The Kings haven’t even had time to give Dave Joerger’s office a fresh coat of paint, and they already have a new coach.
An NBA source confirmed Saturday that Luke Walton has agreed to take over in Sacramento after a whirlwind 48 hours for all parties involved.
Walton was one of the hottest names in the game three summers ago. Fresh off a 39-4 run as the Warriors' interim coach during Steve Kerr’s injury, Walton signed on to lead a young and inexperienced Lakers team on a five-year, $25 million deal. While he showed improvement in each of his three seasons in Los Angeles, the 39-year-old coach finished with a 98-148 record.
Strangely enough, Joerger finished with an identical 98-148 record over his three seasons in Sacramento. The win total wasn’t enough for Joerger to keep his job, but the Kings didn't hold it against Walton when hiring him.
Let's examine Walton's experience and how he's a fit for the Kings.
Why didn’t it work out for Walton in LA?
While Walton didn’t ultimately find success in LA, there's a lot of blame to go around.
Magic Johnson already has quit as team president after piecing together a ragtag group of players around superstar LeBron James. The Lakers' decision to chase Anthony Davis leading up to the NBA trade deadline killed chemistry and put all of the team’s young core on notice. It’s a total mess in La-La Land.
Walton didn’t rise above the chaos, but not many coaches would. James missed 27 games because of injury or being shut down. When James went down with a groin injury in December, the Lakers were 20-14. When he returned Feb. 5, the team was 27-27 and scuffling.
The Lakers shut James down late in the season and coasted to the finish line. Most of the decisions made that affected the outcome of the season came from higher-ups, not Walton.
Why might it work out for Walton in Sacramento?
There’s no guarantee it will work with the Kings, but Walton is a fresh voice, and he inherits a team on the rise.
While more experienced names are available, Walton’s play style fits the Kings' roster to a tee. He loves having his team push the tempo, although his 2018-19 Lakers squad was poorly assembled for that kind of play.
During his three seasons with the Lakers, Walton's teams finished sixth, second and fourth in pace. They finished just ahead of the Kings in pace this season, although they scored 111.8 points per game compared to Sacramento’s 114.2.
The biggest reason for the points disparity hinges on LA’s inability to shoot from the perimeter. Walton inherits a Sacramento team that shot 37.8 percent from behind the arc, which ranked fourth in the NBA. Despite shooting more 3-pointers than Sacramento, the Lakers hit just 33.3 percent (29th in the league).
The Kings shot 86 fewer 3-pointers than the Lakers and hit 80 more. So, Walton’s offense might look completely different with De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica shooting from the perimeter.
On the other side of the ball, Walton’s group ranked 12th in the NBA in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons. Joerger’s team ranked 20th this season, which was a huge improvement over the previous season.
If the Kings return with the same roster, they have the potential to improve on defense because of their age and gaining valuable experience. But Sacramento doesn’t have the size and length of the Lakers’ roster under Walton.
LA also was a much better rebounding and shot-blocking team than Sacramento. This issue might be addressed during the offseason, but then again, it might not.
Walton is known as a player's coach, although at times he appeared to lose the room in LA this season. Not many coaches could handle the personalities, trade rumors and distractions that Walton faced. When LaVar Ball is the last of your worries, there's an organizational issue.
There's no way that Kings general manager Vlade Divac will add the types of personalities that Magic did. There's also no guarantee Walton will find a way to bond with a young Kings team and have them fall in line.
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Walton’s 39-4 record as the Warriors' interim coach shows he can connect, even with the best of the best. His 37-45 record this season with the Lakers shows he can struggle as well.
The truth is, Walton likely is somewhere in between these two experiences. He also has pre-existing relationships with Divac from their playing days in LA, as well as a history with Harrison Barnes from their time together with the Warriors.
The Kings have plenty of talent. They need to continue to improve, and Walton is both young enough to grow with the group and experienced enough to potentially get them over the hump.