AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with Packers“Luke’s great. He’s a great coach, man, and he’s young, too. He knows how to talk to the guys and knows his X’s and O’s,” veteran forward Corey Brewer said. “He is positive with them. I think they need that and that’s why they’re getting better.”Brewer has played for 10 head coaches on six teams during a 10-year NBA career. His teammates’ words reflected their belief that Walton was instrumental in the team improving to 26-56 after finishing the 2015-16 season with a franchise-worst 17-65 record under former coach Byron Scott.“Luke came in with a very loose environment,” Robinson said. “He’s a players’ coach. For a young group, there is nothing better than to be with somebody who was an ex-player that understands the game and knows one night you miss a couple of shots and you’re mad at yourself. You know how that feels.”In his introductory press conference in early March, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka pointed to Walton’s league-wide popularity among players as evidence of his coaching acumen. The Lakers are also convinced they need to surround Walton with better talent, mindful that he won an NBA title with Golden State in his first year as an assistant coach (2014-15) then went 39-4 as interim head coach at the beginning of his second year (2015-16).Walton has often deflected his players’ praise, musing that there are unnamed players who have disliked him at times this season. But he found value in receiving such compliments for reasons that have nothing to do with winning a popularity contest. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error “Liking me should happen with the type of culture we want to build,” Walton said. “That’s why it’s important to me. It’s not important to me that they like me because I feel good about having more friends when I go home at the end of the night. But it’s important for the culture we’re building that they enjoy being here.”The Lakers described that culture as one that stressed team play while empowering every player to help with that effort. Walton often played music during shootarounds and practice to lighten the mood. He frequently exchanged text messages with players. He talked with players privately, offering them praise for their strong play and constructive criticism for their mistakes.That approach affected players in different ways.Despite using Ingram as a reserve to open the reason, Walton still found a way to empower the rookie. He gave Ingram point-guard handling duties at times. Walton dismissed Ingram’s shooting struggles (40.2 percent) and eventually inserted him into the starting lineup in February and allowed him to play through mistakes.“He lets you play loose on the basketball floor. He has the utmost confidence in you,” Ingram said. “On the offensive and defensive end, he challenges you to move your feet and challenges you to take the next shot after missing five in a row. So he believes in everything that we do.”Unlike Scott, Walton never yanked the starting position from forward Julius Randle. Walton still challenged him, though. Walton views Randle as a prototype of Warriors forward Draymond Green because of his strength and versatility, so he often confronted Randle anytime he thought his effort lagged.“I don’t think it bothered me because he cared,” Randle said. “He has a great way of communicating with his players, me specifically. He knew how to get on me and come here and challenge me.”That’s because Walton offered support in other ways. After critiquing him during and after a handful of games, Walton called Randle to remind him he did it out of respect for his potential.“He just came in everyday and brought an energy and vibe about him that I never experienced,” Randle said. “There’s so much positivity. You truly know that he cares about you and cares about this team.”Young discovered that quickly.Young believed the Lakers would cut him last summer after inconsistent performances, personality clashes with Scott and tension with D’Angelo Russell over an accidentally leaked video about his private life. But Walton advocated for the Lakers to keep Young, who then felt comfortable enough in Walton’s system to average 13.2 points on 43 percent shooting as a starter after averaging 7.3 points on a career-low 33.9 percent the previous year as a reserve. Though Walton has still harped on Young’s dietary habits, the veteran respects the criticism. As Young mused, “I’m going to send him a Rolex this year. I’m going to take him on a cruise. I owe him.”“He communicates with the players great,” Young said. “He gives people leeway. I guess it’s because he had been one of those guys that was on a short leash. Plus he’s been around great players and great coaches, too. He knows the best of both worlds.”Lakers forward Tarik Black said he felt the same way. Black had also fallen out of favor with Scott for what was called inconsistent energy, something those inside and outside of the organization questioned. So as he contemplated his free agent options last summer, Black asked if Walton could give him a fair shot. Walton said he would. Black re-signed to a two-year, $13 million deal. And Black became dependable, mostly as a backup forward and center and occasional starter.“He gave me a fair opportunity,” Black said. “So that established so much confidence in me, not only my belief in this organization and my belief in him as a coach, but my belief in myself.”Guard Tyler Ennis ended the 2016-17 season brimming with confidence partly because of Walton, too. After Ennis played sparingly in Phoenix (2014), Milwaukee (2014-16) and Houston (2016-17), the Lakers acquired him in a midseason trade from Houston for Marcelo Huertas. Walton immediately called him and encouraged him to look for his shot. Two months later, Ennis was averaging a career-high 7.7 points on 45.1 percent shooting.“He told me to just go out there and play and use instincts,” Ennis said. “By the end of the season, we were able to have that chemistry with me and him where he gave me the freedom to call plays. When I wasn’t shooting the ball, he’d get mad as opposed to the other side where people think when you shoot you get in trouble.”Walton’s players describe him as friendly and honest and someone who invited their feedback too. Walton still occasionally lost his patience, though. He questioned his players’ toughness after a loss to Brooklyn in mid-December extended a losing streak to eight games.The Lakers said his outburst was effective because of the equity he had built in the previous weeks. They also respected his calculated approach to showing his angrier side.“I can point out point blank what we’re doing wrong and be brutally honest with people and them know it’s not a personal attack,” Walton said. “It’s me coaching them and trying to make them better and we’re not going to have any issues as far as trust in our relationship down the road because of that.”Still, Walton considered himself “a work in progress as I grow as a coach.” After trying to maximize a talented Warriors squad “to make that a championship-caliber team,” Walton spent his first season with the Lakers evaluating how to properly hold his young players accountable while allowing them to experience growing pains.“I definitely learned a lot this season,” Walton said. “We’ll continue to be open-minded about my progress as a coach.”But for now, the Lakers have given Walton more than a passing grade.“Luke was great. I feel like as a player, he was always giving suggestions out there to me,” said former Lakers forward Metta World Peace, who was a teammate of Walton’s from 2009 to 2012. “It’s an easy transition. His dad (Bill Walton) is a great basketball mind. He played for Phil Jackson. He’s a naturally smart basketball player. Now that’s translating into a coach.” EL SEGUNDO >> Even after they labored through dozens of losses en route to another season that ended in April instead of June, Lakers players were quick to praise Coach Luke Walton after their exit interviews this week.Both rookie forward Brandon Ingram and third-year guard Jordan Clarkson described Walton as a “players’ coach.” Forward Julius Randle called it “amazing” playing for Walton, and veteran center Timofey Mozgov appreciated Walton bringing “a lot of positive energy.”Veteran swingman Nick Young labeled Walton “one of the best coaches for this new era of basketball,” and forward Thomas Robinson argued that “for this group of young players, it can be nobody better for them than Luke.”That’s because so many of the Lakers, regardless of their NBA experience, believe the 37-year-old Walton fits a specific criteria.