(Reuters) - Luke Walton, the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, will leave the league’s hottest team to take charge of an acclaimed NBA franchise that has fallen on hard times and currently occupies the other end of the spectrum.
Despite being tasked with an unenviable rebuilding job, it is an opportunity he felt he could hardly turn down.
Currently in his second season as assistant coach at the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Walton was confirmed as Byron Scott’s replacement on Friday.
Scott was ditched after the Lakers went 17-65 in the recently-completed season, otherwise known as the Kobe Bryant farewell tour.
Walton, 36, the son of former NBA Most Valuable Player Bill Walton, will be the 26th head coach in Lakers history, and the 22nd since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1960.
He played 564 regular season games during a decade-long career that included eight seasons and two championships with the Lakers.
“We’re excited to bring Luke back to Los Angeles, where we feel he’s going to start an outstanding coaching career,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.
Walton will remain with Golden State for the remainder of the playoffs with a Western Conference second round series looming after they dispatched the Houston Rockets in five games to start the post-season.
Walton was in charge of the team for the first 43 games this season while head coach Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery, helping them make an NBA record 24-0 start to the campaign.
Once Kerr recovered, he led the team to the league’s best ever overall season record of 73-9.
“I loved everything about my time at Golden State and learning from Steve (Kerr),” Walton said in a statement.
“I’ll forever be grateful to him, the organization and the team. But I have always dreamed of being a head coach and the chance to do that for an organization like the Lakers doesn’t come around very often.”
Kerr expressed support for Walton’s decision.
“I‘m incredibly happy for Luke,” Kerr said.
“As we witnessed earlier this season, he has all of the intangibles necessary to be an outstanding head coach in this league, including a terrific understanding of the game.”
Walton will take over a proud franchise that has plummeted down the standings over the past three seasons.
The Lakers, whose 16 NBA titles is second only to the Boston Celtics (17), for many years were the league’s most glamorous team, as well as one of its most successful, dazzling fans with a fast-paced run-and-gun style that became known as “Showtime”.
Their precipitous slide coincided with the decline of legendary guard Bryant, who retired on April 14 at the age of 37.
After going 45-37 in 2012-13, the Lakers won only 27 games the following season, which prompted the firing of then-coach Mike D‘Antoni.
Scott took over in July 2014 but lasted just two years as the team continued to regress, going 21-61 in his first campaign before breaking that franchise record for futility in the recently completed season.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien