The Sacramento Kings are retaining Luke Walton as their head coach for next season. Walton went 62-82 in his first two seasons with the Kings, posting identical 31-41 records in each. He was hired after former coach Dave Joerger was controversially fired despite leading the 2018-19 Kings to a 39-43 record, their best in the 15-year span since their playoff drought began. Walton was hired by former top basketball executive and Lakers teammate Vlade Divac, who was replaced in his role by Monte McNair last offseason. New regimes often want to bring in new coaches, but in this case, McNair has chosen to stick with Walton for next season.
"Luke and I talk every day, we have a great working relationship -- he's got the support of the players," McNair told reporters at a Zoom press conference Tuesday. "We found some success, especially late in the season to get back into the play-in [postseason tournament] race. And ultimately I felt that we could build on that, and that he's the coach who's going to get us back to the playoffs."
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Despite Walton having two years remaining on his contract worth $11.5 million, bringing him back was a "basketball decision," McNair said.
"I understand that's kind of out there, but I've been given every resource I need to get this team back to the playoffs and this was a basketball decision."
Walton's coaching career got off to the greatest start in league history. With former boss Steve Kerr recovering from back surgery, Walton led the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record overall before the head coach returned to the bench. Walton parlayed that success into a permanent head-coaching job with the Los Angeles Lakers, but after three seasons in the lottery, he moved on to Sacramento for the 2019-20 season.
What doomed his first year with the Kings was an inability to recapture Joerger's success in transition. Sacramento led the NBA in fast-break points during the 2018-19 campaign while finishing third overall in pace. They fell to 19th in pace last season, and Walton sought to correct the issue. They rose back up to ninth this season, De'Aaron Fox's best as a professional, and with first-round pick Tyrese Haliburton showing quite a bit of promise in his rookie year, the backcourt seems to be set for the foreseeable future. However, the league's worst defense prevented the team from improving its record this season, and that will have to be addressed in the offseason.
Walton is Sacramento's 10th head coach since the team let Rick Adelman, the most successful coach in franchise history, leave after the 2005-06 season. That stretch coincides with their NBA-record 15-year playoff drought, and that likely isn't a coincidence. Successful teams usually have some degree of continuity, and rather than change directions yet again, McNair is trusting that another year under Walton can push the Kings back into the playoffs next season.