Meet Luke Walton, the Sacramento Kings’ new head coach
The Kings put their trust in Vlade Divac and Divac is placing his trust in Luke Walton, a promising but unproven young coach who will impact one man’s legacy and shape the fate of the franchise.
Divac knows his decision to hire Walton just 48 hours after firing Dave Joerger will be scrutinized, analyzed and assessed for years. He’s making bold moves, but the risks are mitigated by Walton’s personality, pedigree and a stylistic fit that might prove to be the perfect match in Sacramento.
Walton is just 39 years old. He won more games in half a season as interim coach of the Golden State Warriors than he won in any of his three seasons as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He has never occupied the lead chair in a playoff game and recorded an incomplete grade in player development with the Lakers after results were invalidated by the arrival of LeBron James, an odd collection of castaways and a circus-like atmosphere.
So yeah, maybe you have to look into Divac’s crystal ball to see what he sees, but the vision is there. Divac isn’t just trying to build a championship team here. He’s trying to build a big, happy family.
He wants to play fast. He wants to have fun. He wants players, coaches and front-office executives who love the game and each other, just like they did when Divac and other Kings legends led the team to the cusp of greatness a generation ago.
Sure, there are risks, but there’s a reason Divac acted so decisively in firing Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams immediately after signing a four-year contract extension Thursday. And there’s a reason Divac moved so swiftly to hire Walton two days later, just 24 hours after Walton parted ways with the Lakers.
Joerger did good work to lead a young team into playoff contention this season, but his final days illuminated fatal flaws in his relationships with Williams and at least a couple of the team’s young players. The missteps included a power struggle over the use of rookie Marvin Bagley III and a regrettable, profanity-laced diatribe toward Buddy Hield in a game against the Warriors.
Walton is untainted by the office politics that compelled Divac to fire Joerger and Williams. He’s young and personable like most of the players in the Kings’ locker room. He spent 10 years in the NBA and just retired six years ago.
Walton was a skilled passer and a key reserve on Lakers teams that included Divac, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, a player some of the young Kings idolized growing up. He has championship experience, first as a player with the Lakers and later as an assistant coach with the Warriors. He played for Phil Jackson. He coached alongside Steve Kerr. His father is Bill Walton, and Bill Walton is an amazing human being. Just don’t strike up a conversation with him unless your calendar is clear.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Luke Walton will thrive in this environment. The biggest reason is the team’s style of play.
Divac said he had to have a coach whose philosophy and style fit the team’s run-and-gun brand of basketball. Walton checks those boxes.
The Kings were third in the NBA in pace this season. The Lakers were fourth, finishing in the top five for the third year in a row under Walton.
The Lakers were 17th in the NBA in 3-point attempts despite finishing 29th in 3-point shooting. The Kings were fourth in 3-point shooting but 20th in 3-point attempts.
Walton also oversaw a massive turnaround in the Lakers’ defense. They were last in the league in defensive rating in his first year. They finished 13th the past two seasons. The Kings would have ended the NBA’s longest postseason drought at 12 years if they had ranked 13th in defensive rating instead of 21st.
This is probably the job Walton should have had all along. Divac wanted Walton before hiring Joerger three years ago. At the time, Walton was the hottest young coaching candidate in the league, and the Kings weren’t attractive enough to warrant his consideration, but that has changed.
That’s why all of this happened so quickly. The Kings had the NBA’s most desirable opening and Walton was the most desirable candidate for the job. That was all anyone needed to discuss. Please sign here. Welcome to Sacramento.
Divac knows this decision will influence his legacy and shape the future of the franchise, but he is moving decisively. So look into his crystal ball. Try to see what he sees. Divac has a vision, and it might be a sight to behold.