It's playoff time, and Bill Walton is excited. Walton gets excited about a lot of things, but the playoffs are something different.
"The highest level of coaching, the highest level of playing, the highest level of business, all the things that I believe epitomize the NBA, are spectacularly magnified during the playoffs," Walton says. "With the reduction in travel and with the reduction of games played per week, the quality of play goes up."
All three of Walton's former teams -- the Blazers, Clippers and Celtics -- are in the 2015 playoffs. Walton won titles with the Blazers and Celtics, but they are long shots this year.
"I wish that Portland had better health," Walton says. "They're so banged up right now it makes it near impossible. The Celtics, they're searching for that ever-elusive electric superstar, whether it be Bill Russell, whether it be Dave Cowens and John Havlicek, whether it be Larry Bird, whether it be Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Who's going to be that next great one?"
Walton had a stretch from 1976-1978 when he was the great one in the NBA. In his first postseason in 1977, he averaged 18.2 points, 15.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 19 appearances. Walton had 20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists and 8 blocks in the 109-107 Game 6 clincher in the Finals against the 76ers.
In 1977-78, Walton averaged 18.9 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists en route to his only NBA MVP award. Walton's Blazers led the NBA with 58 wins, but injuries limited him to two playoff games, and Portland exited in the conference semifinals.
"Ultimately, whether it's the Celtics, the Blazers or the Clippers, you have to have the dynamic player who is just better than anyone else," Walton says. "Right now, those guys are LeBron James, all the guys in San Antonio -- Tony, Timmy and Manu, and Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw and all those players -- and then you've got Stephen Curry and what he's been able to do with Golden State."
In Walton's mind, Golden State also has a new card this year to play: The coach. In his first year in Oakland, Kerr led the Warriors to 67 wins, seven more than the next best team and 16 more than the team's total last season under Mark Jackson. Coaching success has been a long time coming from Kerr, who started as a ball boy for UCLA.
"The Warriors have everything," Walton says. "The Warriors are the future of the NBA. What they have been able to do–brilliant ownership, fantastic management in terms of Rick Welts, Jerry West, Bob Myers, Raymond Ridder, all these phenomenal people who are building the culture. And then you get Steve Kerr, who comes in there with an incredible background of growing up under the incredible umbrella of John Wooden and then going to play for Lute Olsen, who's the 21st century version of John Wooden and then ultimately making it with Phil Jackson and transitioning after Phil stopped to Gregg Popovich. What better learning environment could you have? And then the fact that Jerry West is overseeing everything and these incredible fans, it's the perfect scenario."
Now that Kerr has made it to an NBA coaching gig, it is his turn to be the teacher. His next disciple: Luke Walton. Bill's son played 10 seasons for the Lakers (under Jackson) and Cavaliers from 2003-2013. Luke's first coaching job came as an assistant at the University of Memphis during the 2011 NBA lockout. In 2013-14, he worked as a player development coach for the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the NBA Developmental League. This season, Luke was hired as an assistant coach on Kerr's staff.
"As a dad, I could not be happier for young Luke Walton to be a part of something so very, very special," Bill says. "It's a dream come true for me. I am the proudest and luckiest dad in the world."
Of course, Bill may be able to watch his son win a championship, which would be Luke's third on top of his two titles as a Lakers player.
"It's as exhilarating as can be," he says.." We're as excited as can be for what promises to be a fantastic run for the roses come mid-to-late June."
As the Pelicans were reminded Thursday night, the Warriors have been near impossible to put away this season. Much of the reason has been Stephen Curry's rise to NBA superstardom. The guard's averages of 23.8 points, 7.7 assists and 2.0 steals may have earned this past MVP's MVP approval, although a certain four-time MVP is not close behind.
"LeBron is overall the best player in basketball and has been for a few years now, much like Michael Jordan in the 90s." Walton says. "The MVP is the highest single award and it should never be something that's treated lightly or casually. Ultimately, you have to beat LeBron James, but Stephen Curry this year -- 67 victories -- rarely done at the NBA level and the way he has driven so much for the picture of basketball and all the different things going on, I'd say this year, for the regular season MVP, that'd be Stephen Curry."
Along with the high level of play the NBA has shown in 2014-15, Walton praises the front office of the league. Walton still holds close ties to the NBA and could go on for hours about the job of Adam Silver during the last year and change.
"Imagine the responsibility," Walton says. "To have the opportunity and privilege to succeed David Stern, who has proven to be the most important single individual in the history of basketball. Now, Adam Silver has seamlessly taken that right on and just kept moving it forward. Adam Silver is fantastic. He's a really cool dude, as smart as can be, a visionary leader. He is a consensus team builder. He is absolutely doing a marvelous job. We could not be happier, we could not be more proud, we could not be more fortunate or lucky to have Adam Silver be able to come in and take right over and make it all happen. It's awesome."
As for Walton's role in the NBA, he is currently part of an ongoing promotion between the league and FanDuel, an online daily sports fantasy game. On nba.com/oneday, fans can participate in a fantasy contest every day from April 18 to May 18. The 31 winners will earn a trip to Barclays Center for a VIP playoffs watch party and one winner will earn a grand prize trip to the NBA Finals with Bill Walton.
In other words, one lucky fan is about to have a wild day of talking Grateful Dead, John Wooden and NBA basketball with one of the most skilled and enchanting players in basketball history.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.