Luke Walton

Central Notes: Ball, Portis, Walton, Pacers

Echoing Billy Donovan‘s update on Sunday, Bulls president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said that Lonzo Ball is “progressing” from his left knee injury. However, as K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes, Karnisovas’ comments on Ball were somewhat sobering.

“He’s getting better. Probably not at the speed that we would like. But he’s getting better,” Karnisovas said of Ball. “Hopefully, he’s going to be ready for training camp. That’s just our hopes.”

Ball, who underwent surgery on a torn left meniscus in January, was bothered by a bone bruise when he attempted to ramp up his rehab process last season. According to Johnson, Ball has experienced “similar starts and stops” this offseason and still sometimes experiences discomfort when he increases his workload.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • After years of betting on himself with shorter-term contracts and team-friendly salaries, Bucks big man Bobby Portis was thrilled to be rewarded in free agency this summer with a four-year, $48MM+ deal, as he tells Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “Finally being able to have financial security for not only myself, but my family, is great,” Portis said. “To be able to go into free agency and have a number of teams call and believe that I’m special and want me to join their team, that was cool too.” Portis added that he decided to re-sign with the Bucks in part because his two years in Milwaukee have made him not only a better player but a “better man off the court.”
  • New Cavaliers assistant Luke Walton spoke to Kelsey Russo of The Athletic about his decision to join J.B. Bickerstaff‘s staff in Cleveland, noting that he appreciates the level of continuity he sees in the franchise. “There’s a lot of people that are still working here that were here when I played here 10 years ago – which is rare in the NBA,” Walton said. “To me, it’s something that’s very important when you’re trying to build a winning team and a winning culture.”
  • We’re still waiting to see how Deandre Ayton‘s free agency will play out, but the Pacers make a lot of sense as a potential destination for the former top pick, according to Dan Devine of The Ringer. Adding Ayton would give Tyrese Haliburton an ideal pick-and-roll partner and would put Indiana on track to quickly pivot back to respectability, Devine writes.

Cavaliers Hire Luke Walton As Assistant Coach

1:47pm: The Cavs have officially hired Walton, the team announced in a press release.

We are very excited to add someone of Luke’s caliber and championship DNA to our coaching staff,” said president of basketball operations Koby Altman. “His on-court experiences as a head coach, assistant coach and player in this league fit seamlessly into J.B.’s existing coaching staff. Luke is someone who truly embraces player development, a team-first mentality, and a history of creating winning basketball habits. We welcome Luke, his wife Bre and the entire Walton family back to Northeast Ohio.”

11:23am: Luke Walton will be hired as an assistant coach under J.B. Bickerstaff with the Cavaliers, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Walton started the 2021/22 season as the head coach of the Kings, but was fired in November after the team got off to a 6-11 start. He compiled a 31-41 record in each of his first two full seasons with Sacramento and never came close to breaking the franchise’s long playoff drought. His four-year contract with the Kings runs through the end of next season.

Walton also spent three years as head coach of the Lakers, compiling a 98-148 record with no playoff appearances. He was fired in L.A. after the end of the 2018/19 season and was hired in Sacramento a few days later.

Walton ended his playing career in Cleveland, spending a season and a half there before retiring after the 2012/13 season.

D’Antoni, Stotts Among Kings’ Coaching Targets?

There appears to be a growing expectation that the Kings won’t name Alvin Gentry as their full-time head coach, Marc Stein reports at Substack. Gentry was named interim head coach when the franchise fired Luke Walton back in November.

Sacramento is believed to be seeking a veteran coach, according to Stein, who says that Terry Stotts, Mike D’Antoni, Mike Brown and Steve Clifford have been mentioned in league coaching circles as potential targets. Stotts and D’Antoni are coaching free agents, while Brown (Warriors assistant) and Clifford (Nets coaching consultant) currently work for teams.

The Kings will miss the playoffs for the 16th straight time this season, the longest streak in NBA history. The team has seen seven head coaches in the last decade: Keith Smart, Michael Malone, Tyrone Corbin, George Karl, Dave Joerger, Walton and Gentry.

Stotts, D’Antoni, Brown and Clifford all hold experience as former head coaches. Stein notes that D’Antoni has a strong relationship with Kings general manager Monte McNair, as both were together in Houston from 2016-20. Stotts is also expected to receive interest on the coaching market this summer.

Kings Notes: Gentry, Haliburton, Walton, Metu, Barnes

New Kings head coach Alvin Gentry called out his players and apologized to fans after a disappointing collapse against the Lakers on Tuesday night, and was pleased with how the players responded against the Clippers on Wednesday, writes Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. The Kings jumped out to a double-digit first-half lead for a second straight night — this time they held on for a victory.

