Preseason question of the day: How will Luke Walton's back hold up this season?
The mere mention of his name creates hysteria around this corner of the blogosphere. His injury history and three-year, $16-million contract draw sarcastic remarks. His passing ability, strong understanding of the triangle offense and team-first mentality go unappreciated. And the thought that this would serve as a preseason question of the day may create an uprising among the L.A. Times Lakers blog masses.
But there's no way around it. How Luke Walton's back holds up this season is one of the most important preseason questions for the Lakers. It'll dictate whether he'll be able to bounce back from a 2009-2010 season he described as "frustrating" because a pinched nerve in his lower back limited him to only 29 games. Walton's health will strongly influence how Phil Jackson will use his rotations, and determine Walton's future with the team.
The answer to this question won't make or break the Lakers' season, but it'll likely affect a bunch of moving parts. That's why it's no coincidence that General Manager Mitch Kupchak got West Virginia forward Devin Ebanks with the 43rd pick of the NBA Draft and acquired free agent Matt Barnes. If Walton experiences more back problems this season, the Lakers want to b able to absorb his absence.
"With Luke's back, we're not sure what the future holds for him," Kupchak told reporters after the NBA Draft. "He struggled this year and, to his credit, came back and was available during the playoffs. But he really struggled. He's going to devote the summer to rehabilitation. But if Luke can't really make a contribution next year, we felt we really had to get somebody who could back him up."
Walton recently told Lakers.com's Mike Trudell that he spent a good portion of the offseason 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.
"My back feels great right now," Walton said. "It’s a lot stronger. I’m feeling confident in it and am excited to test it out. That being said, at the same time I’m a little nervous, just because I know how much of a grind the season and training camp can be. I dedicated the whole summer to making it strong enough to last, and that’s what I’m hoping for. If it doesn’t, I’m in a pretty bad spot."
It would also cause a lot of shuffling for the Lakers, likely giving Barnes and Ebanks more playing time. The team would be without a fluid passer -- though Steve Blake could fill that role once he nails down the triangle offense -- and would lose one of its experts in running the offense at a time the newcomers need to quickly learn the system.
Again, this won't make or break the Lakers' chances of three-peating, but that could be a whole lot easier if Walton's back holds up.
We'll find out soon enough.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Luke Walton. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press