The Sacramento Kings were among the more disappointing teams this NBA season, missing the playoffs for the *checks notes* 15th year in a row. They've not been seen in postseason play since 2006. Despite boasting the league's worst defensive rating this year to match with a slightly above-average offense, the Kings will not be giving head coach Luke Walton a pink slip and will instead keep him around for at least another season. RealGM noted the structure of his contract may make it difficult to fire Walton, which could help explain the move.
Listen, I get the arguments for why he should get another shot. He's coached the Kings for two seasons now, and those two seasons were so heavily affected by COVID that it's hard to say he has gotten a fair shake. Sacramento missed the play-in game by two games, so it's not like they were horrid. If De'Aaron Fox doesn't miss time due to a positive COVID diagnosis or a few shots fall over the course of the season, and it's a different conversation.
But the Kings just haven't been good at anything, really, under Walton. They were the NBA's best fast-break team the year before he came and then finished 19th in the first season with Walton at the helm. He adjusted this year, all credit to him, and Sacramento finished seventh in fast break points per game.
He didn't fix any defensive issues this year, though. It's hard to get a young team to lock in on that end, but that's the coach's job. They were last in defensive rating in 2021, worse than the Blazers or Timberwolves who feature absolutely atrocious defenders on a nightly basis. The team gave up 117 points per game this season. They were slightly below average on that end of the court last year, the closest they've come to postseason play in a long time, but that isn't going to cut it.
This isn't really about Walton's individual failings as much as it is about the timeframe the Kings now face. Fox's max extension kicks in this season. The clock is ticking and star players are on the move more often than ever before. Walton could bring this team around, but it will take a while and Sacramento may not have that time. From what we've seen of Walton, he can supersede expectations if those expectations are very low and tops out as an average coach.
That isn't good enough to keep Fox happy. And keeping him happy is the only thing that matters. He's a good point guard now and could be great in short order, with a unique ability to hit max speed very quickly. He's already suffered through years of poor play in Sacramento, capped off by the blown Marvin Bagley pick.
Maybe Fox supports Walton and wants to keep him around. That's what the above RealGM article suggested, that "key players" are still behind Walton. But that tune can change swiftly if winning doesn't come in bunches. The Kings are playing a dangerous game by keeping Walton around. Running the treadmill of mediocrity in the NBA is not a path to success, and from what we've seen, that's the best Walton can offer this team.