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Evaluating best Sacramento Kings coaching candidates in 2022

Matt Johnson
Sacramento Kings coaching candidates, Sacramento Kings coaching search
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings coaching search is officially on as the franchise looks for direction and stability that it can never seem to find. With coaching candidates already emerging, it’s time to examine some of the best options for Sacramento.

It goes without saying that this isn’t one of the most coveted jobs available. The Los Angeles Lakers will get the top candidates and others will jump the line. If the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz or Detroit Pistons suddenly have openings, they’ll all have more to offer than Sacramento.

  • Sacramento Kings record (2020-’21): 30-52, 12th in Western Conference

Player development, teaching and defense need to be part of the coaching DNA of the next person chosen to lead this team. Fans have been frustrated by witnessing one of the worst defenses in the NBA for far too long with a team that so often fails to develop talent.

Related: 2022 NBA free agents

Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the top Sacramento Kings coaching candidates in 2022.

Kenny Atkinson

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Brooklyn Nets
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Atkinson should be the favorite to become the next Sacramento Kings head coach. Fired by the Brooklyn Nets in March 2020, there is plenty of dispute regarding whether or not Kyrie Irving played a role in the exit. But one thing that is known, Atkinson is fantastic at helping NBA players develop.

The 54-year-old began his NBA coaching career with the Houston Rockets, serving as the head of player development. Atkinson then worked under Mike D’Antoni with the New York Knicks (2008-’12) before becoming a top assistant under Mike Budenholzer with the Atlanta Hawks (2012-’16).

When Atkinson became the Nets head coach, he took over one of the worst rosters in the NBA and it took years for the franchise to turn things around. But the franchise saw a 14-game improvement from 2017-’18 (28 wins) t 2018-’19 (41 wins) and reached the playoffs.

Atkinson is widely regarded as one of the best player development coaches in basketball. It’s why the Los Angeles Clippers hired him as an assistant last year. He then joined the Golden State Warriors this offseason, seeing an opportunity to work with James Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jordan Poole. Looking at Poole’s rapid improvement in 2021-’22 is another boost for Atkinson. He could do great work with De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell and Damontas Sabonis.

Darvin Ham, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After hiring retreads as coaches in the past two cycles, the Sacramento Kings could look towards a rising assistant coach to take over. Just like in all sports, assistants on the defending champions get plenty of attention. While Darvin Ham didn’t land a gig this summer, he deserves an opportunity in the next hiring cycle.

Ham joined the Los Angeles Lakers coaching staff in 2011, working with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. He then joined Atlanta’s staff, coaching their summer league team. Ham later joined the Bucks, playing an important role in them becoming one of the best teams in the NBA. He’s received multiple head-coaching interviews in recent years and was one of the two front-runners for the Washington Wizards gig.

Related: NBA Rookie of the Year 2023 – Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero among early favorites

The 48-year-old coach also has one connection to the Kings. Kayte Christensen, who previously served as a sideline reporter for the team, is now Sacramento’s TV analyst. In 2012, Ham and Christensen traveled to Venezuela to hold youth basketball clinics. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Ham is already among the Kings coaching candidates. If there aren’t a ton of NBA coaching vacancies in 2022, Sacramento might have a real shot at him.

Mike D’Antoni

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mark D’Antoni will forever have a mark on the NBA for the implementation of the “Seven Seconds or Less” style. It resulted in profound success with the Phoenix Suns and helped him win his second Coach of the Year (2017). After finding success with the Houston Rockets, D’Antoni has spent the past two seasons playing an integral role on Steve Nash’s coaching staff with the Brooklyn Nets.

  • Mark D’Antoni record: 672-527, 54-56 in NBA playoffs

D’Antoni is still one of the best ‘offensive coordinators’ in the NBA, drawing up ways to help his best players thrive in his system. While defending stars on the opposing teams has been an issue for his teams in the past, ‘defensive coordinators are becoming increasingly popular in the NBA today and D’Antoni’s vast experience gives him a massive network to hire a coaching staff from.

It’s obvious why the Kings would be interested in D’Antoni. Fox could be an electrifying piece in a fast-paced style, it best utilizes his speed. Sabonis could also provide additional shooting and playmaking to add to his ability to run the fast break. Most importantly, D’Antoni’s track record of winning provides this franchise with something it hasn’t experienced in a decade-plus.

If the Sacramento Kings win the NBA Draft lottery, Chet Holmgren fits in perfectly as a center with his size and exceptional athleticism. Assuming the Kings don’t receive good fortune in the lottery, a top prospect like Bennedict Mathurin or AJ Griffin could fit in nicely. Of course, D’Antoni might have better teams to choose from this summer.

Mike Brown

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

In an era when coaches get multiple chances, Mike Brown hasn’t served as an NBA head coach since 2012. It’s not like his teams didn’t perform well during his stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2005-’12) or Los Angeles Lakers (2011-’12).

Admittedly, Brown walked into a great situation with the Cavaliers. He took over a job with one of the best players in NBA history, LeBron James, just entering the early stages of his elite years. Cleveland instantly enjoyed 50-win seasons the next two years, reaching the NBA Finals in 2007. Over the next four years, Brown’s Cavs posted a 213-99 record and enjoyed a pair of 60-win campaigns.

  • Mike Brown coaching record: 347-216, 47-36 in postseason

Ultimately, Brown was fired after the Cavs couldn’t get it done in the playoffs with LeBron. It could certainly be viewed as a knock on his reputation, but it’s also fair to point out how bad some of those rosters were. Brown took over as the Lakers’ head coach in 2011, put in the impossible spot of following Phil Jackson.

While he didn’t even last 75 games, Brown still finished with a 42-29 record. As for his 2013-’14 campaign back in Cleveland, it’s hard to judge a coach for not winning with a roster that had 21-year-old Kyrie Irving and little else.

The background might scare some Sacramento Kings fans off. However, Brown has served as Steve Kerr’s associate head coach since 2016 and he’s credited with constructing one of the best defenses in the NBA.

Brown’s experience and his work on the defensive side are what the Kings need. There’s a reason Kerr, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and so many others rave about Brown. He would need a great coach who is familiar with running an offense to balance things out. After years spent with the Warriors, it’s likely Brown has those connections. It makes sense why he’s on Sacramento’s radar.