Two NBA head coaches – Ryan Saunders and Lloyd Pierce – have been let go since the 2020/21 season began, and there has been speculation that Kings head coach Luke Walton could be next, given his team’s recent struggles. After getting off to a 12-11 start, Sacramento has lost 10 of 12 and has slipped into a tie for 12th in the West.
Despite rumors that he might be on the hot seat, Walton believes his job is safe for the time being, sources with knowledge of the situation tell Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee.
Following a win over the LeBron James-less Lakers on Wednesday night, Walton spoke positively about his vision for the Kings’ future, telling reporters that “it’s exciting to see where this thing can go” if the team keeps building its culture and developing its young players. And while he didn’t say whether or not he has received any assurances from general manager Monte McNair, Walton feels he has the support of management, as Anderson relays.
“As far as pressure from the front office, no,” Walton said, when asked if he’s feeling mounting pressure to win games. “I feel very connected with them and very locked in as far as where we’re at and where we’re trying to go as a group, and they’ve been very supportive.”
As Anderson points out, firing Walton would be a costly move for a franchise that has felt the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Kings’ head coach still has two guaranteed years on his contract beyond 2020/21, so a change would mean paying two coaches for multiple seasons.
Additionally, while the recent slump has hurt Sacramento’s playoff chances, it’s worth noting that expectations for the team entering the season weren’t exactly sky-high — oddsmakers projected an over/under of 29.5 wins, and the Kings aren’t far off that pace, so it’s hard to argue the club is significantly underachieving.
While he claims he’s not feeling any additional pressure from the front office, Walton did say he feels pressure to win for his players, according to Anderson. And comments from certain Kings players suggest they’re also feeling some urgency to get back into the playoff hunt, recognizing that changes could be coming in the event of another finish near the bottom of the standings.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Buddy Hield said after Wednesday’s win. “At some point, you have to take this thing seriously. You know that people’s jobs are on the line. Everybody’s fighting for something.”