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Ex-Laker Luke Walton Helps Cavaliers’ Bigs
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On January 30, 2013 @ 5:00 am In All,NBA | No Comments
After spending the first eight and a half seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Luke Walton went from being a valued playmaker who understood Phil Jackson’s triangle offense to an injury-plagued player who wasn’t living up to the promise he had showed earlier in his career. A pinched nerve in Walton’s back ruined his 2009-10 season and when the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired him at the trade deadline in 2012, Walton’s serviceability was definitely in question. To date, the Cavaliers have received more than they had any right to expect from Walton.
“I didn’t know what my role was going to be,” Walton said. “With all the back issues I have had, I didn’t know if I was even going to play again. Luckily my back has been feeling great and they have given me the opportunity to help out with this young team and share some of my experience on and off the court. It has been a blessing and it has been a great experience.”
The Cavaliers are rebuilding and have young players at every position who can use the mentoring of a veteran from an NBA championship team. In particular, Walton is in a great position to help the development of their young big men, sophomore Tristan Thompson and rookie Tyler Zeller.
“At the beginning of the year, the coaches [told] me, you got to [help Thompson and Zeller],” Walton said. “So I knew that was going to be part of my role this year whether it was while I was playing or while I was not playing. I had a lot of good vets that had taught me a lot about this game, so when I am out there playing with these young talented big guys, if I see something that they are doing or I see something that would be more effective for them during a timeout, I will let them know or if we are in the game together, I will try to point it out so we can do it because if we do it in a game, it will reinforce it. They are both such great kids. They want to learn. They want to get better. It has been a lot of fun doing that.”
Thompson and Zeller have enjoyed playing with Walton this season. The veteran has been showing them how to be a facilitator and setting them up when they get open.
“[Walton is] fun,” Zeller said. “You know he is going to find you if you are open and he can make a lot of great plays. We have a lot of confidence in him that he can score, pass and defend. He is really a great all-around player.”
“He is a great passer,” Thompson said. “He keeps the offense flowing. He sees the court. He might not be the most athletic big guy or the tallest guy, but he is so smart that he knows where the ball needs to go, what works and what doesn’t work. We are blessed to have him on our team.”
The result has been a marked improvement in Thompson’s play and Zeller has a big man to work with, especially now that Anderson Varejao is out for the season.
“He is one of our vets,” Zeller said. “He does a great job of trying to help us and lead us. I think he does a great job every time he comes in and plays as hard as possible.”
“Whenever your big can pass the ball, it just makes you that much more of a threat,” Thompson said. “Luke can pass the ball as a big and that makes him dangerous, so we want to learn from that and be able to facilitate also.”
Walton sees a bright future for the Cavaliers’ two young bigs.
“Tristan’s growth from the beginning of the year has been incredible,” Walton said. “The way he is seeing things, he is even starting to make passes that he wouldn’t have even attempted earlier in the year. To see his all-around growth has been great. Tyler, he sees the floor really well. When his shot is on, he makes it really tough to cover him. He is in working his tail off early before practices and games. A great attitude, those are the types of guys you want on your team. Those are the types of guys you want to rebuild with.”
Watching him play, it’s obvious Walton is having fun. The unwanted ex-Lakers’ player is enjoying his stay in Cleveland.
“It’s awesome,” Walton said. “Obviously losing is very hard, but just being back out there on the court and being able to help some younger players, now having the opportunity to play again and play the way basketball is meant to be played with sharing the ball and passing, I am having a blast right now.”
The injury-plagued player the Lakers happily sent to Cleveland last season is enjoying playing basketball again, embracing the role of mentoring the Cavaliers’ two young big men and leading by example when he gets on the court. It has to be somewhat of a surprise, but Walton still has something to give to the game and Thompson and Zeller are going to develop that much faster because of it.
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