By Brian Mahoney/The Associated Press
Luke Walton will check out another possible career while locked out of his current one.
The Lakers forward will be working as an assistant to Memphis coach Josh Pastner in a deal that ends along with the NBA lockout so he can return to Los Angeles.
Pastner announced the hiring Monday in a move that must be approved by university and Tennessee State Board of Regents. But the coach said the Tigers can learn a lot from Walton, who has been coached by Phil Jackson and played with Kobe Bryant.
“It’s going to be that opportunity to find out how much I’m into coaching and kind of get a lot of experience from this opportunity, to where I think most players don’t get to do anything like that until they actually retire,” Walton said in a phone interview.
Walton has two years left on his contract with the Lakers, who drafted him in the second round out of Arizona in 2003, and he made clear his priority is still as a pro player.
But he enjoyed his taste of coaching high school players during a camp earlier this summer, so was intrigued when his former teammate sent him a text asking if he’s be interested in coming aboard.
“When this came, I just think it’s a golden opportunity to not only help the kids in Memphis but also to explore (coaching),” Walton said.
“I had a great time doing it and I think obviously I wanted to play basketball and I love basketball, but unfortunately for every player there comes the end of his career and it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.”
Walton said Pastner assured him he’d have access to all the Tigers’ trainers and equiptment so he can continue working out. He plans to bring his personal shooting coach him him, and knows there are other pros to work out with in Memphis.
He’ll earn a paycheck — “obviously not what I was making in the NBA but still a very good living” — but had other incentive to try it instead of seeking a low-paying playing job overseas, which he didn’t think made sense given his injuries in recent years.
“It’s an opportunity not about just finding a job with the lockout going. It’s a lot bigger for me,” Walton said. “It’s huge as far as learning about coaching … gives me the best opportunity possible to stay physically fit and physically ready.”
Though nobody can predict when Walton will have to leave, he said Pastner told him he’d rather have Walton for as long as possible than someone else guaranteed to be there all year. Walton will travel to Memphis later this week and work with the Tigers’ big men on a staff filled with former Arizona players, including former NBA guard Damon Stoudamire.
Walton couldn’t check with the Lakers for permission because of the lockout rules, which he wanted to do because “obviously my loyalty and my career still lies with them first,” he said.
“My focus and main goal is as an NBA player,” Walton added.
He did talk it over with his Hall of Fame father, Bill, who has his own history with Memphis. Bill Walton scored 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting to beat then-Memphis State 87-66 in the 1973 NCAA tournament championship.
“Obviously he knows and really likes the coaching staff over there and Josh,” Luke Walton said. “He wasn’t huge on me leaving Southern California to go to Memphis and do this, but he realized that it’s a great opportunity and just like in every other thing I’ve done in my life, he said he’ll stand behind me and support me.”