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McNair, Fox offer support for Walton as Kings' head coach

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SACRAMENTO — The news that Luke Walton would return for a third season with the Kings stunned many on Monday night. Maybe it shouldn’t have.

After Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes all backed their coach during media sessions on Monday, two of the biggest voices in the franchise stood behind Walton during Tuesday’s Zoom calls. First, the team’s star player in De’Aaron Fox and then the franchise’s general manager Monte McNair.

“It’s little things, but people can say whatever they want, we know how we feel about each other inside of this organization and we know what we should be able to do,” Fox said when asked about Walton.

Fox had already gone on record in support of Walton, but he was more forceful this time around, speaking on his coach’s communication skills and how his experience as a player turned coach has impacted the growth of the team.

“He’s someone who’s played the game, so he understands everything players are one, going through and two, what they need to continue to do to get better,” Fox said. “He’s won a championship, he’s played at that level, he’s played at the highest level you can possibly play at.”

Following Fox, McNair stepped forward to give his explanation of why the franchise is going to continue down the same path for next season.


“Luke will continue to be our head coach,” McNair said during his opening statement. “The team finished strong down the stretch -- obviously it did not ultimately reach our goal, but he has the support of our players, we have a great working relationship and while we both acknowledge that we have to become better in many areas, we built that trust and we need the stability in this organization to ultimately take that next step.”

It wasn’t all rosy reports from McNair. He has seen and heard the anger and disappointment from the Kings’ fanbase, especially after missing the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season. He also knows that the defense wasn’t up to the challenge and that there is a lot of work ahead.

“We feel and hear and see the frustration of the fans here, but we also see the passion and all we're trying to do is unlock that and really turn it into the excitement that this city is ready to explode with,” McNair said.

McNair took the job in Sacramento in September with the understanding that Walton would return for at least one more season. Despite a 31-41 record and two nine-game losing streaks during the 72-game campaign, McNair and Walton developed a tight bond during the chaos of the season.

“Luke and I came in from day one and forged, I think, a really great working relationship,” McNair said. “Our guy is going to be the guy that gets us back to the playoffs and I think Luke is going to be that guy.” 

With Walton still having two years and $11.5 million remaining on his contract, there have been murmurs that his return was financially motivated, especially with the team’s losses mounting during the coronavirus pandemic.

McNair quickly dispelled that notion.

“I understand that’s kind of been out there, but I’ve been given every resource I need to get this team back to the playoffs and this was a basketball decision,” McNair said. 

Walton has worked hard to develop a winning culture in Sacramento, even if the team hasn’t taken a huge leap forward in the standings. He’s posted a 62-82 record in his first two seasons and the goals of the franchise are loftier moving forward.

Saying that, he is excited for another season with the team and he was appreciative of the support from his players and McNair. He believes that support is part of the core basic ideas the staff is promoting behind the scenes.

“It's a culture of togetherness,” Walton said. “We all have each other's back. Nobody gets all the credit, nobody gets all the blame.”

The players have his back. McNair has his back. Now Walton has to find a way to reward that support by leading his team to a much better season next year. 

“We know what the drought has been, we know what the expectations are next season -- it’s to make the playoffs,” Walton said. 

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Ground rules are in place. Walton needs to get his team off to a good start and he has to deliver something that the previous nine head coaches have failed to accomplish.

McNair can help Walton out by building a strong roster and another huge leap in production from Fox would increase the team's odds of success as well. Walton will need all hands on deck if he hopes to prove he's the right man for the job long term.