To say the head coaching search for the Kings is important is an understatement.
After sixteen years of disjointed operations where Sacramento’s lone consistency has been lousy play, the necessity for a firm, effective leader is beyond vital. At the same time, the team, by all appearances, seems to be on the cusp of making the progression to turn things around, so the fit has to be just right.
“We want the coaching candidates that we do bring in to bring their own style, to tell us how they want to do this,” GM Monte McNair said of the search.
The two members of the team’s foundation both agreed that “structure” is a key component to what they would like to see in a coach.
“Personally, I’ve always just wanted structure,” De’Aaron Fox told Kayte Christensen. “Like, knowing — game in, game out, day in, day out — you know exactly what you’re going to do, everybody knows their role. I think that’s a big thing for me.”
“I agree with Fox,” Domantas Sabonis chimed. “Structure is the number-one thing — every player knowing their role, nobody doing too much, nobody’s doing too little. That’s what makes a winning team: people know exactly what they have to do and not trying to be anything extra, and the main goal is to win the game at the at the end of the day.”
An initial list of names was floated out regarding options the Kings are looking at, including Kenny Atkinson, Terry Stotts, Mike Brown, and Mark Jackson, but the list goes on. There are, in fact, more names the Kings are or could be considering.
With the need to find the perfect fit to build off the post-deadline system and create an environment for what former interim coach Alvin Gentry called “sustainable winning,” the more candidates the merrier. Some are serious contenders, others less so, but all are nevertheless worth ruminating over.
As the former head coach of the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Lakers, Frank Vogel has eleven years of experience, posting a win percentage of .526 in that time, and .557 in the playoffs.
Vogel’s name was added to the Kings’ list this week for “heavy consideration.”
He is regarded as a positive spirit with an underdog attitude who, as a result, can get the most out of his guys on the defensive end. In fact, the primary aspect that stands out on Vogel’s résumé is his history of coaching some extremely good defensive teams.
In Indiana, he was credited with transforming the towering Roy Hibbert from clunker to a defensive stalwart who nearly defined the term rim-protector and who became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Furthermore, the years Vogel’s Pacers made back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, they were the number-one defensive team each season.
Though he was one of Vogel’s prized on-court projects, Hibbert’s opinion of Vogel didn’t hold up. Game one’s final minutes in their first trip to the Conference Finals against Lebron’s Heat saw Hibbert on the bench, shaking his head as Miami scored a couple times in the paint and won.
As is typical any time the national sports sphere has their eyes on something, the majority were initially wrong. Everyone shook their head at Vogel, too, but as time’s gone on and more reasonable voices prevail, it’s clear the coach didn’t have much choice.
Those Heat teams were some of the best in the league’s history, and one of their big-three was Chris Bosh, who down the stretch would draw Hibbert’s defense. That’s not a good matchup even if you do need to protect the rim against LeBron’s ability to drive—Bosh’s ability to hit mid-ranged shots would just as easily draw the vertical presence out of his comfort zone, so to speak.
Vogel stated that Miami just had “a more intelligent plan against Roy Hibbert than New York did” in the previous round. As was pointed out, this was a nice way of saying the Knicks were far less dynamic and thus required less versatility to play against. The Heat were anything but that, and the Pacers lost that series in seven games.
Seeing how the Pacers never got over the hump—especially following the second Conference Finals appearance when Paul George broke his leg in a scrimmage for Team USA—there are a lot of reasons why Vogel’s name may not possess much magnetism.
His two years in Orlando add to that perception, but again, it may not be fair to Vogel.
The Magic were a young team in need of development when he was hired, which was a completely different scenario than the title-contending situation in Indiana. Now, of course, it’s odd that such a positive, spirited guy wasn’t able to do much with an inexperienced team, but other factors played in.
For instance, there were many poor moves that were out of his control. Right after being hired, the team’s talented, albeit young, core was diminished when Victor Oladipo was traded to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka, who was traded at the deadline. Upon Vogel’s arrival, Orlando had also blundered by signing Bismack Biyombo to a massive contract.
That General Manager in year one was Rob Hennigan, who was so awful that the previous coach, Scott Skiles, found quitting more appealing than sticking around. Even as Hennigan was gone for Vogel’s second year, there was no chance for success, and Vogel’s replacement, Steve Clifford—another Kings candidate—wrangled together a playoff run for the Magic.
Vogel found success again amid an extremely talented Lakers team, winning the NBA Championship (accompanied by a fat asterisk, of course). In those first two seasons in Los Angeles, not only did the team succeed because of the Lebron-Anthony Davis pairing, but also because they were terrific defensive teams (ranked third and first respectively).
Among some sportswriters, it’s clear Vogel’s third season couldn’t locate such success having lost guys like Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dennis Schröder, and Montrezl Harrell. Without those guys—and with older versions of Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony—the Lakers finished 21st in the league defensively. Add in some injuries and it was destined to collapse.
So it’s evident that given a good foundation, solid length and athleticism on the roster, and the stability Monte McNair is seeking to unfurl from now on, Frank Vogel could really do some positive things with next year’s Kings team, hence the “heavy consideration.”
