Luke Walton has big hill to climb as new Lakers coach

The Los Angeles Lakers’ new head coach is determined to catch up quickly as he starts the biggest project of his life.

The Lakers formally introduced the 36-year-old Walton on Tuesday, 53 days after they hired the Golden State assistant coach to lead their rebuilding from the worst season in franchise history.

“I’m so excited to get after it here,” said Walton, who played nine seasons and won two titles as a Lakers forward after playing four years at the University of Arizona.

After wowing Lakers owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in a late-April interview, Walton still completed his second season as an assistant to Steve Kerr with the Warriors, who lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday.

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With the sting of that loss still fresh, Walton drove down from Oakland on Monday and immediately got to work with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. The Lakers are starting from the floor after Kobe Bryant’s retirement and a 17-65 season, but Walton only sees opportunity.

“I think we’re in an exciting time,” Walton said. “We have extremely talented young players. We have a ton of money to spend in free agency. We have draft picks this year, and the fact that Mitch and Jimmy Buss trusted me with this, in being part of this rebuilding, post-Kobe era, just means the world to me.”

The Lakers have the No. 2 pick in the draft on Thursday night, and they’re expected to add Duke scorer Brandon Ingram to a young core that already includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. They’ve also got ample salary cap space to sign several veterans in free agency, and Walton immediately began his pitch to the game’s big names.

“We’re going to put our stamp on the culture that we want,” Walton said. “It’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practice every day. We’re going to play a brand of basketball that L.A. fans will appreciate. … We have money to spend. I know the Buss family and I know the Laker organization, and they’re going to do what it takes to win. To me, that’s all you really need to know. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to come here.”

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