'He played the hand as well as he could' – LeBron defends Walton
LeBron James believes Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton did the best job he could after the team missed the NBA playoffs.
Injuries to the likes of James, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram saw the Lakers' season unravel as their playoff drought continued – a run dating back to 2012-13.
The Lakers are widely expected to dismiss Walton at the conclusion of the regular season, but superstar James – who arrived from the Cleveland Cavaliers at the start of the campaign – praised the third-year coach.
"[You have to] control what you can control, and you've got to play the hand you're dealt," James told Spectrum Sportsnet. "I think [Walton] played the hand as well as he could."
The Lakers began the season with a 20-14 record before James suffered a strained groin on Christmas Day. He missed the next 17 games and the team never recovered.
With playoffs out of the equation, Los Angeles eventually shut down James for the remainder of the season in March.
"Nobody expects for injuries to happen the way they did with our franchise this year. ... I'm not talking two or three games here, everyone's back in the line-up," James said.
"We're talking 15, 20, 25 games. I saw something the other day where myself, B.I. [Ingram], Zo [Ball] and Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] only played 23 games together this year. 15-8. We had a defensive rating of fourth in the NBA, and we were like seventh in offense when we played together in 23 games.
"As good as that is, it's not enough for Luke to even be able to know what he has on a consistent basis, when you don't have a consistent roster every single night throughout a full season."
The Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention last month, which will snap James' streak of eight consecutive Finals appearances. He last missed the postseason in 2005.
James will finish the season averaging 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists.
Jason Kidd, Rick Carlisle and Tyronn Lue have all been linked to the Lakers' coaching job if Walton is dismissed. The Lakers boss, however, believes he will return in 2019-20.