Kings introduce Luke Walton as new head coach
One word kept coming up in the conversation Monday when Kings general manager Vlade Divac introduced Luke Walton as his new head coach. One word, more than any other, that hinted at hardships of the past and hopes for the future.
The word was trust.
Walton and Divac have known each other for 15 years. They played together. They keep saying they trust each other. Trust is good.
“There’s a respect and history that comes from playing with Vlade,” Walton said. “And if you’re really in it and you’re teammates, those bonds last a lifetime. So there’s trust between us that would take years to build if we didn’t already have that history together.”
Both men are moving on from imperfect relationships. Divac decided it wasn’t going to work out with coach Dave Joerger in Sacramento. Walton and the Los Angeles Lakers decided they weren’t right for each other, either.
The breakups were amicable, not fiery or abrupt. Basically, over time, professional disagreements created rifts that caused relationship dynamics to shift among players, coaches and executives, contributing to an erosion of trust and questions of long-term commitment for all parties involved.
These things happen. Now, Walton and Divac are committing to each other, and both men believe it will be different this time.
They were teammates with the Lakers in 2004-05. Walton was a second-year small forward out of Arizona. Divac, in his final NBA season after six glorious years in Sacramento, returned to the Lakers to finish his career where it began.
“We’ve built that trust a long, long time ago,” Divac said. “We have a lot of respect for each other and, definitely, the partnership that we build right now is going to be much easier, for him and for me, moving forward.”
Listen closely. This level of trust would take “years to build.” This relationship will be “much easier, for him and for me.”
These are the words that hint at their hardships and their hopes.
Divac had issues with Joerger, who clashed with assistant general manager Brandon Williams and — if he stayed in Sacramento — would have traversed complicated relationships with Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield and possibly others. Walton had issues with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, team president Magic Johnson, superstar LeBron James and even LaVar Ball, the father of point guard Lonzo Ball.
Who knows? Those relationships might have been doomed from the start, but this one seems rather promising.
Walton looks like a perfect fit for an up-tempo Kings team with an appealing mix of emerging young stars and established role players entering their primes. Walton was asked about the challenge of building relationships with a new group of young players. His answer suggested he would find his way from the podium to a position of trust in the locker room.
“I don’t think that’s a challenge,” Walton said. “It’s an opportunity. It’s part of why I love coaching. The relationship part of being in team sports has always been one of my favorite things.”
The players appear to be ready to embrace new leadership. When Walton and the Lakers agreed to part ways, Kyle Kuzma took to Twitter to thank Walton for the “opportunity” and “allowing me to be me.” The Kings maintained social media silence after Joerger was fired.
When word of Walton coming to Sacramento broke, Hield posted the wide-eyes emoji without further comment. After Walton was officially named the Kings’ new coach, Bagley posted a photo of himself and Harry Giles III roaming the halls at team headquarters with big smiles on their faces.
The caption read: “Already looking forward to next season. #ScoresIsHere”
Giles replied: “BIG FACTS!!!”
Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Bagley’s dad and even Rachel Nichols liked the post.
We haven’t heard from everybody, but a number of players seem to be quietly endorsing this move. Several attended the introductory news conference, including Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, De’Aaron Fox, Bagley and Giles.
They listened closely. They heard Walton and Divac talk about shared visions and trust. Divac trusts Walton. He believes his players will trust him, too.
“What I like is he is just honest and open,” Divac said, “and I think our kids are going to love that.”
There were hardships and hopes reflected in those words. Now, there is a new beginning based on an old and trusted relationship.
“I’m sure you guys that know him around here know what kind of person (Divac) is,” Walton said. “He’s easy to talk to. He loves the game of basketball. He’s played at all the levels. What he values is what I value as far as skill, playmaking and shooting. He’s just one of those guys that’s a lot of fun to be around, and I feel like, as far as having a partnership with him — (because) it’s a very stressful type of job environment — that’s going to make both of our jobs more enjoyable and allow us to do our jobs better.”
They were teammates once before.
“Now we are teammates again,” Divac said.