Luke Walton's contract press conference and a traffic alert
First, the gridlock. As you approach Jefferson Blvd. heading north or south on La Cienega, you'll encounter HEAVY construction. "Sections of one lane" construction. I'm not sure what's being fixed, but I don't understand why work so intrusive couldn't and shouldn't be done at night. Unless they're looking for C.H.U.D., of course. If that's the case, all is forgiven, because those suckers can wreak havoc if left to their own devices.
Why the Public Service Announcement? Because the resulting traffic caused me to arrive late to Luke Walton's news conference and I missed some Q&A. Granted, these events typically yield standard copy, so I doubt I missed anything particularly controversial. Except when Walton said, "If they trade Kobe, big deal. Dude's a flash in the pan, and it's more shots for me." (I missed that because I made it up.) Walton's happy to be back, but did note one downside to his new contract. Asked if the Lakers were catering the news conference with Joey's BBQ (as they did on draft day), Walton joked how "they were only catering because they wanted me back. Now that I'm back, no more business from the Lakers." Walton will now shift to Business Plan B, convincing Sasha Vujacic that the BBQ sauce contains the same base ingredient as "the cream" and "the clear."
Here's (about half of) what Walton had to say:
On what Phil Jackson said to him while he was deciding:
"It wasn't a long conversation. He just told me that he would like to see me back. He understood the free-agent market, that I needed to talk to other teams, but he wanted to reassure me that he expected me back and wanted me back. It's nice to hear that. It's not a secret how much I respect Phil and how much I like playing for Phil. I don't think he thought he really needed to 'sell' me that much. I love playing in the triangle offense. I love the coaching staff here and all that. It was more about just that we could agree on terms that both sides were happy with."
On what other teams were possibilities:
"Lon (Babby, Walton's agent) and I discussed other cities. Teams that I would have played for, mainly teams that were competing for NBA titles. I didn't really have any one or two singled out. I don't really want to get into names of the cities, but the teams that are kind of in the hunt of the championships each year. Those are the teams we were gonna talk to if, for whatever reason, we couldn't work something out with the Lakers."
On what the Lakers need to do from here to improve:
"Obviously, every team wants to improve, and that's what we're trying to do. But for us, I think we have a great core. The people upstairs, the coaches. And before we got hurt, we were a team right in the hunt for things. Then we hit the injury bug and that killed us. And we're a young team, too. One thing about having young guys is the experience and time will make us better next year. There's been rumors about different players and what not, but I don't think we need to do that much. I think we're pretty close to being able to compete. Those aren't decisions I have to make. That's up to Mitch. That's his job. I'm just here to play basketball and help win with whoever we do have on the court."
On how he'd feel about Derek Fisher returning:
"I love playing with Fish. He's a great player. He's a great teammate. He's a great leader. If we're lucky enough that he comes back here, I think not only will he help our team just from being the type of player that he is, but we have a lot of young guards. The guy we drafted this year (Javaris Crittenton), Jordan (Farmar), Sasha. We've got a lot of young guards, and I think they'd learn a lot playing under Fish. My rookie year playing under Fish, he was great for me. He taught me a lot. He knows the offense in and out."
On whether being a little older and now a part of the team under a long-term contract allow him to assert or establish himself as a leader:
"Yeah. I kind of feel like I've been slowly becoming a leader on this team.... Besides (Brian) Cook and Kobe, I think I might have been here the longest. (Editor's note: That would be correct.) So I definitely feel myself stepping more into a leader role with the younger guys on the team and knowing that I'll be here long-term. I don't think it's about asserting myself on the court. I'm kind of a player that lets the game come to me and makes the right plays as opposed to trying to go out there and score 20 every night. I'm gonna go out there and play the game the way that I play. But as far as being a leader, I'll try to assert myself more."