Hali defends Walton, has his back despite another 'awful' loss

Luke Walton

Every game the Kings play right now is a must-win and with each loss, Luke Walton's status as coach gets more precarious.

Rumors began swirling Monday that Walton's job is in jeopardy if the Kings don't turn their season around quickly. Since then, Sacramento has beaten a rebuilding Detroit Pistons team, lost to a talented but developing Minnesota Timberwolves team and on Friday night, they were blown out of their own building by the Toronto Raptors, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

Fans in Golden 1 Center were audibly frustrated with the Kings' performance in their 108-89 loss to the Raptors, booing the players and some even chanted for Walton to lose his job. Sacramento, who had Thursday off, trailed by 30 late in the second half and now sits at 6-10 with the Utah Jazz coming to town Saturday night.

"I don't think I can find an excuse in the book for this one," Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton told reporters after the loss. "They're coming off a back-to-back against a good Utah team and so no matter how long, how far our road trip has been, we had an off day yesterday, so there's no reason for there not to be pop and not be a lot of energy. But we were just awful tonight. I'm going to watch the film tonight for tomorrow and if I find a bright spot, I'll let you know. I thought we were pretty bad down the line."


The conversation with Haliburton, the second-year pro who scored just eight points Friday, quickly turned to Walton and whether the coach was to blame for the loss to the Raptors.

Haliburton was the first member of the Kings team to talk to the media Friday night, and he was quick to put the blame on the players.

"As a player, my whole life, I've felt like when I'm not winning, it's on myself," Haliburton said. "I feel like it's on us as players, that we have to be better. I thought we came in with a solid gameplan and it worked last year when we played Toronto a couple times. We started the first quarter well, but I don't think it was necessarily anything gameplan-wise. It's more execution by the players and we know we have to be better. It goes down the line. Everybody has to be better.

"But fans booing tonight and rightfully so the way we played. I don't think they are in the wrong for that for booing us and demanding that we play better and we have to better. They come out and support us and we have to give a better effort, have better energy and just be better."

As Walton's job hangs in the balance for a second straight season, Haliburton made clear he still supports the third-year Kings coach.

"I got his back. I'm pretty sure we all do. I know we all do," Haliburton said. "He's put a lot of time, a lot of trust into us as players and when you get that from a coach who invests in his guys, it's hard not to like him, to be honest with you. Obviously from the moment I got here in Sacramento, the Kings haven't been very successful before I got here, so there were calls and things like that. For me, I've always had his back because he's been nothing but great to me and great to these guys. It's not on him. It's not.

"He did not shoot 32 of 84 from the field. He did not shoot 64 percent from the free throw line. Our staff did not do that. That has nothing to do with it. We just have to be better down the line and guys know that."

De'Aaron Fox, the unquestioned leader of the Kings, was expected to take the next step towards stardom this season, but so far, he hasn't lived up to those expectations. In the Kings' loss Friday night, he scored a team-high 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting from field, but also was a team-worst minus-22.

When Fox finally spoke to reporters an hour after the game concluded, he wore the look of frustration on his face and his answers were brief, but like Haliburton, the 23-year-old point guard didn't want to put the blame on Walton.

"I mean, he's not out there missing box-outs or not making shots or allowing guys to get in the paint, so as a player, everybody needs to do their job at the end of the day," Fox said.


When a team with high expectations underperforms, it's natural for the job security of the coach to come into question. This isn't new for Walton, though he wishes it wasn't something his players had to deal with because it puts extra pressure on them.

"It always does. It's hard to win in this league anyway," Walton told reporters. "That's why we always talk about controlling what we can control. I appreciate their support, but I don't even want them having to think about that. I know the reality of what this league is, but we need our guys focused on what we're trying to accomplish out there."

The Kings have lost six of their last seven, and have games against Utah, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Portland Trail Blazers coming up. It's unclear what the breaking point might be for Walton and the Kings' front office, but the team's performance Friday night certainly didn't help his case, whether the effort was his fault or not.