D'Antoni returns to LA as Walton takes over Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- Another chapter of storylines unfolds when the Los Angeles Lakers tip off their 2016-17 campaign Wednesday night.

Last season, it was Kobe Bryant's final year that grabbed the headlines, punctuated by a 60-point performance in his last game and a rare Lakers win.

This time it's Luke Walton stepping into the spotlight as he begins his first season as coach when the Lakers face the Houston Rockets at Staples Center in the season opener for both clubs.

Walton replaces Byron Scott, who was dismissed after a franchise-worst 17-65 run last season. While Scott was known as a taskmaster and clashed with players, Walton brings a laid-back approach that the Lakers believe suits his young club well.

"I like leading by love," Walton said, according to the L.A. Times. "But I had hippie parents so that's to be expected. It's the way I was raised."

Walton, formerly the top assistant at Golden State under Steve Kerr, rose as a hot coaching property last season by guiding the Warriors to a 39-4 mark and winning an NBA-record 24 in a row to open the season as interim coach during Kerr's absence for health reasons.

Walton already was on the radar of up-and-coming assistants destined for NBA coaching jobs, but that successful stretch expedited his elevation.

Obviously, the Lakers' job has major challenges. Walton will attempt to mix a crop of young talent (D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and rookie No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram) and blend it with a core of veterans (Lou Williams, Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Timofey Mozgov and Nick Young).

"There's no better guy to lead a franchise and teach a franchise from a youthful perspective that he brings to the game with maturity and knowledge," Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson told the Orange County Register recently. "He sees the game on a different level. There's so many levels at this game. There's so many games within a game. Few can see it with substance the way that he does."

Mike D'Antoni will return for the first time as a head coach since he quit the Lakers' job after the 2013-14 season because the club refused to extend him a long-term deal.

James Harden, the NBA's second-leading scorer at 29 points per game last season, leads a Rockets team that will play for the first time in three campaigns without center Dwight Howard, who bolted to Atlanta as a free agent.

"I think everybody is excited, everybody's ready to get going. We've had a good preseason," said D'Antoni, whose club finished 5-2 in exhibitions. "We've got still a lot of growth that's got to going on and we've got to get a lot better, but I think we're at a reasonably good point."

The Rockets will play without guard Patrick Beverly, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday. Beverly is expected to miss at least three weeks.

"We have to have a couple of guys (who) are going to step up without Pat," D'Antoni said.

In addition to Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene are among those players expected to carry to the load.