In an interesting twist to the conversation about what NBA players will do to keep themselves busy during the lockout, ESPN.com's Andy Katz and Diamond Leung report Lakers forward Luke Walton has agreed to become an assistant coach for the Memphis Tigers. (That would be the city's college squad, for the team nickname illiterate.) The arrangement still requires approval of the school, plus the Tennessee State Board of Regents and would allow Walton, who would be a genuine contracted coach as opposed to a volunteer, to return to the Lakers once the season starts.
While I'm fully aware of the one liners many Lakers fans will likely leave in the comments section (a few have already popped up, here), it's a great, creative move for everyone involved. Memphis coach Josh Pastner adds an NBA player with high-end basketball knowledge and success at both the college and NBA levels. He has played under Phil Jackson and with Kobe Bryant, affording him great credibility with players at that level. Walton, given the issues he's had with his back over the last couple of seasons, has absolutely no business hauling off to Europe to play in some random league. This gives him a chance to be around the game in a solid environment to work out (plenty of willing players available for pickup games) and stay in shape.
Plus, he'll get a head start on the direction his career is likely heading, anyway, building on those injury-induced moments in which Phil Jackson gave him a clipboard and a role with his coaching staff. Walton has two years left on his current deal, but beyond it his NBA future has more question marks than Frank Gorshin's wardrobe.
It's a high quality use of everyone's time.
In another bit of Lakers news I tweeted out this weekend (@espnlandolakers) but didn't get a chance to post (#vacation), the LAT's Mike Bresnahan delivers a happy story regarding the 20 or members of the Lakers' basketball support staff whose contracts weren't renewed heading into the lockout. Led by captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, the Lakers voted to award approximately $65,000 of their total playoff share ($604,000) to two members of the team's video crew. Walton dipped into his own wallet for an unspecified amount to support members of the training staff.
"They're a huge part of our team," Walton told the Times. "When they got laid off, this was a way to let them know that we appreciate them. It was something to help them through what was already a tough time."
Rich guys arguing with really rich guys about giant piles of money is a dominant theme in any discussion regarding the NBA these days, but it's important to remember the people who really get the short end are those whose jobs require labor peace. It's good to see players taking care of the guys who take care of them.