Luke Walton is up to the challenge while LeBron recovers

Kuzma isn't worried about Walton's job security (0:31)

Kyle Kuzma says Luke Walton has done a great job handling the Lakers' "adversity" this season despite an influx of injuries and suspensions. (0:31)

LOS ANGELES -- Let's start by acknowledging that this is probably not scientifically possible.

A little while ago, during the second half of a game, Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton swore he felt the exact moment a virus landed in the lining of his nose, exacerbating the sinus infection he has been ignoring for weeks.

His eyes started watering. His head started throbbing. And then, to add insult to illness, his team blew a six-point lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder with swingman Kyle Kuzma sidelined after a seized-up back.

Already without superstar LeBron James (groin) and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo (hand) the young Lakers fell apart and dropped what would have been a great win in a tightly packed Western Conference. They proceeded to lose four of their next six, including especially depressing ones to the tanking Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks that brought out a new round of questions about the young coach's job status.

It should've helped that Lakers president Magic Johnson went on record earlier this season to say Walton's job was safe this season barring something drastic.

Or that Lakers legend Kobe Bryant tweeted support after a double-digit loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Or that Lakers management continues to project support for Walton publicly and privately -- at least through this season, multiple sources told ESPN.

But Walton's seat seems as hot as any around the league these days. And he's .... absolutely fine with it?

"It's the best job in the world, and I love the challenge that we have," Walton told ESPN in a recent interview. "It's challenging, it's hard, it's sleepless nights. But it's also awesome."

This is still his dream job. It's just a whole lot more complicated than what he signed up for three seasons ago, when the Lakers were at the beginning of a rebuild and looking for a young coach who could help them build a winning culture in which to grow their collection of lottery picks.

For as much dirt as Jim Boylen, the coach of Tuesday's opponent, the Chicago Bulls, has kicked up in his first two months on the job as he has tried to remake the franchise's culture with discipline and tough love, the road forward for the Bulls is actually quite straightforward compared to that of the Lakers.

Walton is not just coaching the young players anymore. Now, in addition to the kids, he's coaching the best player on the planet and a collection of veterans on one-year deals who are mostly using the opportunity to try to assert their relevance as NBA players.

"He's competitive as hell, but I think the way he's handling this year, I don't know if I could do a better job," Rondo told ESPN. "It's tough: He's having to teach at the same time as he's trying to get wins, managing egos, and dealing with vets and leadership.

"Someone asked me today if we have enough plays. The game isn't so much about having plays; it's about playing the right way. Because if you have plays, you're easy to scout. If you don't have plays and you put guys in certain structures that have the right skills and know how to play in the game, then you're a lot tougher to defend."

It was starting to come together on Christmas, too. After experimenting with a different roster composition than any James-led team before, emphasizing playmakers over shooters, the Lakers saw enough to realize that it wasn't working and transitioned into the style of play that's been successful for previous James-led teams -- James creates, and the team benefits.

They were winning, building chemistry, finally healthy ... and beating the Golden State Warriors!

Then James got hurt.

"Anytime you're missing LeBron, you're going to struggle," Kuzma said. "Cleveland had [Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love], and they struggled when LeBron was out. Obviously, it's not just us."

In the weeks that followed that Christmas Day win, the Lakers have struggled to tread water.

"I'm up at night thinking about: What's practice look like tomorrow? Where's the focus of practice?" Walton said. "We got to keep things simple because it's new lineups playing together. It's young players, playing.

"So it's trying to constantly find what that balance is between where we're at and taking the proper, patient steps to get the team up to where we need to be."

So, yes, it's hard. But Walton stops any line of questioning that dwells on that.

"Look, I knew this was going to be hard," he says. "But, s---, that's part of the excitement. If it was easy, it wouldn't be as fun of a challenge."

The challenge that matters now is figuring out how to change the Lakers from what they looked like when they were built over the summer and have largely been in the first half of the season -- a bad shooting team whose flaws are covered up by James' greatness and exposed when he's not on the court.

The Lakers are near the bottom of the league in 3-point shooting (33.5 percent, 27th out of 30 teams). They're worse in losses (29.8 percent) than in wins (36.9 percent). They try to make up for their lack of shooting by playing fast -- ranking second in the league in transition points a game (19.6). That's harder when James isn't playing, when the Lakers fall to ninth in the league in that category (17.3).

There are other issues, of course. But Walton's challenge is much the same as his players this season -- growing on the job, alongside LeBron James.

As one Lakers insider put it, the Lakers hired Walton because they believed in his potential in the same way they believed in their lottery picks. While it was a different regime that hired him, the belief in his potential remains strong.

But like those former lottery picks, the timetable to make good on that potential accelerated when James chose L.A. in free agency.

Which is apparently fine with Walton.

"Coaching in the NBA is awesome," he said. "And I get to coach the team I played for, LeBron, and the kids I helped grow since we drafted them. It's pretty incredible."