After Magic Johnson critique, Luke Walton cites 'great relationship' with Lakers


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton says he believes he has a “great relationship with management” and does not feel like he is “going anywhere.”

Walton spoke with the media hours after ESPN reported that Lakers president Magic Johnson met with the coach on Tuesday and admonished him following a winless two-game road trip. League sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin that Johnson’s message to Walton increased the pressure on the coach to deliver winning results sooner rather than later, an about-face from Johnson’s public comments regarding patience at the outset of training camp.

Walton would not go into detail about his meeting with Johnson but answered a question about whether he believes management will give him the leeway needed to turn around a rocky 3-5 start with so many new pieces. The Lakers also have a difficult opening schedule and lost starters Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram to recently completed suspensions.

“I feel like I have a great relationship with management, yes,” said Walton, who spoke with general manager Rob Pelinka after practice and before the Lakers flew to Portland.

Asked if he feels he has job security, Walton replied, “I feel like I’m coming down here to do my job and coach.”

Walton signed a five-year contract with Los Angeles in April 2016 worth reportedly $25 million to $30 million. At the time of his hiring, the Lakers were being managed by then-GM Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, the brother of Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss.

The coach would not elaborate when asked specifically about the ESPN report, saying what is discussed between him and management is private.

“What we discuss in our meetings is between us, but … we have been saying since the beginning, we’re going to be patient,” Walton said. “We know where we’re going, we know how to get there, and it takes time and it takes hard work. Right now, our guys work extremely hard. We’ve had a couple setbacks with some suspensions, but we’ve played some good teams and we’ve had a chance to win a lot of those games.

“We plan on winning those in the future, and we’re going to keep working and getting better and we’re going to be just fine.”

On Saturday, Los Angeles plays the Trail Blazers, who have beaten the Lakers 16 consecutive times, including opening night at the Moda Center. After that, the Lakers return home to face the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Entering the season, several executives and coaches around the league told ESPN that Walton had perhaps the most challenging job in the NBA and wondered how he would make a roster of one-year veterans with strong personalities and a young developing core work best around LeBron James.

Johnson repeatedly said during the summer that patience was required with so many new pieces, especially if there was a slow start. Johnson cited James’ slow starts when he first joined the Miami Heat and returned to Cleveland and said he told Walton not to worry if there was a rocky start in Los Angeles.

But after the Lakers dropped to 2-5 following losses in winnable games at San Antonio and Minnesota, Johnson met with Walton. The Lakers then had to survive a late-game scare from the Mavericks on Halloween as Dallas nearly overcame a 19-point deficit.

Walton reiterated to his team Friday to block out the outside noise, a message he has driven home since the start of the camp.

“My message to the players was, this is what we talked about,” Walton said. “We know this is going to happen. Every time we go on a losing streak, there’s going to be stories out there and distractions out there. It’s our choice either to hang on to those, or it’s our choice to stay present and focus our energy and time on what we can do to get better.”

Walton has spent the season trying to find the right rotations, using 104 lineups in their eight games, second only to the rebuilding Hawks‘ 140, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The coach likes what he has seen from the starting lineup of James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee in the past two games but knows things could still be fluid over the next few weeks.

“We’re trying to figure things out. We’ve got to figure groups out,” Walton said.

Walton was asked if he has expressed the challenges the Lakers coaching staff has faced with the new pieces, suspensions and constant search for chemistry with a shortened training camp and preseason.

“Magic and I talk a lot about basketball and our team and his opinions and my opinions,” Walton said. “But again, what those conversations are, those will remain between me and the front office.

“I don’t like to assume that people know what I’m thinking. So if I’m talking, I’m going to explain myself no matter what the situation is. But again, the actual things being said, that’s private front-office/coach stuff.”

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