Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Johnson said on SiriusXM Radio Thursday:
“This is all about making sure that they can say something on ESPN and everybody can just talk. We have a system the ball moves around, a lot of pick-and-roll plays. If you watch us play, the ball is not in LeBron James’ hands all of the time. It can’t be. Because you want to pass it around, you want to get into your pick-and-roll plays. But hey, we’re the Lakers, people are going to be talking about us. But that’s not how it’s going right now.”
ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst cited scouts saying James would ignore calls from Walton to run what he preferred when acting as the team’s primary ball-handler. James has taken an increased ball-handling role following Rajon Rondo’s hand injury.
While many ran with the story, Windhorst’s report said the ignored play calls were not meant as a “slight” to Walton. It said the Lakers coach has allowed LeBron to run the offense when he brings the ball up the floor.
Walton has come under fire for his rotations and decision-making during their 11-9 start. Johnson criticized Walton earlier this month after the Lakers lost five of their first seven games.
The Lakers have turned it around since, going 9-4 since. Part of the reason is James’ more hands-on approach to the offense after attempting to play more off the ball.
James has publicly supported Walton, but he’s no stranger to strained relationships with coaches. He famously butted heads with Erik Spoelstra early in his time in Miami and never jelled with David Blatt in Cleveland. Blatt was ultimately fired for Tyronn Lue, who led the Cavs to the 2016 NBA title.
Johnson has publicly said he has no plans to fire Walton during the season.