OAKLAND, Calif. -- There's an NBA paradox on the horizon, as we're very likely to see a winless man receive an NBA coach of the month award. Due to a quirky rule for interim coaches, Luke Walton's wins during the Golden State Warriors' historic 15-0 start to the season all officially funnel to Steve Kerr, who's still out with painful complications from his first back surgery.
What a bizarre status for a man currently thriving in the public eye -- undefeated and winless, all at once. It's not just the record books that don't know quite what to do with Walton, but neither do hoops observers. The talk radio questions vary from, "Is he a great coach?" to "Is he proving that coaching doesn't matter?"
Adding to the confusion, Kerr and Walton are engaged in a brutal war of deferential humility. To hear Walton tell it, he's just a functionary, carrying out Kerr's well-laid plans. To hear Kerr tell it, Walton deserves all the credit.
"I think it's ridiculous," Kerr told ESPN.com when asked about getting all of Walton's wins. "I'm sitting in the locker room and watching the games on TV, and I'm not even traveling to most of the road games. Luke's doing all the work with the rest of the staff. Luke is 15-0 right now. I'm not. So it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, to be honest with you. I don't even understand it."
Walton expresses no angst over being winless, saying of Kerr, "Steve's done a lot for me. It's the least I can do to add a couple wins on his total for him with all he's done for me."
Right now the 35-year-old Walton is winning without the wins, and not just in terms of "15-0." What's happened has been benefited his reputation, obviously. As recently as 2014, Walton was a player development coach for the Los Angeles Lakers' D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Under Kerr's stewardship, and suddenly in Kerr's absence, he's emerged as a head-coaching prospect.
The beleaguered 2-11 Lakers, in Oakland on Tuesday, are looking to prove themselves more than just a human sacrifice to whatever deities bless teams with record setting starts. Walton's former team will try to stop the Warriors from beginning 16-0 but not before complimenting Walton in a way that's hard to ignore.
"I used to tease him all the time," Kobe Bryant said of Walton, his former teammate. "I told him he was the next Phil [Jackson] because he was an average player with a messed-up back. I said, 'Dude, if this is not Phil -- I mean, you're a hippie, 6-9' or whatever he is. I used to rib him all the time about that. But honestly he always had a really brilliant mind and understanding flow and tempo and spacing and how to manage a team the right way. I couldn't be any happier for him. He looks very comfortable in that role."
Furthering the Phil analogy, Kobe went on: "I think Phil saw a lot of himself in Luke, honestly. And when Phil went down, [former New York Knicks coach Red Holzman] really took him under his wing. [Phil] did the same for Luke. Luke was a part of the coaching staff meetings, and Phil really brought him along and I think he still does. If you're going to have a mentor, Phil is a pretty good one. That goes for Kerr, too. Kerr has had a couple, and then [Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich. It doesn't get any better than that."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Walton's job isn't as easy as it might seem, even with all that talent on the Warriors roster.
"Having the weapons is half of it, but even though you have weapons, you can screw it up," Kupchak said. "It doesn't look like he screwed it up. I'm happy for him. He's done a great job. We had him as a D-Fender assistant a year ago and he paid some dues in Memphis during the lockout. Those are things that you don't have to do."
"I think it's ridiculous. ... Luke is 15-0 right now. I'm not. So, it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, to be honest with you."Steve Kerr on NBA rule that interim coaches don't get credit for wins
It's easy to speculate on where that situation is eventually headed, but for now, Walton has a big job to do with Kerr's return date still uncertain. Though the job is daunting, it hasn't changed his manner. He still works out players, just as he did as an assistant.
The leap from assistant to head coach is a fraught one in the NBA. The league is replete with stories of popular assistants who lost locker rooms upon gaining the power to determine playing time. Walton has noted he can change only so much, because players see through fakes. Each NBA athlete encounters so many people who want things from him. He develops a powerful B.S. detector after years spent deflecting attempted manipulations. Now imagine trying to boss around a locker room of such people while acting as someone other than yourself.
Apart from an upbringing steeped in the language of hoops, Walton's advantage is that he's very much himself, quite comfortable in his own skin. Quick to smile, quick to crack a joke, Walton is "laid-back," as Kerr calls it -- a cheerfully languid San Diegan in a job usually reserved for paranoid stress cases.
Another Walton characteristic: He's got a tactile form of communication. He often slings an arm over the shoulder in conversations with players, and, really, everyone else. That might seem like an irrelevant, random trait, but a study conducted on physical communication in the NBA suggested that leaders tend to touch.
Whatever his methods, Luke Walton's coaching formula is working. He touches without being touchy, remains an assistant while acting as head coach and stays undefeated sans a win to his name. Walton may be winless, but his stock is certainly rising.
ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.