This offseason, Luke Walton was charged with the task of taking the Los Angeles Lakers' talented but youthful roster and molding them into something more than Byron Scott's personal revolt against any style of basketball played after the 1990s.
The move makes perfect sense: As a lead assistant, Walton was a key cog in the recent success of the Golden State Warriors; he spent over eight seasons playing for the Lakers, winning rings in 2009 and 2010; and—much like he'll have to do with D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram—he was personally whipped into shape by two all-timers in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
“I remember one time my rookie year, I came in a little, uh him (Kobe) and Shaq like to do this as, I think it was just rookies, but any young guy, I probably had too much to drink the night before, so I came in, I was a rookie, I felt good, and they could smell some alcohol on me," Walton said. "And Kobe informed the rest of the team that no one was allowed to help me on defense, and that I had to guard him the entire practice.
“I was laughing at first like, ‘Oh, this is funny,’ but in Kobe’s mind, in his eyes, it was like, ‘No, I see and smell weakness, I’m going to destroy you today.’ He taught me that lesson. He probably scored 70-something in practice that day, and I was begging for help, none of the teammates would help. But yeah, his killer instinct and his work ethic, they’ll stick with me forever.”
That'd be in 2003-04, when Kobe was 25 and already an eight-year veteran, seven years removed from telling Shaq he'd be the "Will Smith of the NBA" as a rookie. Bryant wasn't alone, either, as Shaq used the same form of punishment on the rookie.
“Shaq did it to me too one day," Walton said. "Yeah, Shaq made me guard him, and then I just started trying to foul him, and he told me that if I kept fouling him, he was gonna punch me, so then I stopped fouling him. It wasn’t fair. I felt like I was a child trying to play a grown man’s game.”
While Walton isn't nearly the player Shaq and Kobe were, and he therefore won't be able to punish his young Lakers in the same way, there's a good chance D'Angelo and Co. will give him plenty of chances to figure something out.