“They’re a good bunch of players. They’re a good bunch of kids and I think they want to do the right thing,” Gentry said. “I just wanted to remind them that we have to do it on a consistent basis, but I thought the response was great.”

Here’s more on the Kings:

  • Second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton said on Wednesday that the Kings’ players bear the responsibility for producing consistently and that former head coach Luke Walton shouldn’t have been blamed for their inability to do so. “We as players know we have to be better,” Haliburton said, per Anderson. “It seemed like Luke was a scapegoat at times when we weren’t playing well. People were blaming him, but at the end of the day it’s on us as basketball players and we have to be better. It’s not on any staffs. It’s not on any front office. It’s not on anybody except the guys on the court.”
  • Chimezie Metu‘s $1,762,796 salary for 2021/22, which had been partially guaranteed for $881,398, was set to become fully guaranteed if he remained under contract through Wednesday, as Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Teams and players sometimes agree to push those guarantee dates back, but there has been no indication that Metu and the Kings took that route, so we’re assuming for now that the big man’s salary for this season is fully guaranteed. His $1,910,860 salary for 2022/23 remains non-guaranteed.
  • Harrison Barnes, who has missed the Kings’ past four games due to a right foot sprain, was sent to the Stockton Kings on Thursday to practice with the G League club, Anderson writes for The Sacramento Bee. Barnes’ NBAGL assignment will be brief, as he’ll be recalled in order to practice on Friday with the NBA squad, tweets Sean Cunningham of ABC 10 Sacramento.

Pacific Notes: Green, Thompson, Fox, Walton, James

Draymond Green is playing with renewed vigor and the Warriors forward is aiming for another Defensive Player of the Year award, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes. “Most importantly, I want to win, I want to be a Defensive Player of the Year again, and I want to be an All-Star again,” Green said. “And that is motivating me because a lot of people had counted me out. Same mistake people made before when I first came into the league — but a lot of people doubted me, and doubted me again. And that’s fuel to the fire.” Green won the DPOY award in 2017.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr reacted with feigned surprise regarding a report that Klay Thompson had received full medical clearance to practice. “I don’t know where that came from,” Kerr said, according to a tweet from Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. However, Kerr didn’t deny the report, Poole added in another tweet. The Athletic’s Anthony Slater said Kerr was trying to protect Thompson from media attention. If Thompson doesn’t participate in all team portions of practice, he could theoretically skip any required media requirements, which is Klay’s preference.
  • De’Aaron Fox said it was a bit of a shock that Luke Walton was fired at this stage of the season, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. However, he added that the Kings have to put that behind them quickly. “You’ve just got to keep on pushing,” Fox said. “Obviously, you have some guys who have been through it in the middle of a season before, but you can’t go into the game worried about what happened. We’ve still got games to play.”
  • LeBron James‘ one-game suspension will result in some cost savings for the Lakers, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. While James will lose a game check of $284K, the Lakers will receive a $142K credit toward the luxury tax that projects to save them $532.5K.

Kings Notes: Walton, Gentry, Hines, Fox

Addressing reporters on Sunday, Kings general manager Monte McNair explained why the team fired head coach Luke Walton just 17 games into the season after initially deciding to bring him back for the 2021/22 season.

“The start of the year was a lot of what we were hoping for, and we really thought it could have been even better,” McNair said, per Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. “I think we saw a lot of the things that we thought this team could do, but these last eight games were a change, and, for me, the question became what’s the best way to move forward, and that’s my job at every point in the season.”

The Kings began the season with a 5-4 record, but have since dropped seven of eight games. That stretch included losses vs. San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, and Toronto, all of whom are multiple games below .500.

“It wasn’t any one thing,” McNair said. “It was a combination of things, but sitting here with where we’ve been the last two weeks, we felt we weren’t getting the consistency and certainly the results we wanted. We all need to be better. This is not on any one person, but we did feel this was the change that was best to get us back to where we need to go.”

Here’s more on the Kings and their head coaching change:

  • McNair said on Sunday that he still believes the Kings have enough talent to make the playoffs and thinks Alvin Gentry is capable of leading them there. The team chose Gentry over other assistants – like Doug Christie – as its interim replacement due to his previous head coaching experience, McNair added (Twitter links via Sean Cunningham of ABC10 Sacramento).
  • Kings player development coach Rico Hines will move to the front of the bench as one of Gentry’s assistants, McNair said (Twitter link via Anderson).
  • Michael Pina of and Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer take a look at what’s next in Sacramento following Walton’s exit, with Tjarks suggesting that the Kings will soon need to determine whether De’Aaron Fox is still the player they want to build around.
  • The timing of Walton’s dismissal is another “Kangz” moment for Sacramento, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who notes that a coaching change made in the first third of a season probably should’ve just been made during the offseason.

