Luke Walton to take over Lakers after Warriors' season ends

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Luke Walton has agreed to be the Los Angeles Lakers'new head coach, with the sides agreeing to a multiyear deal Friday, the team said.

Walton spent nine seasons with the Lakers, winning two championship rings as a smart, steady contributor. Three years after his retirement, the 36-year-old Southern California native is back to become the 26th coach in franchise history.

Walton has been serving as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors, who granted him permission to interview with the Lakers after their first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Houston Rockets concluded Wednesday.

"I loved everything about my time at Golden State and learning from Steve [Kerr]," Walton told ESPN. "I'll forever be grateful to him, the organization and the team. But I have always dreamed of being a head coach and the chance to do that for an organization like the Lakers doesn't come around very often."

A source told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne thatWalton was the Lakers' first choice and the only candidate they interviewed.They had other meetings lined up but canceled them after Thursday's interview with Walton in Oakland, California.

"We're excited to bring Luke back to Los Angeles, where we feel he's going to start an outstanding coaching career," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a release. "He's one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game, and we feel fortunate that he'll be leading the on-court future of our team."

The 36-year-old had become a hot coaching commodity after posting a 39-4 record -- including a record 24-0 start -- as the Warriors' interim coach this season while Kerr was recovering from complications stemming from two offseason back surgeries.

"I'm incredibly happy for Luke," Kerr said in a release. "As we witnessed earlier this season, he has all of the intangibles necessary to be an outstanding head coach in this league, including a terrific understanding of the game [and] the ability to communicate with a wide range of people."

Walton finished eighth in coach of the year balloting Tuesday. Sources said he had drawn serious interest from the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks in their coaching searches.

"We are thrilled for Luke," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for him to return home and serve as head coach for one of the most storied franchises in sports. Luke has done an incredible job during his two-year stint with our team and has played a significant role in our success, including last year's championship and again this season under some very unique circumstances. We are certainly going to miss Luke after we conclude our playoff run this season, but we wish him the very best with the Lakers."

Walton replaces Byron Scott, who was fired Sunday night after posting a 38-126 record the past two seasons. In Kobe Bryant's disappointing farewell season, the Lakers finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65. They lost four more games than in their previous franchise-worst season in 2014-15.

In November, Bryant backed Walton as a future head coach in the league.

"I used to tease him all the time," Bryant said then of his former teammate. "I told him he was the next Phil [Jackson] because he was an average player with a messed-up back. I said, 'Dude, if this is not Phil -- I mean, you're a hippie, 6-9 or whatever he is. I used to rib him all the time about that. But honestly, he always had a really brilliant mind and understanding flow and tempo and spacing and how to manage a team the right way. I couldn't be any happier for him. He looks very comfortable in that role."

Now, the Lakers will begin the Kobe-less era with Walton leading the way from the sideline.

On the court, the Lakers' core consists of recent draft picks D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson alongside an unremarkable collection of veterans and young players.

But the lure of the Lakers apparently was strong for Walton, who was drafted by the team out of Arizona in 2003. He was a depth forward on the their championship teams in 2009 and '10.

In all, he played 10 years in the NBA (2003-13) and averaged 4.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

After Walton stepped away from the court in 2013, he worked briefly for the Lakers' television network as a broadcaster, and for their D-League team as a player development coach. He became an assistant in Golden State and earned promotion to the job of Kerr's lead assistant this season after Alvin Gentry left.

At 36, Walton will become the youngest active coach in the NBA, surpassing the Phoenix Suns' Earl Watson, who will turn 37 in June.

Walton will assume duties with the Lakers after the Warriors' season concludes. Golden State will next play the Portland Trail Blazers, who eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night with a 106-103 win in Game 6.

Information from ESPN's Baxter Holmes and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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