Kings introduce Luke Walton as new head coach
The Kings introduced their new coach Monday, but there was no introduction needed between that man and the team’s general manager.
The relationship between Luke Walton and Vlade Divac began in the 2004-05 NBA season, when they were teammates with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was Walton’s second NBA season and the last of Divac’s 16-year career.
Walton, who is taking his second head coaching job after spending the last three seasons leading the Lakers, said the friendship has continued since.
“If you’re really in it, those bonds last a lifetime,” Walton said Monday during his introductory news conference at Golden 1 Center. “There’s trust that’s already between us that would take years to build without having that history together. I’m so excited to work side-by-side with him.”
Divac said he jumped at the opportunity to speak with Walton, who mutually parted ways with the Lakers on Friday, a day after the Kings fired Dave Joerger. Asked when he contacted Walton, Divac said he “called his people literally five minutes after” the Lakers’ split went public.
“My first choice was Luke, and when he was available, (I wanted) to act fast,” Divac said. “I know how he views basketball. It’s very similar to how I view it. When I realized he was available, it was an easy call for me to reach out.”
Divac said he was interested three years ago, but Walton wasn’t available after taking the Lakers job following two seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. Walton led the Warriors to a 39-4 record to open the 2015-16 season while coach Steve Kerr rehabilitated from a back injury.
Divac and Walton met Saturday in Sacramento and a deal was reached quickly. While the team isn’t disclosing the terms of the deal, The Bee and other media outlets report it was for four years, which would line up with the extension Divac received Thursday.
“When this opportunity came and he reached out and showed me the type of support and laid out his vision of where he sees this thing going, it was identical to how I saw one, the game, and two, from the outside what this Kings team was about and where they were headed to,” Walton said. “It was something I talked to my wife and family about, and we decided this is going to be an awesome chapter in our lives.”
Walton said he planned to relax a bit after leaving the Lakers, but Divac had other plans.
“Sorry, Bre,” Divac said, addressing Walton’s wife in the front row. “He was planning to take you on vacation, but I was like, ‘Nope,’” which drew laughs.
Walton takes over a roster that boasts a core of young talent, including guards De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, and big men Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III. The coach and GM have to figure out who the assistant coaches will be but will not rush the decision on who comes aboard.
“Vlade and I are going to sit together and go through a list of names,” Walton said. “We’re not going to force anything just to speed up the process. We’re going to make sure we get the guys in here we want and who we believe are going to continue to move this organization in the direction it’s already going.”
The Kings had their best season since their last playoff run in 2005-06, finishing 39-43 – a 12-win improvement over last season. Divac said he’s confident Walton can help the Kings get to the “next level.”
“The goal is winning,” Divac said. “You want to build work ethic, culture, offense, defense. When you put all those things together, the wins are going to come.”
Both men said the familiarity they have will make things easier on them.
“He’s just one of those guys who is a lot of fun to be around, and I feel like as far as having a partnership with him in a very stressful type of job and environment, that’s going to make both of our jobs more enjoyable,” Walton said.
Divac echoed those sentiments.
“I think coaching is the toughest job in the NBA,” he said. “Having somebody who is behind you to work together, be on the same page and share the same philosophy about the game is definitely going to help both of us.”
In three seasons, Walton led the Lakers to a 98-148 record – identical to Joerger’s record with the Kings.
“Dave did a great job with this team,” Walton said. “Having that opportunity with this type of talented team and doing it alongside somebody with the way I feel about Vlade made it too good to pass on.”
As for Divac, he’s excited to have a person he trusts leading the charge.
“What I like about him is he’s just honest and open, and our guys are going to love that,” he said of Walton. “I found my teammate, we’re going to work together and it’s going to be an exciting year for us.”