Still, some may point to Hibbert and, more recently, Russell Westbrook as reasons to be weary of Vogel due to their displeasure with the coach. However, all indications point to Vogel being a professional if such dissatisfaction occurs.
When he had Hibbert on the bench in the playoffs, or when Larry Bird would wince at the mistakes that originated from the big man’s lack of versatility, Vogel never came out and said his player was the problem. Rather, he focused on trying to find ways to readjust.
As Vogel and Westbrook’s relationship wrecked and washed ashore quickly, the coach maintained a similar degree of maturity. Rookie Austin Reaves recently commented on how everyone knew about the poor relationship, but never did it “seep into the locker room.” Reeves added that neither let it affect their communication both “on the court and in sessions” because they were trying to win.
It would be a monumental task to try to compare Vogel to Phil Jackson or anyone like that, but it is also a difficult argument to say Vogel wouldn’t be a good option for the Kings. A positive spirit with a defensive track record and a reputation for professionalism could be great for a team that looks more than ready to try and take the next step.
Scott Brooks has 12 years of head coaching experience—seven with Oklahoma City and five with Washington. With a career win percentage of .557 and one year removed from his job with the Wizards, Brooks is a name worth listing, even as he has not made it known whether he is looking to be a head coach right now.
As one can imagine, he has reportedly been included in the Lakers’ long list.
Brooks was an assistant on Chauncy Billups’ sideline in Portland this past year, being hired by the first-year coach precisely for the experience he can provide to that sideline.
“Me, as a first-timer — it’s gonna be really important that I have a ton of experience on my staff,” Billups admitted.
In 2010, in Brooks’ first full season as head coach, he won the Coach of the Year by leading the Thunder to a 50-win season. Those OKC teams finished over that threshold four times (and it would have been five had it not been for the shortened 2012 season), and Brooks finished with a .620 win percentage there.
The star-studded teams featuring Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were no doubt a main reason for the Finals appearance. In truth, the steady duo of Durant and Westbrook stuck around throughout all of Brooks’ time there, and he benefitted immensely from that.
Before Brooks took over midseason in 2008, the talent was there, but the inaugural season in Oklahoma City saw that young core get off to a 1-12 start under P.J. Carlesimo with unsatisfactory levels of refinement.
His job as head coach was never planned, it fell in his lap, and Brooks still helped get that youthful team playing together and with energy in the lead up to that first 50-win season and a great stretch of seasons for the Thunder.
When Brooks took over in Washington, he and the Wall and Beal-led Wizards won 49 and 43 games respectively in their first two campaigns.
With some injuries and some changes to the roster, the next two seasons under Brooks found the Wizards missing the playoffs and playing some of the worst defense in the league, allowing the most points in the 2019-20 season.
The fifth and final season in Washington brought on more injuries as Westbrook was reunited with Brooks there after he was acquired from the Rockets for John Wall. It was also the first go at a season with all the health and safety protocols. In the face of the adversity, Brooks got his team to close out the season strong, finishing 17-6 and making the playoffs before an early exit.
Despite having a winning record in the playoffs overall, Brooks’ time in Washington spawned just one series victory in three postseason appearances.
When the Wizards moved on from Brooks, GM Tommy Sheppard made it clear that the split was happening not because “it didn’t work out,” but because it was just time to. He went on to commend his former coach as a “unifier” for “keeping this team together through some of the most difficult, dark moments probably in franchise history.”
“When I first got the news, it was tough” Wizards star Bradley Beal said. “Scotty was great. This is my second coach I’ve played for and even when I talked to him afterwards, [I said] how grateful I was towards him. He helped change my game and evolved my game to what it is now.”
“He allowed more freedom into the game, me handling the ball and making plays, driving me to be who I am today,” Beal added.
It’s not clear whether Brooks is looking to jump back into head coaching or if he wants to stick around in Portland to help Billups out, but if he is open to a head coaching vacancy, his ability to lead as a respected player’s coach with past success makes him a worthy option at the very least.
To be honest, there is little chance that this is going to happen for the Kings.
That does not mean, however, that it’s impossible.
It’s a nice fantasy for a win-starved fanbase: a championship coach with tons of experience and know-how stepping into Sacramento.
Back in February, Marc Stein wrote that a “conspiracy theory” was “making the rounds in league coaching circles” saying “that Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will eventually want Mike D’Antoni to take over in the hot seat for Philadelphia’s new Joel Embiid/James Harden tag team after D’Antoni’s offensive creativity helped catapult Harden to three scoring titles in Houston.”
The rumors were apparently cast off as untrue, but there have been no signs establishing that the future of the 76ers will include Rivers. In fact, Joel Embiid mentioned postgame, following a loss to the Bucks in March, that the contest “really changed when [he] went on the bench,” alluding to the 15 unanswered points Giannis Antetokounmpo scored while Rivers had his star sitting.
Questions have been asked whether Rivers’ squad can tie things together and generate the most potential in the playoffs, but that still hasn’t become clear. Philadelphia does have a 3-0 lead, though, in the first round against Toronto as of now.
