LOS ANGELES -- With all the devastating injuries and tumultuous trade rumors that sank the Lakers last season, LeBron James says Luke Walton "did as great of a job as you could do under the circumstances."
Walton, now the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, returned to Los Angeles for the first time since parting ways with the Lakers at the end of last season. He and James spent a little time before the Lakers' 99-97 victory over the Kings on Friday night and reflected on what happened last season, when the Lakers finished 37-45.
"Throughout everything that was going on, we were two of the guys that just tried to remain positive and patient, even with the circumstances that we had," James said at the Lakers' shootaround.
After a rocky start that included then-team president Magic Johnson chastising Walton in a meeting, the coach and James had the Lakers heading in the right direction as they were 20-14 after blowing out the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Christmas Day.
However, in that game, the Lakers lost James and Rajon Rondo to injuries, and the season slipped away after that. Persistent trade rumors also affected several of the young Lakers and the team chemistry.
"I mean, we were right where we wanted to be on Dec. 25, went up into Golden State and played against a very good team and had a very good game," James said. "And then the injury happened and I'm out 6½ weeks.
"I don't think anyone could have predicted that, including myself and including Luke. And we were just behind the eight ball. But throughout it all we just tried to remain positive, even throughout with the young guys, with the older guys and whatever the case may be. So I think he did as great of a job as you could do under the circumstances."
Upon returning to Staples Center for the first time since last season, Walton greeted several Lakers staff members and friends. He tried to steer clear of questions about his Lakers past but did entertain a question about what James said.
"Um, I agree with LeBron," Walton said. "[There's] a longer answer and I've spent time reflecting on last season, but for now, couple of hours before a game, it is more focused on tonight's task and our game planning and rotations and things like that."
Hired to groom young talent like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, Walton went 98-148 in three seasons with the Lakers before both sides moved on. Last year, Walton entered the season with tremendous expectations and pressure after the Lakers signed James in free agency. The Lakers replaced Walton with Frank Vogel.
Now Walton is tasked with grooming another roster full of young talent in Sacramento. Walton said he still follows young former Lakers such as Ingram, Ball and Josh Hart in New Orleans, and he sees a healthy James dominating again.
"It's always a special place for me to come into this building," Walton said. "I have a lot of great memories in L.A. It's a great opportunity playing here and coaching here."
"LeBron, he's one of the greatest players of all time if not the greatest," Walton said. "So I'm sure last year getting hurt, not making the playoffs, I mean, he's going right now. And this team kind of follows that lead. They're playing incredibly well. Their defense and offense starts with him. He looks really good."