After celebrating Luke Walton's arrival as the franchise’s new coach just a week ago, the Kings now are embroiled in a controversy not of their own making.
Walton has been accused of sexual assault by former sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant. Her civil lawsuit paints a startling picture of Walton forcibly attacking a woman with whom he had a long-standing business relationship. Four pages of the suit can be found here.
Through his attorney, Walton has vowed to fight the allegations.
"Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations," Mark Baute said. "The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom."
All of this is playing out in real time, so the Kings have very little time to make a difficult decision on Walton and his future with the team. The Athletic's Sam Amick cited a source in reporting the Kings still are in the fact-finding stage of the process and the prospect of firing him has no momentum at this time.
Here is where we are less than 24 hours after the revelation.
What did Vlade know?
According to league sources, Kings general manager Vlade Divac was unaware that allegations were pending against Walton. It’s possible Walton didn’t know the lawsuit was coming either.
In addition, both the Lakers and the Warriors -- Walton’s two previous employers -- as well as the NBA, were surprised by the lawsuit. The alleged incident happened while Walton was an assistant coach for the Warriors, a position he held from 2014 to 2016. The exact date of the alleged event is still unknown.
Following his stint with the Warriors, Walton was hired in 2016 by LA, where he spent three seasons as the team’s coach. He mutually parted ways with the Lakers on April 12 of this year, and less than 24 hours later, he was in Sacramento preparing to sign on the dotted line with the Kings.
It was a whirlwind of events, but not unheard of in the NBA. Coaches often are let go in the days following the end of the season.
Walton’s situation with the Lakers was heading for a quick split, and Divac moved in to acquire an up-and-coming young coach who also was his former teammate during his playing days.
It should be noted that Steve Kerr, Walton’s head coach in Golden State, had this to say about his former understudy after learning about his split from the Lakers: “They are losing one of the best human beings in the NBA, they’re losing a guy who knows the game as well as anybody I’ve ever met, they’re losing somebody players believe in and players want to play for."
We don’t know what the Kings’ vetting process was in this situation, but if neither of his previous employers had a clue about this alleged incident, there is a good chance that nobody knew.
What do the Kings do now?
It’s a difficult decision. Walton’s reputation is hanging in the balance. Divac’s might be as well if he sticks with his newly hired coach.
Sacramento can take a cautious approach and thoroughly vet the allegations at hand. In conjunction with the NBA, they’ve already started the fact-finding process.
This is a difficult path. While Walton is innocent until proven guilty, allegations like this usually stick with a person long after the case is settled.
It’s a "he said, she said" situation, which never is easy to parse out, but Divac and the Kings need to know for sure that this isn’t the beginning of something bigger. If stones weren’t turned over before, they need to be now.
The Kings also could decide to terminate Walton’s contract now and jump right back into the coaching carousel. Other quality coaches are available, although the hiring process is starting to heat up. Coaches like Monty Williams and Ettore Messina, whom the Kings were interested in a little over a week ago, still are available, although they're linked to other openings around the league.
Either way, the Kings need to act decisively, and time is of the essence. This can’t be a dark cloud hanging over the franchise for the foreseeable future. They must sift through the facts quickly and decide whether Walton still is a viable option to coach the team.