Luke Walton pledges not to allow injury history to inhibit his play
There's uncertainty whether Luke Walton can manage to escape the injuries that have plagued him during a seven-year career. There's uncertainty whether his back will even hold up when the team travels to Europe next month for a pair of exhibition games Oct. 4 against Minnesota in London and Oct. 7 against FC Barcelona in Spain. And there's uncertainty whether all the work he put in this off-season to stave off the pinched nerve in his lower back will be worth it.
Regardless of the outcome, there's one approach Walton pledges he'll maintain.
"When you start getting cautious and start worrying about things, that's when you seem to get hurt more often when you're not playing free and reacting," Walton said Saturday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo, where the team had its first day of training camp. "That thought definitely comes in, but as an athlete you can't let that stay. You have to get your body in a position where you're not even thinking about it. That's where I feel I am right now."
It's the only attitude he can control from this point forward. He spent a good portion of the off-season visiting with Lakers strength coach Chip Schaefer, a back specialist, a Pilates teacher and a yoga instructor, all in the hope that his back wouldn't require surgery and that he'd feel as strong as possible heading into training camp. He's eager to get on the floor after playing in only 29 games last season, making the campaign rather frustrating even amidst a second consecutive championship season. And he's hopeful he can secure his spot, considering the Lakers essentially acquired insurance policies in free agent Matt Barnes and draft pick Devin Ebanks. Said Walton: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm ready to go."
But, you never know. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged he's unsure how strong Walton's back will be once the season starts. But one thing's for sure: Jackson wants Walton in the lineup for several reasons. Jackson argued Walton's 53-game absence "really hurt the bench chemistry." With the Lakers acquiring free agent reserves in Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff, Walton's understanding and willingness to play a team role in the triangle functions as an effective baton for the newcomers. And it would ensure more depth to a unit that's already going to be asked to do more considering Andrew Bynum's revelation today that he won't play until at least the end of November.
How everything will turn out is uncertain, partly because of how Walton's back will respond once he's on the basketball court and also undergoing the rigors of travel. Whether the answer results in a success story or more devastation, Walton's at least comforted in the knowledge that he put in the necessary work to give himself another shot. "I feel like I prepared the best I can," he said.
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org