The Los Angeles Lakers will begin their 69th season Wednesday night, with Luke Walton making his debut as their coach, guiding a team coming off its worst record in its illustrious history.
The game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center also begins the Lakers’ post-Kobe Bryant era. Bryant retired at the end of last season, ending a 20-season NBA career, during which he was the league’s third all-time leading scorer and helped the Lakers win five NBA championships.
Walton was hired as coach April 29 to succeed Byron Scott, who was fired following the worst two seasons in the team’s history, including a 17-65 record last season. The Lakers have missed the playoffs a team-record three consecutive seasons.
Walton’s general goals for his team: “Play hard, play well, be good at defense and don’t foul.”
“Winning in this league is difficult,” said Walton, an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors for the past two seasons. “We got a young team that’s growing and we shoot ourselves in the foot every time we send the other team to the free throw line 30 times.”
The Lakers were 2-6 in the preseason, losing their final five games.
The team consists of two rookies — forward Brandon Ingram, the second player chosen in the draft, and Croatian center Ivica Zubac, the 32nd choice — three second-year players — guard D’Angelo Russell, forward Larry Nance Jr. and Brazilian guard Marcelo Huertas — and three third-year players — forward Julius Randle, guard Jordan Clarkson and forward-center Tarik Black
In addition to the two rookies, the 15-player roster includes four other newcomers — Russian center Timofey Mozgov, forward Luol Deng from South Sudan and forward Thomas Robinson — all signed as free agents — and Spanish guard Jose Calderon, acquired in a trade with Chicago.
Calderon won’t play tonight because of a slight left calf strain, Walton said.
Houston also made a coaching change following last season when it was 41- 41 and eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rockets hired former Laker coach Mike D’Antoni to replace Kevin McHale, who was fired 11 games into the season, with J.B. Bickerstaff serving as the interim coach for the final 71 regular season games and the playoffs.
The Lakers were 0-4 against Houston last season.
There will be several special effects changes at Staples Center, including new projectors, new video and court projection, according to John Black, the Lakers’ vice president of public relations.
The national anthem will be sung by Alisan Porter, the spring 2016 champion of the NBC singing competition “The Voice.” The new Laker Girls squad will be introduced at halftime, when they will also perform.
All fans in attendance will receive a Lakers opening day T-shirt.
The game also marks the start of the Lakers Trees for Threes program. The Lakers will plant a tree in the Los Angeles area for each 3-point basket they make at home games through their second-to-last home game on April 7.
—City News Service