Luke Walton’s first public act as head coach of the Kings didn’t look like much, but it was a significant sighting for Kings fans who had not seen Walton at work since sexual assault allegations surfaced against him over a month ago.
When the media entered the team’s practice facility near the end of Monday’s predraft workout, Walton was sitting courtside between assistant general managers Peja Stojakovic and Ken Catanella. Photographers and television crews trained their lenses on Walton as he rose from his seat and sauntered onto the court when the workout ended.
Six NBA prospects and a dozen team employees who participated in the workout formed a circle at midcourt. Walton spoke to them for just five seconds in a low, deep, rumbling voice that was barely audible from our corner of the gym. He thanked the players for coming. He shook some hands. Then he disappeared through a door leading back to team headquarters.
That was it. That’s all we saw. And that was the first we’ve seen of Walton since the Kings formally announced his hiring April 15.
Remember that? The Kings felt their foundation was so secure they could withstand a massive shakeup, so they made a series of aggressive moves designed to achieve a more perfect synergy.
They fired coach Dave Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams, hired Walton and held a news conference to introduce him as their new head coach, all in the first 100 hours after concluding their best season in more than a decade.
“I’ve found my teammate,” Kings general Manager Vlade Divac declared that day, with Walton by his side. “We’re going to work together and it’s going to be an exciting season for us.”
A week later, the organization was rocked when former Southern California television sports reporter Kelli Tennant filed a civil lawsuit alleging Walton sexually assaulted her while he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. The Kings and the NBA quickly launched an independent investigation. Then everybody went silent. Team and league spokespeople said they will have no further comment until the investigation is complete.
Mark Baute, Walton’s attorney, recently told The Bee: “Luke will, of course, participate and cooperate in the joint investigation by the Kings and NBA.”
Garo Mardirossian, an attorney representing Tennant, has not said whether Tennant will participate in the league’s investigation.
The civil suit against Walton will take four to five years to go to trial in Los Angeles, but the independent investigation could be completed in weeks or months, according to team and legal sources. The Kings will likely make a decision regarding Walton’s future based on the findings of that investigation.
If there is evidence the allegations are true – if investigators conclude Walton pinned Tennant down, forcibly kissed and groped her, and laughed as she pleaded for him to stop – Walton will be fired and the Kings will risk a major setback in their rebuild. If not, it seems the Kings will move forward with Walton, the coach Divac wanted all along to lead an up-and-coming team.
The silence over the past month has been uncomfortable, maybe, but the Kings and the NBA are handling a difficult and delicate situation by the book. Be professional, take the allegations seriously, be mindful of the obvious sensitivities and conduct a thorough investigation. That’s what they’re doing.
And while they do that, we all wait. No updates. No hints. No clue what investigators have found and no idea what tomorrow holds for an exciting young team that seems poised to use a 39-win season as a springboard to a brighter future.
After the allegations surfaced, a league source said Divac would continue to work with Walton and his front office while the investigation was underway. According to The Athletic, the Kings met with Jeff Hornacek regarding an assistant coaching position in an interview that was scheduled before the accusations came to light, but the team remained very quiet over the next few weeks.
There are a number of questions on a variety of topics the Kings could discuss, but they went a whole month without saying much about anything.
The Bee repeatedly requested an interview with Divac to discuss the state of the franchise as it heads into an important summer. We asked to talk about the draft and free agency. We asked if the team has hired anyone to join Walton’s coaching staff. Last week, when Divac went to Chicago for the NBA Draft Combine, we asked if he was accompanied by Walton.
We’ve since learned Walton did not go to Chicago and it’s not unusual for coaches to skip the combine, but those questions went unanswered while the team tended to other matters. Divac was traveling the world on basketball assignments. Walton was working behind closed doors to assemble a coaching staff that will be introduced in the coming days, a league source told The Sacramento Bee on Thursday.
The silence was getting awkward, but the ordinary sight of Walton sitting on the sideline at Monday’s predraft workout offered the first glimpse of a functioning basketball operations staff. It showed fans the team is moving forward. It showed them Walton is doing his job.
For a few seconds, you could hear the voice, even if you couldn’t see the future.