So how do we assess the Luke Walton Era now that it has been so cruelly cut down as it was beginning to take flight?
Well, let’s just say he’s doing better today than David Blatt, who got de-Cavaliered about two hours after Walton was demoted, after coaching exactly 100 more games than Walton. I mean, Blatt was the only coach in league history to be fired while his team had the best record in his conference, while Walton was merely the first coach to be replaced by the man he replaced while his team had the best record in his conference.
But that’s the way things go in the new, more mean-spirited NBA. Blatt is told to hit the bricks, while Walton moves down a chair. Life’s cruel, and then you get a hip replacement and learn to drink gin at noon.
Walton, though, leaves a more lasting personal legacy even though you can’t actually find it. His 43 games may not be much of a legacy builder, so let’s see if we can make sense of it now that the hubbub has died down.
Oh, sure, you could look at the winning percentage of .907 and think, “Well, that’ll do. It is, after all, higher than any other coach in history, including his predecessor and successor, S.D. Kerr,” but then you’d have to prove it, seeing as how the official records show that Kerr’s actual percentage in this plane of existence (.790) is less than his official mark of .848. Indeed, right now, Walton’s “record” is exactly the same as that of Pope Francis I, Cate Blanchett and Bernie Sanders.
And sure, you can say that he helped propel the team to the fastest start in league history and still hasn’t lost a home game, but who’s to say Ron Adams couldn’t do that, or Nick U’ren, or Joe Lacob in his wildest fantasies? Again, you’d have to prove it with something other than the now passé, “But I saw him do it.” You know how personal recollections can lie.
And yes, the team responded to his subtle additions by playing only eight of their first 43 games at less than optimal conviction, which is still higher than any other team except San Antonio. But after 43 games last year, the Warriors had won a league-leading 10 games by 20 or more points, and this year they have only won nine, seven behind those meddlesome kids in San Antone.
And yes, he helped meet the higher expectations and turned the Warriors into America’s newest darlings, but the backlash is already beginning in some of the snarkier quarters of the Internet, which as we all know is the central depository of all indisputable truth and wisdom. They were 4 1/2 games better than their closest pursuers (if you guessed Portland, you should go out socially more often), and this year they are only plus-two.
And yes, we heard the word “slippage” more than we did a year ago, and though this might be a scoche unfair, a year ago Zaza Pachulia did not have more All-Star votes than Draymond Green. This year . . . well, I rest my case.
In other words, he did a sensational job for someone who officially was never there, but those four losses (Milwaukee, Dallas, Denver and Detroit) will haunt him for the rest of his days, no matter what inferior head coaching he takes from now until the end of his career.
Walton has been mentioned for some soon-to-be-vacant vacancies already, starting with the Los Angeles Lakes job currently held by Kobe . . . er, Byron Scott. That would be a disaster of epic proportions, as would the other job he has been internetically linked to, Philadelphia (currently held by the long-suffering Brent Brown).
But he has also benefited from an opportunity almost no coaches ever get – a chance to learn on the job at the top. He didn’t even know what a loss was until two weeks before Christmas, which means that (a) he didn’t deviate from the galactic plan, (b) the players responded to him largely as they would a coach who merits inclusion in record books, and (c) he made sure he never strayed far from Kerr’s essential principles, or from Stephen Curry’s healing touch.
In other words, he did not change the Warriors in any way whatsoever, which for the first time in team history was exactly what was needed.
As for Kerr, he could have waited a day and let Walton go out with officials Rodney Mott and Josh Tiven, two of the seven home-team-friendliest officials in the league this year. I mean, if he’s not going to get a gold watch or even a cake, he might as well go out the way a winner does.
Sitting on his chair, leaning back just a bit and puffing a metaphorical cigar the way Red Auerbach would have wanted. Or, if you must be more local, sitting on his chair, leaning back and firing down a beer the way Don Nelson would have wanted.