After Vogel was fired from Los Angeles, a report from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report noted how the rumors about D’Antoni being connected to Morey’s 76ers are as alive as ever, reaffirming the job insecurity Rivers faces in Philadelphia and how he is on the Lakers’ list of head coaching candidates.
The winner of the 2008 Finals won’t have much trouble getting a job, though. Rivers has been connected to the Utah Jazz, where Danny Ainge is CEO and where Quin Snyder’s job security has been speculated as of late.
Of course, Sacramento does not have the connections to Rivers that LA or Utah seem to have, but just because the prospect of him coaching the Kings is a smidgen crazy, it’s not impossible.
With Doc Rivers being connected to Utah, Quin Snyder was another name—the primary one, actually—in that Bleacher Report piece regarding potential replacements for Frank Vogel in Los Angeles, and he was mentioned in passing at the end of the first assessment of candidates from us.
It wasn’t too long ago that Marc Stein was reporting that Snyder’s name was on the top of many teams’ lists, and with the report connecting him to the Lakers, it’s not far off to say Utah will make a move. If the Jazz make a disappointing exit this postseason, there is a reasonable chance he becomes available.
Some wonder whether the whole Utah operation is in danger of a few big changes. Earlier this season, for example, it was reported that Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s relationship had hit a rough patch.
Snyder would obviously be a popular option for any team. He has a .585 winning percentage, and a .422 percentage in the playoffs through his eight years with the Jazz. His communicative and strategic leadership is renowned, and he always has Utah playing some of the best defense in the league.
Reports suggest that he’s connected to the Lakers, where he was once an assistant, as well as to San Antonio, where Greg Popovich’s future remains unclear regarding potential retirement (though, speculation has it that Pop returns).
The Utah coach isn’t interested in talking about it for now, but unless his team maximizes their potential and wins a championship, he may be looking for a new job.
It’s less crazy to speculate that Snyder could come to Sacramento compared to Rivers, but there will be intense competition for his services should he become available.
Sam Cassell, Philadelphia 76ers Assistant
Former NBA player and longtime assistant coach Sam Cassell has been a serious contender in several recent head coaching searches, including with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics.
On top of his 15-year playing career, Cassell has also been an assistant coach for 13 seasons with the Wizards, Clippers, and most recently the 76ers. That is nearly 30-years of experience in the NBA.
In his playing career, he won two NBA Championships in his first two seasons in the league with Olajuwon’s Rockets and a third in his final season with the Celtics after they acquired him mid-year.
ESPN analyst and his former teammate on that Boston team, Kendrick Perkins, expressed how good of an idea it would be for Boston to hire Cassell last offseason, saying in a social media post that Brad Stevens could “make his next move his best move” by hiring Cassell, noting the former point guard’s experience, comfort with superstars, and reputation.
When his name was floated around for the Magic job last season, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer was reporting that the prospect of hiring Cassell was “popular among Orlando’s group of returning players.”
As an assistant in Washington, his Celtics teammate Paul Pierce cited Cassell as the primary reason for joining the Wizards in 2014. In fact, his ability to form relationships with players was what convinced Doc Rivers that Cassell’s head coaching future was bright.
By all indications, it’s only a matter of time until Sam Cassell becomes a head coach. Like Milwaukee’s assistants Charles Lee and Darvin Ham, this wouldn’t be a bad opportunity to go down the “grow together” route due to Cassell’s experience working under coaches like Rivers.
Doug Christie, Sacramento Kings Assistant
So this has been a popular idea with a significant portion of Kings fans, especially after Luke Walton’s dismissal, so it should be addressed.
After spending some time in broadcasting and radio, Doug Christie joined the Kings coaching staff under Walton ahead of this last season. That means Christie has a total of one year on an NBA sideline.
Sure, he assumed acting head coach responsibility in December after interim head coach Alvin Gentry tested positive for COVID and won that game against the Wizards, but it’s too early to say definitively that Christie is the guy to go with.
There’s little doubt in his ability to connect and motivate players, but there are other options that have far more sideline experience than Christie. Perhaps he becomes a head coach someday, even for the Kings—the potential certainly exists—but it probably won’t and definitely shouldn’t be for the 2022-23 season.
Wrapping up this mix of serious and not so serious candidates
As great as it sounds for the Kings to get Doc Rivers or Quin Snyder—the chances of them coming to Sacramento are not in any way great. Any connection they may have to another team centers around the Lakers, not the Kings.
But it is important to note that the Kings coaching vacancy probably has the most appeal it’s had in many years. With Ranadive no longer instrumental in decision making, and with the foundation that was retrieved as a result of that, the job in Sacramento is going to attract interest from the right people. So if these big names did become available, the Kings present themselves as a viable landing spot.
Regardless if Snyder and/or Rivers are in play, Monte McNair will have a solid lot of coaches to bring in for the job, many of whom come from excellent coaching trees. Of this above list, Vogel and Cassell are two particular guys that make a lot of sense both in fit and probability.
In the end, McNair and his front office are being afforded an opportunity to thoroughly consider a large list of noteworthy candidates in order to find the best leader for this Kings team going forward.