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4 Sacramento Kings coaching candidates to replace Luke Walton

Matt Johnson

The Sacramento Kings are set to begin another coaching search with head coach Luke Walton headed towards the door after another disappointing start for the franchise. In a tradition that has become all too familiar for fans, we’ll examine some Kings coaching candidates who could be on Sacramento’s radar.

While the organization has many issues, including at the ownership level, they have had some success finding coaches. Sacramento hired Michael Mallone before the 2013-’14 NBA season and he really started to make an impact in his second season. But one of the best coaches in the NBA was fired In December 2014, despite the team showing plenty of promise.

Replaced by Dave Joerger, who became available due to clashes with the Memphis Grizzlies organization, Sacramento posted a 39-43 record in the 2018-’19 season. It was the franchise’s highest win total since 2005-’06, but general manager Vlade Divac fired Joerger and almost immediately hired Walton without conducting a thorough coaching search.

  • Luke Walton record (Sacramento Kings): 68-93

The Kings went 31-31 in their first season under Walton’s leadership. After the franchise hired general manager Monte McNair, he decided to give Walton another year. Sacramento finished with its second consecutive 31-41 season, but Walton was brought back for another go-around.

But it quickly became evident that his time was running out. He narrowly avoided being fired this past week, with a win over the Detroit Pistons sparing him. But the team is riding another skid and Walton’s last chance is gone.

Let’s take a look at some potential Sacramento Kings coaching candidates.

Kenny Atkinson, Golden State Warriors assistant coach

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

Kenny Atkinson should be the favorite to replace Walton as the 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. In Sacramento, he could get the most out of Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell and whoever Sacramento takes with a top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Darvin Ham, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach

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

After hiring retreads as coach in the past two cycles, Sacramento could look towards a rising assistant coach to take Walton’s position in the future. 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.

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. Given Ham’s wealth of experience and his ability to help players improve their games, he could be on the team’s radar.

Becky Hammon, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only a matter of time until Becky Hammon becomes the woman NBA coach. The WNBA legend joined the San Antonio Spurs staff in 2014, learning from future Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich. She joined the front of the bench in 2018, after serving as the team’s Las Vegas Summer League coach in 2015 and ’16. Now a key aide to Pop, she has received interviews every offseason.

Hammon was a leader on the court in the WNBA and those skills have translated to her next career. Pau Gasol shared the qualities that will make her a great coach. As he mentions, Hammon’s experience as a point guard provides her with the basketball IQ, quick-thinking and savvy to be an NBA head coach. Just as importantly, which NBA general managers care about, she has spent years working alongside one of the most accomplished basketball coaches ever.

The Guardian detailed Hammon’s basketball career and the traits that made her successful at every stop. Those are all qualities the Sacramento Kings need. While Walton seems to have a good relationship with players, his rotation management and the inability to put players in a position to play offense and defense are the problems. Hammon learned from the best and is clearly ready for an opportunity that she has earned.

Bobby Jackson, Stockton Kings head coach

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Money is an important factor to keep in mind during the coaching search. The Sacramento Kings reportedly lost $100 million in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is also the same franchise that saw former executive Jeff David steal $13 million working from the inside. Pair that with the typical organizational dysfunction and Walton still being owed money, it will be a challenge to land a top coaching candidate.

If multiple names start turning the Kings down, an internal candidate becomes more likely. Enter Bobby Jackson. Previously an assistant in Sacramento (2011-’13), Jackson is now coaching the franchise’s G-League team. Thus far, Stockton is playing well (3-1) and Jackson’s years of experience as a player are having a positive influence on a roster of young men fighting to earn a shot in the NBA.

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Jackson’s impact on this franchise is evident. The 2003 NBA Sixth Man of the Year played in Sacramento during this team’s glory years. He helped Kevin Martin find success and coached the 2021 Las Vegas Summer League champions with a roster that included Davion Mitchell. Given everything going on in Sacramento, maybe Jackson gets a shot to lead his former team.