Ranking Mark Jackson and the 3 Coaching Candidates Who Could End Sacramento Kings’ Lengthy Playoff Drought

The Sacramento Kings are coming off of a season with a lot of moving pieces. They fired head coach Luke Walton one month into the regular season and had a chaotic NBA trade deadline

Sacramento made a bold trade with the Indiana Pacers, most notably for big man Domantas Sabonis. They sent budding guard Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and big man Tristan Thompson to Indiana. The Kings also sent former No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III to the Detroit Pistons in a four-team trade where they acquired Donte DiVincenzo. 

These trades didn’t move the needle for the Kings in the short term, as they finished 12th in the Western Conference. With the franchise choosing not to retain interim head coach Alvin Gentry, they’re in search of someone to run the show.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, former Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford, and Warriors’ associate head coach Mike Brown are finalists for the Kings’ vacant head-coaching position. Here’s how the three candidates stack up in terms of fit for the position.

3. Mark Jackson

ESPN announcer Mark Jackson jokes with President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank before an NBA game
Mark Jackson | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No matter the way one slices it, Jackson was a key figure in the Warriors’ rise to prominence. He coached them out of the NBA’s cellar and helped develop the now-accomplished backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors had back-to-back playoff appearances. That’s the case for Jackson coaching a team in need of direction like the Kings. The problem?

Jackson hasn’t been on an NBA sideline in any capacity in eight years. His coaching experience altogether is three seasons as the headman for the Warriors — that’s it. It’s difficult to get a gauge on what Jackson would be as a head coach this time around. Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t come back and be successful. But the Kings shouldn’t be the team to find out why he hasn’t been associated with an NBA team in eight years. 

Sacramento has a pair of star/compelling guards in De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell, but they’re not efficient shooters, which is what generated Jackson’s Golden State offense. The Kings need a coach who can maximize the talent in the building. 

Fox is a prolific scorer. Sabonis is one of the best offensive big men in the sport. Mitchell is a raw, two-way player. Richaun Holmes is an athletic frontcourt player. Terence Davis has flaunted scoring upside. Sacramento has a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. This team is supposed to be competing for the playoffs.

The Kings need someone who’s in touch with the modern-day game to run the show. Jackson isn’t a risk worth taking for their sake.

2. Steve Clifford

Three years ago, the Kings had an encouraging 39-win season under head coach Dave Joerger, who they decided to fire after the season. Clifford’s track record is similar to Joerger’s time with the Kings; hiring the former could be the organization righting a wrong.

The Hornets and Magic were sturdy teams under Clifford. At their best, they were competitive playoff teams. Worst-case scenario, they were fighting for the playoffs. Clifford helped a previously inept Bobcats/Hornets team become a respectable Eastern Conference team. They made the playoffs twice and missed such play by a handful of games in other seasons.

The same was the case for Clifford in Orlando, where the Magic made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. In both situations, the respective team developed into a competitive force with a core player (Kemba Walker with Charlotte and Nikola Vucevic with Orlando) and a handful of others gradually improving by the year. All the while, these were defensive-minded teams. 

Maybe Clifford could establish a defensive identity while getting a new dimension from players like Mitchell, Holmes, and Davis? Clifford would be a respectable hire for the Kings, but he’s not an optimum hire. Why? His teams have always peaked.

Charlotte kept hitting a wall, and Orlando was never able to win more than one game in the playoffs. On one hand, Clifford could be a stabilizing figure for the Kings. That said, they may only be able to do so much by letting Clifford put his imprints on their current roster in a ruthless Western Conference. 

1. Mike Brown

Brown is the wild card of these three candidates. Maybe that’s precisely the type of hire the Kings should make?

Brown has a well-versed NBA resume. He has a combined 21 seasons as either a head coach or assistant in the NBA under his belt. Brown most notably coached a Cleveland Cavaliers team with a young LeBron James and a plethora of revolving door veteran players. They were a continual threat to win the Eastern Conference, which they did in 2007.

One year after being relieved of his duties in Cleveland, Brown took the wheel for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was fired five games into his second season and fired again after one season into his second stint with the Cavaliers. For perspective, the Lakers went 42-29 under Brown. He then helped a young Cavaliers team improve its win total by nine games from the season prior. It’s difficult to justify his consecutive firings from a win-loss standpoint.

Brown has been an assistant for the Warriors under Steve Kerr for the last six seasons. He has seen firsthand what a contender looks like on and off the floor in the modern-day game and helped the Warriors transition into the post-Kevin Durant era.

Brown brings a little bit of everything to the table in terms of experience. He was the head coach in a different era of the NBA, but he has also been on the sidelines helping one of the best teams in the sport over the last decade.

Brown would be a compelling hire for the Kings. He could view their current standing as similar to his second run with the Cavs, specifically in having a young star — Fox compares to Kyrie Irving in this scenario — and a team that’s struggling to turn a corner. 

Follow us on Twitter @sportscasting19.