Kings Fire Luke Walton; Alvin Gentry Named Interim Coach

1:56pm: Alvin Gentry will become the interim coach of the Kings, per Sam Amick of The Athletic (Twitter link). He was previously serving as associate head coach under Walton.

Gentry’s last stint as a head coach was with the Pelicans from 2015-20, compiling a 175-225 record in five seasons before being fired. He has a total win-loss record of 510-595 across 17 partial seasons with the Heat, Pistons, Clippers, Suns and Pelicans. His most successful team was the 2009/10 Suns, who reached the Western Conference Finals and lost to the eventual champion Lakers in six games.

12:06pm: The Kings have fired head coach Luke Walton, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Kings have struggled in the early portion of the season, losing seven of their past eight games and currently sit with a 6-11 record. They lost some seemingly winnable games during the slide, including games to the Pacers, Spurs, Thunder, and Raptors.

The team went 31-41 in each of the past two seasons under Walton, so he compiled a 68-93 overall record with the Kings. He’s under contract for one more year beyond this season and the team will be on the hook for the remainder of his salary.

Woj also relays that Alvin Gentry, the team’s associate head coach, is a strong candidate to serve as the interim coach. However, he hedged that statement by noting that a decision has yet to be made (Twitter link).

Another possible candidate to serve as interim coach is former Kings player and first-year assistant Doug Christie, Woj tweets.

We noted earlier today that Kings fans have been regularly chanting “fire Luke Walton” at home games and there was a report last week that indicated the head coach was firmly on the hot seat. There has been increasing urgency for the Kings to snap their 15-year playoff drought. The front office views the current roster as one capable of making the postseason, hence why Walton was fired after a 6-11 start.

It’s tough to see the team making the playoffs outright as a top-six seed, especially having started five games under .500. There are definitely talented players among the group, but the fit is questionable. It will be interesting to see if this decision has any impact on trade talks, or if the Kings will stick with the roster they have.

Sacramento was consistently a bottom-tier defensive team under Walton; the club ranked 20th in defensive rating in 2019/20, 30th last season, and 23rd through 17 games this season. It ranked 27th, 30th, and 24th in total rebounds across the same time period. Obviously not all of that is on the coach, but it’s partly why the Kings have struggled to compete at the level they were hoping for.

Pacific Notes: Walton, Poole, Iguodala, Ayton

“Fire Luke Walton” chants have become a regular occurrence at Kings‘ home games as fans continue to turn on the embattled head coach, writes Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento has suffered three straight double-digit losses since a report surfaced earlier this week that Walton’s job could be “in peril” if the team doesn’t become more competitive.

General manager Monte McNair has been very open about his desire to reach the playoffs this season, but with a 6-11 start the Kings don’t look like much of a postseason threat. However, Walton’s players are remaining loyal to him as speculation grows about a potential coaching change.

“I got his back,” Tyrese Haliburton said. “I’m pretty sure we all do. I don’t have to say I’m pretty sure. I know we all do. He’s put a lot of time and 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.”

Chris Biderman of The Sacramento Bee contends that getting rid of Walton won’t solve the Kings’ larger problem, which is a poorly constructed roster. He also questions why McNair didn’t make a coaching move when he became GM last year or before the start of the season if he doesn’t have faith in Walton.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Jordan Poole has become a dangerous scorer for the Warriors, especially on the nights that Stephen Curry doesn’t play, notes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Poole has expanded his offensive capabilities in his third NBA season, and coach Steve Kerr recognizes the difference in his game. “He’s physically stronger,” Kerr said. “He’s able to absorb contact. He’s just got more confidence. You think about his first year, if he had a clear lane to the rim, he could dunk the ball, but it now looks like he’s getting up 6 inches higher. Athletically, he’s much improved from two years ago. That extra power and bounce is really paying off.”
  • Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala will miss his third straight game today because of a swollen right knee and the team isn’t sure how long he might be sidelined, Slater adds. “He said (the swelling) is better today,” Kerr said Friday. “But just given where he is in his career, age-wise, it’ll be a day-to-day thing.”
  • The Suns played well with JaVale McGee and Frank Kaminsky at center while Deandre Ayton was sidelined with a knee injury, and Zach Lowe of ESPN wonders how that will affect Ayton’s leverage in contract talks next summer.

