Can Luke Walton Turn Around the Once-Proud Lakers?

Can a 36-year-old coach with little head coaching experience lead the mighty Lakers out of the depths and back to prominence?

Six or so years ago, it would have been hard to convince any Los Angeles Lakers fan that dark days were coming.

The team had just rattled off their fifth title in 11 years and had superstars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol anchoring the team with a key reserve named Luke Walton.

The subsequent five seasons have seen the Lakers shuffle through stars such as Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Gasol to a roster that included several young players and an aging Bryant.

The Lakers now turn back to their former role player in Walton to try to resurrect a franchise that is coming off of the worst two back-to-back seasons in franchise history.

Walton's Challenge

Walton will certainly have his hands full coming from a Golden State team, for whom he was an assistant coach and an interim head coach.

The 2015-16 Warriors featured three of the top 20 players in our nERD rankings. The Lakers' best player by nERD was Jordan Clarkson, who ranked 69th.

While the Warriors players are in the middle of another potential title run, the Lakers' best player jumped over Kendall Jenner.

Walton's Credentials

Advocates of the coaching decision are sure to point out that Golden State was a sparkling 39-4 under Walton as an interim head coach, good for a winning percentage of 90.6%, above their season total of 89%. However, with a hungry returning champion with no new pieces or injuries, that start now almost seemed inevitable.

Another factor in that start is assistant coach Ron Adams, who is widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game. Adams was on the bench as Walton’s top assistant in the absence of head coach Steve Kerr.

That is not to say Walton did not do a great job in Golden State, but the 36-year-old has only 43 games of head coaching experience to go along with three years of being an assistant coach.

The positive in terms of experience for the 11-year NBA vet is that he played under a Hall-of-Fame coach in Phil Jackson, grew up in an NBA locker room with father Bill Walton, and was part of a coaching staff that took a good Warriors team and made them an all-time great squad.

The Roster

In terms of roster, the Lakers do have young talented players such as Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle, who are building blocks nearly every team would like.

They should also have a top-three draft pick this summer, assuming it does not land fourth or worse (in which case it would be shipped to Philadelphia).

They also enter the first summer without Kobe Bryant in 20 years with a huge amount of cap space and free agents such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

If former Lakers point guard Magic Johnson had his way, both of those players would be coming out to Hollywood next season.

Although it is unlikely the Lakers land one of the true superstars in free agency, a young core, top draft picks, and cap space should help Walton bring the Lakers from the depths sooner than later.

In a loaded Western Conference, it will be tough, but if Walton is the coach the general manager Jerry West hopes he can be, Lakers fans could be doing this again before long.