CLEVELAND: Luke Walton’s career with the Cavaliers could have started much sooner than it did. When Walton was entering the NBA in 2003, the team called him to request a private workout the day before the draft. He was exhausted, but agreed to come to Cleveland for one final workout.
He had performed for 16 teams in the previous 19 days and thought he was done with the auditions, but the Cavs were about to select LeBron James with the top overall pick and were considering Walton at the top of the second round. Given the opportunity to play with James, Walton agreed to the workout.
Only it was a disaster.
The Cavs worked out Walton against Kyle Korver. The two had seen plenty of each other in various private workouts across NBA cities and Walton, the star out of Arizona, more than held his own in most of them. But his workout in front of former Cavs General Manager Jim Paxson and the coaching staff was a debacle.
“Just a bad day of basketball,” Walton said. “It was so bad, I literally went up to them after it was over and apologized. I couldn’t believe how bad it was. Now nine years later, here we are.”
The Cavs instead took Jason Kapono with the second selection in the second round. Walton, who turned 32 on Wednesday, went with the next pick to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won two championships during his eight seasons.
The Cavs acquired both Kapono and Walton and a first-round pick from the Lakers at the trade deadline two weeks ago for backup point guard Ramon Sessions. They quickly waived Kapono, but they’re still trying to figure out what they have in Walton.
Scott loves his on-court intelligence and his passing ability. Now they have to work on his conditioning.
Walton had become a $6 million ghost in Lakers coach Mike Brown’s system. Despite being the healthiest he has been in years, Walton didn’t fit with what Brown wanted and rarely got off the bench.
He has been given new life on a Cavs team that is crumbling. They’ve lost five in a row and eight of their past nine in part because they can’t get any production from their bench. Walton is still playing his way into shape, but he’s hoping to help fix that. He has played 54 minutes in the Cavs’ past three games after playing a total of 65 minutes with the Lakers this season.
When Sunday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns got out of hand early, Walton played 26 minutes — easily the most he had played in one game in more than two months.
“I thought he was about to pass out,” joked Cavs coach Byron Scott, who didn’t intend on playing him so many minutes so quickly.
Walton can provide another veteran voice in a Cavs locker room devoid of winning. He is the only player on the roster to win a championship.
“The one thing I told him is he has a voice because he has won,” Scott said. “He’s done things no other player has done here. A veteran at his level to be able to come in here and share his experiences with the guys is important. But they also see him as a guy who can help us. I think he’s looking at this as a second chance and I think he’s looking forward to it.”
At this stage of his career, Walton said he would choose playing time over sitting the bench on a contender.
“I’ve been to four Finals. I’ve won two of them,” he said. “I love that organization, I love my teammates out there. But Coach and I weren’t on the same page, so it was nice to be able to come out and have another opportunity to play somewhere.”
Walton’s ties to the Cavs actually run fairly deep. Assistant coach Joe Prunty was the freshman basketball coach on Walton’s high school team, the strangely named University of San Diego High School. Walton skipped freshman basketball and went straight to varsity, but Prunty was still an assistant to the varsity team.
Scott ran a basketball fantasy camp for adults in San Diego, where Walton’s father, Bill, helped him out. The bash for the campers at the end of the week was always held at Walton’s house.
In fact, plenty of parties were held at the Walton house. Bill Walton is just as famous for his unique flair and affinity for bands like the Grateful Dead as he is for his two NBA championships and Most Valuable Player season with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“It was an interesting childhood,” Walton said. “When you’re actually growing up, you don’t know any different. It’s the life you’re in, so you think it’s normal.
“It’s not ’til you get older do you realize the Grateful Dead taking hot tubs in your backyard isn’t an everyday thing. Larry Bird coming over in the summer and playing 2-on-2 with your dad and brother are pretty cool things. But at the time, we were just having fun and enjoying it and kind of thought it’s what everyone did.”
Gibson gets second opinion
Daniel Gibson visited the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., on Wednesday for a second opinion on the torn tendon in his left foot, a source close to Gibson confirmed. Gibson will likely need surgery to repair the tear.
If Gibson elects to have the surgery, he would be finished for the season. His odds of returning now seem bleak, anyway.
Gibson is averaging 7.5 points this season, but is shooting a career-worst 35 percent. Next season is the final year on his contract with the Cavs, but it is only partially guaranteed.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.