Kings general manager Monte McNair could have opted for change. Instead, he chose continuity.
McNair informed coach Luke Walton on Monday he will be back for a third season in Sacramento, multiple sources told The Sacramento Bee, confirming a report from James Ham of NBC Sports California.
Walton addressed uncertainty over his future last week as another difficult season was coming to an end. Sources said Walton had been given no assurances from the organization at that point, but Walton said he was confident he would return and looked forward to continuing his work with players such as De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.
“I’m very confident and, yeah, I love this group,” Walton said. “I love coaching these guys. I’m excited about trying to get Sacramento back into the playoffs.”
Former Kings general manager Vlade Divac hired Walton to replace Dave Joerger in April 2019. Walton’s job security has been the subject of speculation since McNair was brought in to replace Divac in September, but Walton has maintained strong working relationships with players and the team’s new front office.
Walton, 41, compiled a 62-82 (.431) record over his first two seasons in Sacramento, posting the highest winning percentage of any Kings coach since Rick Adelman was fired in 2006. He has two years and $11.5 million remaining on his contract.
A number of players have expressed support for Walton, including Fox and Haliburton, who figure to be cornerstone players in Sacramento for years to come.
“Me and Luke, we get along really well,” Haliburton said in a postseason media session Monday. “I love him. I love playing for him, so he’s definitely high up in that regard. We get along really well and I look forward to play for him for years as we move on.”
The Kings went 31-41 to finish 12th in the Western Conference this season for the second year in a row. They missed the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season, matching the longest postseason drought in NBA history, but there were some signs of individual growth.
Fox took another step toward becoming an All-Star, averaging a career-high 25.2 points and 7.2 assists after signing a maximum five-year, $163 million extension with clauses to reach the $195.6 million super max. Haliburton, the No. 12 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, is expected to finish in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting after averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Richaun Holmes averaged career highs of 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Harrison Barnes had one of the best years of his nine-year NBA career, averaging 16.1 points and career-highs of 6.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting a career-best 49.7% from the field.
“I’m very pleased and excited with a lot of the progress we made from a team standpoint and individuals,” Walton said before the Kings concluded the season with a 121-99 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday. “You go down the line and I could make a case that even guys like Harrison, who’ve had some really good years in their career, to me he was playing some of his best basketball. … You can go down the line and, to me, that’s something that’s working.
“… Look, we’re all frustrated. We want to be part of a postseason. I know the organization does, the fans do, the media does, so that part of it is disappointing, but you’ve got to look at the good, too, and the progress that so many of these guys have made this year.”
Fox threw his support behind Walton in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, calling Walton “someone that I’ve grown to trust” while making a case for continuity and stability.
“Everybody wants to continue to grow together and keep this group together, and continue to play for a coach that you trust in,” Fox said.