Prior to game No. 71 out of 72, the conversation surrounding head coach Luke Walton and his future with the Kings took center stage Friday evening.
During his pregame Zoom media session, a reporter asked Walton how confident he was to return for a third season at the helm of the Kings, and he sounded very much like a coach that was not prepping for one of his last two games in Sacramento.
“I’m very confident,” Walton said. “I love this group. I love coaching these guys. I’m excited about trying to get Sacramento back into the playoffs."
Walton has been on shaky ground at certain points during the season, including a pair of nine-game losing streaks. But he has held the team together through a late rash of injuries and had the Kings competing at a high level down the stretch.
Playing without De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes, who left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury, the Kings were eliminated from play-in contention with just two games remaining on the schedule on Thursday.
With a second straight loss to the Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back on Friday, the shorthanded Kings have a 31-40 record with just one more game on the docket. That gives Walton a 62-81 record in his first two seasons and a .434 win percentage.
That win percentage trails only Rick Adelman’s .633 percentage in the 36 seasons of Sacramento-era Kings basketball.
With the loss Friday, the team has gone 9-6 over its previous 15 games. The Kings have shown improvements on the defensive end, even without most of their rotation, and they have stuck together as a team.
With just one game remaining in the season, Walton said the Kings have already started prepping work for the summer.
“As far as the offseason, there’s already in place, a schedule, a plan for all of the young guys, as far as when we need them in certain places where we’ll be and making sure that they’re continuing to develop where they can try to help us win going into next season,” Walton said.
The season didn’t end like Walton or the franchise wanted. The Kings tied an NBA record with their 15th consecutive season without a playoff berth and they have a lot of work to do if they hope to have a different outcome next season.
While Walton is confident he’ll be back next year and he’s owed another $11.5 million over the next two seasons, general manager Monte McNair has yet to address the subject with the media. We’ll know more on Walton’s fate in the next 72 hours as the 2020-21 season comes to a close and the offseason officially begins.