The Sacramento Kings continue to be the laughingstock of the NBA. In search of their first playoff appearance since 2006, the Kings have tasked multiple coaches with trying to lead the franchise, each ending in failure. The latest is Luke Walton, who was fired on Sunday with a record of 68-93 in just over two seasons.
Sacramento isn’t terribly far away from relevancy. Young players like De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Buddy Hield round out the team’s solid core. But they need a coach who can make the most of their talent and deliver a winning record not seen since the days of Rick Adelman.
The Kings have a number of options for filling their new vacancy, with four intriguing candidates leading the way.
4. Alvin Gentry
Shortly after parting with Walton, Sacramento named the 67-year-old Alvin Gentry as the interim head coach. That could very well make the longtime coach the current leader in the clubhouse.
Gentry is a coach who is well-respected across the league. A former point guard, he has been on an NBA bench since 1988, working with nine franchises as a head coach or assistant. Most recently, Gentry coached the New Orleans Pelicans for five full seasons, his longest tenure with any team, before being let go in 2020.
The longtime coach fits the mold of who Sacramento has hired in the last 15 years. Paul Westphal, George Karl, and Dave Joerger all had years of head coaching experience before taking the job with the Kings. But for a team that hasn’t had a coach for more than three seasons since Adelman, is that a good thing?
Should Sacramento show signs of life under Gentry for the remainder of the season, the job would be his to lose. It would be a low-risk, low-reward hire for a team that needs to get this decision right.
3. Becky Hammon
Eventually, Becky Hammon is going to make history and become a head coach. The Sacramento Kings could be the team that makes it happen.
The former WNBA star has served under Gregg Popovich as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs since 2014. She has been in the running for multiple head coaching jobs over that time, most recently becoming a finalist for the Portland Trail Blazers’ opening.
With a little under 10 years of experience learning from one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Hammon is a hire that could excite a fan base. Not to mention, she knows basketball as well as anyone, with players like Pau Gasol giving resounding endorsements.
Given the Kings’ level of disfunction over the past several years, Hammon would have her work cut out for her if she gets the job. But her hiring could be a breath of fresh air for a team that desperately needs one.
2. Darvin Ham
While Gentry and Hammon are certainly more recognizable names, Darvin Ham is unknown to many casual NBA fans. But his resume is head coach-worthy.
Ham, 48, had a largely uninspiring pro career. But he has managed to carve out a decade-long career as an assistant coach. The former Texas Tech star has most notably been a right-hand man to Mike Budenholzer, serving as his assistant with both the Atlanta Hawks and the title-winning Milwaukee Bucks.
In addition to being a coach who knows the ins and outs of the game, Ham is renowned for his toughness and communication. With a background in player development, the longtime assistant could help get the most out of Sacramento’s young players.
The Kings haven’t hired someone with no head coaching experience since Reggie Theus in 2007. But for this franchise, change wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
1. Sam Cassell
Any of the three coaches mentioned above appear to be upgrades over Walton, who has failed with two franchises in his short coaching career. But Sam Cassell is the candidate who could really help turn the Sacramento Kings around.
Cassell had an excellent 15-year NBA career, winning three titles and serving as a veteran leader for multiple teams. In 2009, one year after retiring, he joined Flip Saunders’ coaching staff on the Washington Wizards. He coached for five seasons in Washington and six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers under Doc Rivers. Cassell then followed Doc to the Philadelphia 76ers, where’s he’s worked the last two seasons.
The longtime assistant played a crucial role in developing young Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal when they first entered the league. He is also helping the Sixers’ young guard rotation thrive without Ben Simmons. Could Fox, Haliburton, and Davion Mitchell be next on that list?
Cassell was a leader as a player and remains a respected leader as a coach. He has more than put in his time as an assistant, as well. When the Kings officially begin their head coaching search, Cassell should be their first call.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.