The Kings began their search to replace George Karl on Wednesday by interviewing Sam Mitchell, the former Toronto Raptors coach who served as interim head coach in Minnesota last season after the death of Flip Saunders.
Mitchell, 52, is the first meeting in what is expected to be a prolonged process to replace Karl, who went 33-49 this season.
It’s quite the contrast from past hirings under Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, who will hire his fourth head coach since taking control of the franchise in 2013.
The Kings’ past three head coaches were hired without the benefit of an exhaustive search. With general manager Vlade Divac now running the show, the Kings are taking their time.
Phoenix, Brooklyn and Minnesota, however, have already filled their coaching vacancies within a week of the regular season ending.
The Kings have reached out to several candidates, according to league sources. After Mitchell, the Kings intend to meet with former head coaches Vinny Del Negro, likely next week, and Jeff Hornacek.
Also on the Kings’ radar are Los Angeles Clippers assistant Mike Woodson, Golden State assistant Luke Walton, former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson and former Houston head coach Kevin McHale.
Mitchell was the NBA Coach of the Year in the 2006-07 season with Toronto and was 156-189 in five seasons with the Raptors from 2004 to ’09. He was 29-53 this season with Minnesota.
For many candidates, the level of interest the Kings have in them is not expected to be reciprocated. Coaches may be wary of Sacramento, as only one Kings coach since the 2007 season – Paul Westphal, 2009 to ’11 – lasted more than two full seasons before being fired. Plus, there are other options.
McHale is one such candidate who might be a hard sell.
In four-plus seasons in Houston, McHale posted a 193-130 record and last summer took the Rockets to their first Western Conference finals in 18 seasons. McHale was fired in November, 11 games into the first year of a three-year contract extension reportedly worth more than $12 million, so he might be content to continue occasional work as a TV analyst while recharging and waiting for a better opportunity.
Del Negro posted a 210-184 record in five seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers. He made the playoffs in four of his five seasons, leading the Clippers to a 56-26 record in 2012-13 before being replaced by Doc Rivers.
Del Negro, 49, was a second-round pick (29th overall) by Sacramento in the 1985 NBA draft out of North Carolina State.
Woodson, 58, has a 315-365 record in nine seasons and reached the playoffs five times with Atlanta and New York. He led the Knicks to a 54-28 record and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012-13. He was replaced after the 2013-14 season when Phil Jackson took over basketball operations and hired Derek Fisher.
Woodson has been a Clippers assistant coach under Rivers for the past two seasons. He played 11 seasons in the NBA, including one with the original Sacramento Kings in 1985-86 after playing four seasons in Kansas City.
Hornacek, 52, was 101-112 with Phoenix before being fired this season with a 14-35 record. He was runner-up for Coach of the Year after leading Phoenix to a 48-34 record in 2013-14 – barely missing the playoffs.
Walton, 36, played 11 seasons in the NBA and won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. His coaching profile increased this season by guiding the Warriors to a 39-4 start as the interim head coach while Steve Kerr recovered from issues related to back surgery.
The Warriors’ success made Walton a candidate for Coach of the Year and by Christmas a hot commodity around the league. However, there has been speculation Walton wants to stay with the Warriors.
Jackson, 51, is an intriguing name who had success at Golden State (121-109 in three seasons) before losing his job for personality conflicts and strategic differences with management.
Jackson is currently an analyst for ABC and worked the first Kings game after coach Michael Malone was fired in December 2014. He met with former general manager Pete D’Alessandro, former adviser Chris Mullin and Kings star DeMarcus Cousins after the game.
That meeting fueled speculation Jackson could replace Malone, but Tyrone Corbin was hired and eventually fired and replaced by Karl. The talks with Jackson and members of the Kings, all involved said, was not about the coaching position.
Divac’s plan to add help to the front office should not hinder the coaching search. He’s not looking for a major decision maker, rather an experienced basketball executive who can help in the areas where D’Alessandro excelled – namely the nuances of the collective bargaining agreement, salary cap and negotiating deals.