Luke Walton is attempting to keep the challenges of coaching a rebuilding team in perspective during the grind of his first season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"The core of the job is awesome," Walton said. "I get to get in my car every day and I love coming to work -- and not many people get to do that. Coming into the building is exciting, every day, no matter how many we've lost or won. Again, the outliers make life frustrating at times and you can't sleep at night and you don't have an appetite, but that's short lived. Everything else in life is awesome still."
Walton recalls Dec. 14, when the Lakers lost to the Nets in Brooklyn, falling for the eighth game in a row. "And I had all the tricks I had in the bag as far as different ways to get the team out of a funk," Walton says. "I had tried all of them. And we just kept losing and losing." He stared at the ceiling of his New York hotel room, telling himself, "This is crazy, you know what we've got to do. Let's keep [at it]. And still, it took a while to even be aware of it to get myself out of that low." He adds, "I know this is what I signed up for, but I was dark."
The Lakers started the season strong but have fallen to the bottom of the NBA.
"It's way more intense as far as these day-to-day decisions that need to be made, as far as what's best for this moment and what's best for us in the future as far as where we're trying to go," he says. "That's kind of a learning-on-the-go type of thing. If one assistant has an opinion this way, another assistant has another opinion another way with it, it's trial-and-error with it."
Walton has sought counsel from Steve Kerr and he also has reached out to Phil Jackson.
"The job itself is still the same," he says. "It's rewarding. It's exciting. Now we're competing for different things there and here, but the competition level is right there from the daily practices to the games. We only lost nine games last year, and I remember being sick after every one of them. It's crazy. The feeling, that's always there. What I'm trying to say is the core of this year and last year are the same, at least for me.
"I absolutely loved the job and the opportunity of coming in and trying to figure things out as a group and motivate and this and that. Now all the little outliers are completely different. It's feeling pretty incredible every night driving home as opposed to the thousand different things that are going off in my head in terms of what we need to do, this and that."
Walton is in Year 1 of a five-year deal making between $5 million and $6 million per season.
"I'm going to be just fine," Walton says, "and we're going to be just fine as a team. It's just part of the way it works, right? It's part of the grind."