Kings introduce Luke Walton as new head coach
The Kings will hold a news conference today to formally introduce Luke Walton as the 29th head coach in franchise history.
The introductory news conference will be held at 1 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. The Sacramento Bee will live-stream the event at sacbee.com.
Walton will be accompanied by general manager Vlade Divac. Both are expected to speak publicly for the first time since the Kings hired Walton to replace Dave Joerger during a 48-hour frenzy following the final game of the regular season.
“I have known Luke for many years and I am so excited to welcome him and his family to the Sacramento Kings,” Divac said in a written statement. “I look forward to his leadership on the court as we work to build a winning culture for many years to come.”
Divac agreed to a four-year contract extension Thursday morning, hours after the Kings suffered a season-ending loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Kings finished 39-43, posting their best record since 2005-06 but failing to reach the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season. Divac moved almost immediately Thursday to fire Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams, who clashed over strategic differences early in the season.
Divac reached out to Walton on Friday, less than an hour after Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to part ways, league sources told The Sacramento Bee. Twenty-four hours later, Walton was in Sacramento finalizing a four-year deal following a face-to-face meeting with Divac, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.
Walton, 39, grew up around the game as one of four sons born to Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame player who won two NCAA championships under the legendary John Wooden at UCLA and two more titles in the NBA. Luke Walton remembers the end of his father’s career and Wooden’s influence on his upbringing.
Walton talked about what he gained from Wooden shortly before Wooden died in 2010, four months before his 100th birthday.
“I think everyone who talked to him gained — gained knowledge, gained perspective,” Walton told a CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. “I think the huge impact he had on my dad’s life is mainly how he impacted our lives, because, I said earlier, my dad wouldn’t be who he is today without John Wooden. John Wooden has had an incredible life. He’s helped so many people in this world, so it’s very sad to hear but I think it’s a time to celebrate his life as well.”
Walton played for other legendary coaches in college and the NBA, studying at the hand of two masters in Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson with the Lakers. Walton was a member of back-to-back championship teams in Los Angeles. He retired after 10 NBA seasons to begin his coaching career in 2013.
Walton’s first coaching experience came as a University of Memphis assistant during the 2011 NBA lockout. In 2013, he was hired as a player development coach for the Lakers’ Developmental League team.
Walton climbed through the ranks quickly after joining Steve Kerr’s staff as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. He helped the Warriors win an NBA championship in 2015 and led them to a 39-4 record as interim head coach the following season when Kerr took a leave of absence to rehabilitate his back.
Kerr was named Coach of the Year after the Warriors went 73-9 to post the best record in NBA history, but Walton coached more games during the regular season and received votes for the award. Kerr invited Walton to join him on the podium during a news conference announcing the award.
Divac wanted to bring Walton to Sacramento before eventually hiring Joerger that summer, but the Lakers lured Walton in to replace Byron Scott after winning just 17 games in 2015-16. The Lakers won 26 games in their first season under Walton and 35 in their second while showing rapid improvement in pace and defensive rating.
Walton’s third season in Los Angeles was a roller coaster ride from brief but thrilling heights to a fiery, slow-motion crash. The Lakers had high hopes after signing LeBron James to a $153.3 million deal. Team president Magic Johnson reprimanded Walton after the Lakers lost five of seven to start the season, but then they started to roll, improving to 20-14 with a win over the Warriors on Christmas Day.
The Lakers were fourth in the Western Conference at that point, but their playoff hopes faded following injuries to James, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. The situation was ugly and uncomfortable throughout. LaVar Ball was a frequent critic of his son’s coach, telling ESPN in January: “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”
The Lakers experienced more dysfunction during their failed effort to trade for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. The Athletic reported that the team’s young players grew distrustful of James, believing he was working behind the scenes to get them traded to New Orleans in exchange for Davis.
Amid the chaos, the Lakers plummeted in the conference standings, finishing 35-47. Johnson resigned before the season finale. Three days later, Walton was out, too.
Walton compiled a 98-148 record in three seasons with the Lakers, the same record Joerger had with the Kings. Kerr said the Lakers were “losing one of the best human beings in the NBA” and “a guy who knows the game as well as anybody I’ve ever met.”
Within 24 hours, Walton was sitting with Divac in Sacramento, finalizing an agreement to coach the Kings. Walton is considered a good fit for the Kings, who demonstrated potential while unleashing talented young players and an exciting up-tempo game this season.
The Kings were third in the NBA in pace. The Lakers were fourth, finishing in the top five for the third year in a row under Walton.
Walton also oversaw a significant 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 were 21st this season.
Divac wants his team to continue to play fast while improving defensively. He expects the Kings to end the NBA’s longest postseason drought after 13 consecutive losing seasons and believes Walton can help them do it.