerr will return to the bench; some question if Kerr will resign the position and if Walton will take the position for the coming years. How far the guy has come in such a short time. Will Walton coach the upcoming All-Star game? Can Walton win Coach of the Year as an Interm? Do these wins count toward Walton’s career totals?

January 22nd, 2016 - Steve Kerr to resume Head Coaching duties for Warriors

The Warriors announce that Steve Kerr has completed his rehab and is ready to resume the role of Head Coach for the Warriors. Walton, who has led the team to a historic 30-2 record (including the record for most wins to start a season at 24), will return to the assistant role having none of the wins he coached for count on his record. Walton will always be questioned if it was his talent or the roster that got him the wins. Could he have pulled this off with a lesser roster? Was this more of a sign that the Warriors are good regardless of who is running the ship?

"It's much nicer to hand him the car back without crashing it first," Walton said, chuckling.

Kerr, on if Walton was a good head coach: "When he delivers a message, he's comfortable," Kerr said. "He's really made for it. Nothing rattles him."

April 28th, 2016 - Warriors allow Luke Walton to interview for Lakers Position; Walton eventually Accepts

With the season running to a close, and the Lakers fresh off firing Byron Scott as their head coach, the rumor mill had already started up that Walton would be high on the list to move down to LA to take over the post-Kobe Lakers. The Warriors were in the middle of a playoff run, but the NBA soldiers on and Walton had an amazing opportunity in front of him. At this point nobody was questioning if Walton was qualified for the job, but now instead urging Luke to stay in Golden State to eventually take over the Warriors job. Walton eventually was drawn back home to Los Angeles, and made the decision to accept the position, even before the Warriors lost in Game 7 in the finals.

Where does Luke Walton fit into Warriors lore? He will forever be tied to the longest winning streak in franchise history, and will be a huge part of the 73-win season that etched Golden State into the record books. Questions remain if he will be a great head coach with a bad team - he has never had to build his own staff, deal with a young roster without the crutch of super star veterans who control the locker room. He still hasn't had to deal with a losing streak and the tough media scrutiny of Southern California.

"Cool, calm, collected, surfer," said Gardner, now the head coach at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "That's what you kind of think of. He loves the breeze.

"You see it now. There's never no panic. There's always calm."

Said Olson: "The players always responded to him. He was always someone the other players looked up to."

Walton will always be remembered for not doing anything wrong rather than anything he specifically did right. This might be a crude way to remember an up-and-coming head coach, but how can you deny that he succeeded by basically changing nothing in a franchise that was already highly successful?

Walton handled everything like a professional - waited his turn to help the franchise, took over with class and little public scrutiny when asked to run the Warriors while Kerr was out, and gracefully stepped back when Kerr was ready to return. He even handled his transition to the Lakers with professionalism - many of the coaches and players marveled about how it didn’t affect him during the playoff run with the team.

Walton personifies the Southern California surfer, the “never rattled” guy who doesn't yell like other coaches, takes the quiet approach and gains respect with his smile and personality. He is basically the anti-Thibs. But the NBA is not a popularity contest; professional athletes who make millions of dollars don't necessarily care about liking their head coach. Maybe in college, where you can mentor young players into their game. But will DeAngelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle latch onto Walton when he has to make the tough decisions with the young guys? Byron Scott, with his drill sergeant personality couldn’t, so maybe “one of the guys” in Walton will. As a Warriors fan, I love to see the Lakers fail, so for Golden State’s sake I hope it’s a hot mess and Walton runs away as fast as he can. For Luke’s sake however, the Bay now has a fond place in their hearts for the pseudo-hippie Walton and his board shorts personality. He should get a large ovation when he returns to Oracle next season, and he will deserve every cheer for the work that he put in for this franchise.

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