EL SEGUNDO — Once again, Luke Walton sat on the sidelines and watched a basketball game. Instead of wearing a suit, Walton dressed in street clothes. Instead of coaching the Lakers, Walton observed UCLA’s victory over Washington on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion as a fan.
The symbolism may have seemed rich. Walton watched UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who is considered one of the top prospects. The Lakers (19-42) enter Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics (39-22) at Staples Center with a 46.9 percent chance of retaining their top-3 protected pick. And for what it’s worth, Walton called Bell “good” after scoring 19 points against the Huskies.
Yet, Walton said he has occasionally watched college basketball this year more as a fan than as an NBA coach evaluating future draft prospects. On Wednesday, Walton, Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell and rookie forward Brandon Ingram attended UCLA’s game in hopes to see Ball and Huskies guard Markelle Fultz, who has missed four of the team’s last six games because of a right knee injury.
“If I have a free night to watch basketball, I’d rather try to my best to sit there and enjoy watching the game,” said Walton, who also saw UCLA play against Oregon State in late December. “We have a whole scouting department that has been watching them all year. We got European scouts. When the time comes, we’ll take the appropriate amount of time to sit down and actually watch it from more of a scout’s view than when I casually have the game if I’m out at dinner or whatnot.”
Still, Walton conceded he has maintained that mindset only 50 percent of the time he watches games.
“For the most part, you can’t help it,” Walton said. “A lot of times in the hotel, I think I can rewind it. I want to see what play they really ran so I can either steal the play or see how they got into it from the beginning.”
Walton, a University of Arizona alum, hardly wanted to make much about the possibility the Lakers could draft Ball. Or that Ball’s dad reportedly has expressed interest in the Lakers selecting him.
“I heard he said it, and then he didn’t say it,” Walton said. “I don’t know. That’s why I try not to pay attention to any of that stuff anymore.”