Tristan Thompson Expresses Frustration After Kings’ Latest Loss

The Kings lost for the fifth time in six games on Wednesday night, dropping to 6-9 on the season and 1-3 on a road trip that included games in San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Detroit, and Minnesota. After the game, veteran center Tristan Thompson expressed frustration with the results of Wednesday’s contest and the road trip as a whole, as Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee relays.

“The reality is this road trip should have been a 4-0,” Thompson said. “I was going on this road trip planning on going 4-0. The teams that we played against — OKC, they don’t want to win games. They want to rebuild. Everyone f—ing knows that. The Spurs, they have all young guys. They’re trying to figure it out. They have damn near eight guys that all play the same position. They’re trying to figure it out.

“… The Timberwolves, they’ve got names, but are they trying to win? Roll the dice, see what happens, figure out their roster. Detroit, they do not want to win. They want another top-three or top-five pick, and that’s no disrespect to the players on their team. They’re going to play hard and give it everything they’ve got, but at the end of the day, I know how this league works and I know how the front office works. … These are the games you have to win if you’re trying to be in the playoffs, or be in the play-in game, these are the wins you have to capitalize on.”

A report earlier this week indicated that head coach Luke Walton is facing increasing pressure and that his job will likely be in jeopardy if the Kings’ slump continues. However, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Thompson dismissed the idea that it should be Walton’s responsibility to motivate Sacramento’s players.

“I think no man in this world should rely on another man to inspire them, point blank, period,” Thompson said, per Anderson.” You can put that in all capitals. Me personally, no one should ever need a coach to inspire you. If you don’t get inspired in a game, then you shouldn’t be on the court.

“Losing teams, losing players, you need to get inspiration from your coach, and I’m not with that s–t. My teammates aren’t with it because I know guys want to win and they want to win badly, so it’s not about Coach Walton inspiring you. This is not no freaking ‘Glory Road’ s—. … I don’t need no f—ing coach to inspire me. Never that. Never have. Never will. The day I need a coach to inspire me is the day I’m f—ing retiring. I’m going to go play with my kids in the park.”

Thompson ranks just 10th on the Kings in minutes per game and he has been a DNP-CD in a handful of games this season. However, the 30-year-old has a championship ring and is one of the veteran leaders on a team whose key players – including De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Davion Mitchell – are relatively young.

Thompson made it clear on Wednesday that he believes in his teammates and that his frustration stems from a belief that the Kings have enough talent to be better than they’ve been so far. The big man said that everyone’s “heart is in the right place” and that they badly want to win, but they need to cut down on mistakes to make it happen.

“We’ve just got to come together and we’ve just got to really learn from those mistakes and really make sure we make it a priority,” Thompson said. “And it’s all of us. Me, too. … We’re all at fault here. From the top to the bottom, we’re all at fault. We’re in this together.

“… I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we keep pushing. No one’s going to feel sorry for you. This is the NBA. No one’s going to feel sorry for you. C-Webb (Chris Webber) and (Mike) Bibby ain’t coming through that door, so you’ve got to keep pushing each and every day, keep getting better in practice, keep watching the film, learn from the mistakes. If we all can just get 1% better each and every day, then we’ll get our fair share of wins.”

Pressure Mounting On Kings’ Luke Walton

Kings head coach Luke Walton finds himself on the hot seat once again, according to Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic, who say the pressure is mounting on Walton amidst Sacramento’s current four-game losing streak.

Sources tell Amick and Charania that Walton’s job will likely be “in peril” soon if the Kings’ slump continues.

Walton faced some pressure last season as well, but ultimately held onto his job for a variety of reasons, including his approval rating in the locker room, his strong relationship with general manager Monte McNair, and the fact that he still had multiple guaranteed years left on his contract, per Amick and Charania.

According to The Athletic’s duo, Walton isn’t expected to given as much leeway this time around, since there’s increasing urgency for the Kings to snap their 15-year playoff drought. Amick and Charania add that the current roster is viewed internally as one capable of making the postseason.

The Kings’ current losing streak includes a home game vs. Indiana and road games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, which are the types of contests that management and ownership would expect the team to win. Sacramento will play in Detroit on Monday night, and Amick and Charania note that a loss to the 3-9 Pistons certainly “would not aid Walton’s cause.”

Walton, who was hired by former Kings general manager Vlade Divac in 2019, led the team to consecutive 31-41 (.431) finishes in his first two seasons, and is off to a 5-8 start in 2021/22. He’s under contract for one more year beyond this season.