Report: Luke Walton safe as Kings’ coach, at least for now

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After Ryan Saunders was let go in Minnesota, then Lloyd Pierce was dismissed in Atlanta, people started to look around the league for the next coach on the hot seat.

A lot of eyes turned to Luke Walton in Sacramento.

They shouldn’t. Walton is safe, according to a report from Sam Amick and Jason Jones of The Athletic.

But sources with knowledge of the Kings’ plans say Walton is not in any imminent trouble and — barring a complete nose-dive in the second half — is likely to last at least through this season. There is a strong sense in coaching circles that Kings associate head coach Alvin Gentry would likely take over if Walton were eventually dismissed, but that time does not appear to be coming anytime soon. Sources say Walton, who was hired by former general manager Vlade Divac in mid-April of 2019, is owed a combined $11.5 million in the next two seasons of his four-year guaranteed deal.

Walton meets the criteria of coaches let go mid-season: Sacramento has changed GMs (Vlade Divac hired Walton in 2019 but Monte McNair is in charge now), the team wasn’t winning, there was an experienced head coach on the bench in Alvin Gentry, and there is pressure from ownership for improvement as the Kings move toward a 15th straight season of missing the playoffs.

However, according to the report, McNair and the Kings expected this to be a transition season — a “gap year” — and ownership was on board with this long-term thinking. Young players such as De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Halliburton are showing development under Walton.

Ultimately, however, it seems to be the money talking, too. The Kings have been hit hard by the pandemic-caused financial downturn; paying two coaches at once is not something in the plans right now.

Whether Walton will be coaching the Kings next season is an open question, but it appears his job is safe for now.