Last time the Kings went looking for a new head coach, they conducted an exhaustive search that dragged on for almost a month as they sifted through a dozen candidates before zeroing in on Dave Joerger.
This time they moved swiftly to secure one of the hottest coaching commodities on the market.
The Kings hired Luke Walton on Saturday, just two days after Joerger was fired and barely 24 hours after Walton agreed to part ways with the Los Angeles Lakers. A league source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been formally announced, told The Sacramento Bee the Kings finalized a four-year deal with Walton following a face-to-face meeting with general manager Vlade Divac in Sacramento.
Walton and Divac could not be reached for comment, but others in the NBA were quick to react, including Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
“Happy for Luke,” Kerr told reporters in Oakland before a playoff game against the Los Angeles Clippers. “That was quick. Great opportunity, though. Really nice, young team. I thought Dave Joerger did a tremendous job there the last few years and they’ve established a really good foundation, so it’s a hell of an opportunity for him.”
Before hiring Joerger in 2016, the Kings interviewed Sam Mitchell, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Woodson, David Blatt, Mark Jackson, Jeff Hornacek, Nate McMillan, Patrick Ewing and Corliss Williamson. They were also linked to candidates such as Henry Bibby, Ettore Messina, James Borrego and Elston Turner, who ended up coming to Sacramento as a member of Joerger’s staff.
Walton, 39, reportedly was the coach the Kings coveted all along, but Sacramento wasn’t considered an attractive destination at the time.
That has changed. The Kings have a talented young team featuring De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III. They went 39-43 this season to finish ninth in the Western Conference, posting their best record since making their last playoff appearance in 2006.
Stylistically, Walton is considered a perfect fit for the uptempo system the Kings unleashed on the league this season. Divac said that would be a prerequisite for the job after firing Joerger on Thursday.
“Our new coach has to bring, first of all, the style that we had last year,” Divac said. “This is the Kings’ style. We’ve got to play that way.”
Divac also indicated he would want a new coach on board quickly as the team moves into a critical offseason with approximately $38 million to spend in free agency.
“I want my coach to be right next to me and we can talk about the team and what’s out there for us to make our team better,” Divac said. “I want my coach on the same page.”
Walton compiled a 98-148 record in three seasons with the Lakers, the same record Joerger had with the Kings. He made tremendous progress with a young roster in his first two seasons before development took a backseat following the arrival of LeBron James last summer.
The Lakers were fourth in the Western Conference and seemed poised to make a run at their first playoff appearance since 2013, but injuries and infighting derailed their season. Walton and the Lakers mutually agreed to part ways Friday after the team finished with a 37-45 record.
Walton worked as an assistant with the Warriors from 2014-16. He was a part of the staff that won an NBA championship in 2014-15. The following season, he led the team to a 39-4 record as interim head coach when Kerr took a leave of absence to rehabilitate his back.
Kerr strongly endorsed Walton on Friday after the Lakers announced he would not return next season. League sources told The Bee that Divac reached out to schedule a meeting with Walton less than an hour after that announcement was made.
“In this job, as a coach in the NBA, you are 100 percent dependent on your circumstances, the strength of your organization, the momentum, the unity,” Kerr said. “Everything has to be in good order, because if it’s not, as we have witnessed with the Lakers, then there’s going to be casualties and usually the coach is the first one.
“And so they’re losing one of the best human beings in the NBA. They’re losing a guy who knows the game as well as anybody I’ve ever met. They’re losing somebody who players believe in, players want to play for, but, again, he was dependent on circumstances just like all of us are, and I feel for Luke.”
Walton spent nine of his 10 seasons as an NBA player with the Lakers. Walton and Divac were teammates in Divac’s final NBA season with the Lakers in 2004-05. Walton later helped the Lakers win back-to-back championships as a key reserve in 2009-10.