Sacramento Kings

New report details dysfunction Kings coach Luke Walton experienced with Lakers

Watch Luke Walton and the Kings wrap up first pre-draft workout at Golden 1 Center

Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton held the team's first pre-draft workout on May 20, 2019, at Golden 1 Center.
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Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton held the team's first pre-draft workout on May 20, 2019, at Golden 1 Center.

A provocative new report has shed further light on the dysfunction Kings coach Luke Walton experienced with the Los Angeles Lakers, a fabled organization that seems to be crumbling from within.

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes uncovered new details about Walton’s tenure in Los Angeles in a lengthy story detailing the organization’s deteriorating culture under owner Jeanie Buss, former team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. The story describes a poisonous air of intimidation, deceit, mistrust and an abuse of power that strained relationships and led to a mass exodus throughout the organization.

ESPN reported that many current and former longtime staff members said Johnson and Pelinka berated staffers, including Walton, inspiring fear and creating feelings of anxiety. At least two sources said they were prescribed anti-anxiety medication after they began to suffer panic attacks.

Walton achieved a nine-game improvement in the team’s win total in each of his first two seasons, but dynamics shifted after the Lakers brought in LeBron James and other veterans last summer. A number of sources told ESPN the infighting was made worse by the increasing presence and perceived influence of Klutch Sports founder Rich Paul, the agent who represents James.

An agent with ties to the Lakers said Walton and his coaching staff believed Paul wanted them fired while several players believed Paul was trying to get them traded in exchange for Anthony Davis, another Klutch Sports client. The ESPN story describes a November lunch meeting between NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Maverick Carter, a longtime business partner of James. Sources said Paul, who was seated nearby, approached Silver to say Walton should be replaced by Tyronn Lue.

“Guys know there’s no trust there,” an unnamed member of Walton’s coaching staff in Los Angeles told ESPN before the season ended. “Guys know the new (administration) has completely bent over to the agent world and were overly sensitive to having these one-sided relationships with these guys where they control our every move because we’re ‘big-game hunting.’”

Johnson abruptly resigned April 9 after Buss resisted his decision to fire Walton. Three days later, Walton and the Lakers mutually agreed to part ways despite Johnson’s resignation.

Kings general manager Vlade Divac moved quickly to hire Walton in the first 48 hours after firing Dave Joerger. Divac dismissed Joerger and assistant general manager Brandon Williams to clean up milder turmoil in his own organization. Divac alluded to “trust” several times when he introduced Walton, a former Lakers teammate, as the Kings new head coach.

“We’ve built that trust a long, long time ago,” Divac said. “We have a lot of respect for each other and definitely, like I said, the partnership that we build right now is going to be much easier for him and for me moving forward.”

Walton hasn’t spoken publicly since former Southern California sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault April 22. Walton would not comment on the dysfunction in Los Angeles during his introductory news conference in Sacramento except to say “I learned a lot,” but he also alluded to trust when discussing Divac.

“He’s easy to talk to. He loves the game of basketball. He’s played at all the levels,” Walton said. “What he values is what I value as far as skill and playmaking and shooting, and 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 it’s a very stressful type of job environment, (so) that’s going to make both of our jobs more enjoyable and allow us to do our jobs better.”

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