Former Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton was fired by the Sacramento Kings, after just over two years as their head coach. The Kings started the season strong, opening with a 5-4 record (hey, that’s incredible for the Kings), but losing seven out of eight games sealed Walton’s fate with owner Vivek Ranadive, who’d seemingly lost patience with Walton very quickly after hiring him as head coach in 2019. He’ll be replaced by another former Warriors assistant coach, Alvin Gentry.
Walton had identical 31-41 records in both 2019-20 and 2020-21. That’s not great, but his .422 winning percentage is still the second-best for any coach that lasted at least a season in Sactown, just ahead of Reggie Theus. It’s hard to say what exactly led to Walton’s firing, but he was never able to put together a decent defense. It didn’t help that Marvin Bagley’s father was publicly feuding with Walton about his son’s playing time, though one could argue that it’s not Luke’s fault they passed on Trae Young and Luka Doncic to take Bagley. It’s also possible that Vivek just loves firing coaches: Gentry is the team’s sixth head coach since Ranadive took over the team in 2013. But when the crowd started chanting “Fire Walton!” during an embarrassing loss to the Toronto Raptors, Walton’s days were numbered.
In his first two seasons with the Warriors, Walton was an ascendent young assistant. He won a championship in his first year under fellow Arizona Wildcat Steve Kerr. With Kerr out for the first half of the 2015-16 season with a back injury, Walton stepped in as interim coach and led the team to a 39-4 record before Kerr returned, including a 24-game win streak to begin the season. Unfortunately for Luke’s career record, Kerr still gets credit for those wins in the record books.
Next, Walton moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he’d won two titles as a player. As head coach, he led the first post-Kobe team to a 26-56 mark - which was a nine-game improvement! Unfortunately, that summer was when Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, who hired Walton, were replaced by Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson, who weren’t necessarily Luke fans. The young Lakers also improved by nine games in his second year in LA, but the days of the team’s youth movement - and Walton’s coaching career - were numbered once LeBron James arrived as a free agent. By the summer of 2019, Walton, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart were all gone.
The Kings snapped up Walton the moment he became available, and almost immediately, Walton was sued for sexual assault by an NBA team reporter (the suit was dropped eight months later, and the NBA investigated Walton for four months). You would think the allegations would have made Sacramento hesitate, but the Kings have a long history of hiring coaches after they’ve worked for the Golden State Warriors. Sure, that makes sense when they’re picking up coaches with a Finals pedigree these days, but they were doing it even when the Warriors were terrible.
The two longest-tenured coaches in Sacramento were Rick Adelman, who led the Warriors from 1995-97, and Garry St. Jean, who was Don Nelson’s lead assistant with the Dubs from 1988-92, before the Kings hired him away. The Saint later returned as Warriors general manager and head coach. Adelman spent eight years as Kings coach before his contract was not renewed in 2006, even though the team rallied to earn the eighth seed. It would be the last season the Kings reached the playoffs.
Eric Musselman spent a single year as Kings head coach, two years after being fired by the Warriors. After Keith Smart was fired by Joe Lacob in 2011, he became a Kings assistant, and was quickly elevated to head coach two months later. A year and a half later, Smart was dismissed in favor of the Warriors lead assistant, Michael “Don’t Call Me Mike” Malone. Sacramento reached back for an 80s Warriors coach when they hired George Karl in 2015, hired Walton in 2019, and now they’ll finish the season with another member of the Warriors 2014-15 staff, Alvin Gentry.
The Warriors seem to have a fairly full coaching staff at the moment, though perhaps Walton could fill in while Kenny Atkinson rehabs his ankle. He’s still being paid by the Kings, like so many dismissed coaches before him, so Walton might kick back and see some Dead & Company shows with his dad. The Kings will see if Gentry can right the ship, but it’s the Sacramento Kings, so that’s a doomed errand. They might as well see if Gentry can get the Washington Generals to start winning, or get Wile E. Coyote to catch the Road Runner, or get the Oakland A’s to sign a free agent. It’s a sad day for Luke Walton, but it’s also a freeing day for him. Because he’s no longer an NBA coach, but at least he’s no longer a Sacramento King.