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Luke Walton ‘very confident’ he will return as Kings’ coach next season

For the second straight season, Luke Walton’s Sacramento Kings team will finish well below .500, will not seem to have taken a step forward — the two nine-game losing streaks were evidence of that — and will miss the playoffs, bringing the Kings’ playoff drought to 15 years.

Combine all of that with the buzz around the league that owner Vivek Ranadive has been talking down his coach privately for a while and you would think Walton would be on the hot seat. Except, that seat may be just a little warm. For his part, Walton believes he will be back. Here is what Walton said Friday, via James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“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.”

To be fair, not all of the Kings’ problems fall on Walton. The organization bet big on Marvin Bagley III with the No. 2 pick and, in part due to injuries, that has not panned out. To put it kindly. Cory Joseph was signed this summer but did not live up to expectations. And the list goes on and on. New Kings general manager Monte McNair has a lot of work to build a playoff-level team, particularly in the deep West.

However, what ultimately may save Walton’s job is money. The fact that he reportedly still has a strong relationship with De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton helps, but it’s all about the money, as Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic pointed out recently.

The Kings not only owe him a combined $11.5 million after this season but also, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, are unable to stretch those payments out over several years if they fired him.

While coaching contracts often include this kind of stretch provision, the sources said Walton’s deal that was signed in mid-April 2019 does not. Considering the context here, with the Kings known to have lost approximately $100 million as a result of the pandemic, this will certainly play into the decision-making process. If fired, he would have to be paid in accordance with the original timing of the deal.

With that, maybe Walton has good reason to be confident he will return.

However, next season, when the NBA returns to full buildings and a more traditional schedule — meaning money is flowing into the system — if the Kings continue to struggle and do not look like a playoff team, Walton may not be so confident.