For many Sacramento Kings fans, the first day of the offseason wasn’t kicked off the way most fans would have hoped. The reason: it was reported that Luke Walton will remain as head coach next year.
According to a league source, Luke Walton will continue as head coach of the Sacramento Kings next season.— James Ham (@James_HamNBCS) May 17, 2021
Even after two straight seasons where the Kings had a losing record and no place in the playoffs.
Walton’s Kings sure don’t look like the up-and-coming team they once did when Dave Joerger was head coach in 2018-19. Predictably, fans have questioned Walton’s capacities as head coach after watching what appears to be their team’s regression under his leadership.
So the question has to be asked: Why is Monte McNair and company bringing back Walton for another year?
Besides the fact that Walton is under contract for two more years for a total of $11M more and other practical reasons, there are other factors at play for why we will not see a head coaching change in Sacramento. And they could form a constellation of silver linings for what’s to come.
A seemingly glaring factor influencing the decision to keep Walton in Sacramento is the embarrassingly long list of coaches to have come and gone since the last playoff appearance for the Kings in 2006.
After not renewing Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman’s contract in the 2006 offseason, the Kings have seen a total of ten different head coaches, five of whom had the job during Ranadive’s tenure as owner.
There is certainly an optics-related motive at play here. Without a doubt, it was widely seen as an impulsive decision to remove Joerger in 2019 after what looked like a more than encouraging season. With that still in the rear view, the ownership wouldn’t want to look like it was erratically jumping from lily pad to lily pad, firing head coach after head coach. If such a free-style strategy were employed, it would appear that there was no strategy, no game plan, and that the organization was simply closing their eyes and swinging like hell.
Keeping Walton around says the opposite. It signals that the team is sticking to a single direction that it believes in, even if it has not had the opportunity to operate on all cylinders yet.
With those optics, not only does it show Sacramento’s intention to avoid being an even larger laughing stock in the league, it also illustrates that some things are working and that there is some progress being generated, even if it may not look like it.
Considering what the Kings have been through, there is a lot of positivity in keeping Walton as head coach.
After just two seasons, it’s not entirely absurd to see Sacramento falling short of the playoffs still. As much as it is disappointing, it’s not like the team has willingly plunged into tanking year after year. It could very well be that another season to iron some things out could allow for the moment where Walton’s Kings take the next step.
Also, think about these last two years; they’ve been unimaginable nightmares. One was a season postponed by the pandemic and continued later than usual into the year, only delaying and shortening the following season. Not to mention many in-house changes of personnel around the organization, including the general manager. It has not been an ordinary two seasons by any stretch.
And as is customary in small-market Sacramento, it has not been an ordinary roster situation either. The roster composition was questionable entering the season, with NBA analysts like Richard Jefferson taking notice.
The @SacramentoKings have one of THE WORST LINEUPS in basketball! That’s it, that’s the tweet !!— Richard Jefferson (@Rjeff24) November 25, 2020
Despite this, Walton has made the most with what he has been given in the last two seasons, making late pushes for final postseason bids in both campaigns as head coach.
Lack of talent is multiplied tenfold when injuries become an issue among the actual talent. The health troubles have mainly followed Marvin Bagley but have also affected other important players like De’Aaron Fox, Richaun Holmes, Harrison Barnes, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Tyrese Haliburton at various points over the years.
Despite all the incongruent challenges, Kings players genuinely like Walton. When keeping an eye on a longterm, proactive franchise game plan, that feedback attests to the proper functions of some of the most vital components of this organization.
Franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox has made it clear that he wants Walton to stick around, describing his head coach as “someone that I’ve grown to trust.”
“If you’re not winning as a team, guys get traded, guys who were barely hanging on … get cut and are out the league, and coaches get fired,” Fox told Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated. “Everybody wants to continue to grow together and keep this group together, and continue to play for a coach that you trust in.”
Breakout rookie Tyrese Haliburton has also had encouraging words regarding his head coach:
“He’s very much so a player’s coach … I love him. I love playing for him, so he’s definitely high up in that regard. We get along really well and I look forward to playing for him for years.”
When the two players that make up the bulk of your franchise’s foundation verbalize their support for a specific head coach, that is a convincing reason to keep that coach around.
That relationship between a coach and his players has manifested itself with some admirable results. It’s hard to overlook the giant leap forward De’Aaron Fox took this year and the incredible first year Tyrese Haliburton had under this coach. In no way is this solely because of Walton, but when your franchise’s two key players are producing both magic on the court and praise for their head coach, then there’s some undeniable synergy at play between the three.
Hope is a word that has been tossed around a lot in the last decade of Kings basketball and its not out of the ordinary to scoff at its usage, but even at this point, all Kings fans can do is hope—hope that McNair and company have a worthy plan and that this team can illustrate it under Walton next season. And signs show that there may actually be something to grab on to.