- The NBA Sacramento Kings have fired head coach Luke Walton following a 6-11 start to the season.
- Walton was in his third season as head coach in Sacramento following three years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Alvin Gentry and Doug Christie have been mentioned as candidates to replace Walton on an interim basis.
Tough weekend for head coaches internationally and throughout a number of sports. In the US, Dan Mullen is out as head coach at the University of Florida. In even bigger news–though far from a surprise–Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United have parted ways following a 4-1 English Premier League loss on Saturday. In the NBA, the Sacramento Kings have fired head coach Luke Walton after a 6-11 start to the season. The final nail in Walton’s coaching coffin was a 123-105 home loss to Utah on Saturday. The team has yet to ‘officially’ announce the move though it is being reported and confirmed by a host of respected media sources.
Walton played 10 years in the NBA and is the son of legitimate legend Bill Walton. He shot to the top of the NBA’s pantheon of assistant coaches by being in the right place at the right time–more specifically, he was the interim head coach for the Golden State Warriors at the start of the 2015-2016 season as Steve Kerr recovered from off season back surgery. The Warriors exploded to a 19-0 record from the start of the season en route to the best regular season mark in NBA history (73-9) and Walton’s brief run as interim head coach was enough to make him a highly sought after coaching candidate. Never mind that he had to do little more than roll the ball out to Stephen Curry, who would become the first ever unanimous choice for Most Valuable Player that season.
If Walton’s ability to be ‘in the right place at the right time’ got him the opportunity to be a head coach you can make a case that it’s been just the opposite scenario since he he was hired by the LA Lakers following the 2016 NBA Finals. He went from one of the most talented teams in NBA history at Golden State to one of the least talented, charged with rebuilding the team following the retirement of Kobe Bryant and coming off the worst record in franchise history. The team showed slight improvement in Walton’s first season (26-56) though most of the problems were well beyond his control. The Lakers would clean house in the front office that year, replacing Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. It was also the season where Jeanie Buss took over as primary owner. The nadir of that season came when Dallas beat Los Angeles by 49 points in late January–the worst loss in franchise history.
Walton would go 98-148 in his three seasons in Los Angeles. He didn’t have the talent to compete during the first two years and in the third wound up taking the fall when the Lakers–now with LeBron James–were undone by a ridiculous spate of injuries. LeBron would play just 55 games that season while Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram also missed significant playing time. Walton and the team parted ways ‘by mutual agreement’ after the season just a few days after Magic Johnson stepped down as President of Basketball Operations.
Sacramento quickly came calling, but didn’t do much in the way of giving Walton the talent necessary to compete in a deep Western Conference. The Kings had some decent young talent but never showed much progress under Walton, finishing 31-41 in his first two seasons. The fact that these seasons coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters. The biggest misstep in terms of personnel came the year before Walton arrived–Sacramento drafted Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick in the draft. Bagley has played only four games this season. The fact that the Kings passed on Luka Doncic and Trae Young to pick Bradley almost defies belief.
Since the move has yet to ‘officially’ been announced there’s no reaction from the team or any indication on how it’ll be presented to the media. My guess–it’ll be one of the ‘agreed to part ways by mutual agreement’ face saving gestures that have become popular in recent years. There’s also no indication of what the team’s next move will be though the NBA media is suggesting that either first year assistant Doug Christie or well traveled Alvin Gentry will become interim coach. There are also some names that could quickly be hired as a permanent replacement including Mark Jackson, former Portland head coach Terry Stotts and New Orleans Pelicans’ assistant Mike D’Antoni. The choice of interim coach is a study in contrasts–Christie has impressed in his first season on the job while Gentry has the experience of five head coaching stops throughout his career.
UPDATE: Multiple sources are reporting that Gentry has been named interim head coach.