It’s January 11th and the Sacramento Kings have a .500 winning percentage. The Sacramento Kings have a .500 record in January. THE SACRAMENTO KINGS are playing good basketball into January. And yet the coach who has led this unexpected turnaround hasn’t been extended. Sure, Dave Joerger is under contract through next season, but it would be naive to expect any NBA coach to be happy on a lame duck contract. It’s simply not how the industry works. Dave Joerger’s staff, the assistants who are integral to player development, are in the final year of their contracts.
The Kings need to extend Joerger and his staff, and they need to do it as soon as possible.
Let’s look at the job Joerger has done since arriving in Sacramento. In his first season Joerger was coaching a veteran team designed to maximize DeMarcus Cousins. He was connecting with Cousins in a way several predecessors had failed to do. The Kings were 24-33 before the Cousins trade, and were trending up after winning 5 of their last 7 games before the All-Star break.
In the aftermath of the Cousins trade Joerger was tasked with realigning the team from chasing an eighth seed to tanking for the draft. The team performed poorly on the court, but that was supposed to happen and certainly can’t be put on Joerger.
Last season Joerger was given a roster half-full of kids and half-full of vets. We complained loudly and often about his rotations and his tendency to play veterans over the youth. Zach Randolph was a focal point of the team and it felt like every worst aspect of Joerger’s reputation with the Grizzlies was manifesting before our eyes. Throughout the season Joerger talked about bringing the younger players along slowly, teaching them to walk before they ran, and how they needed to earn their minutes. It was frustrating, but every report said that the locker room was in good spirits despite a terrible record. He managed to guide the team through a long, slow-paced, miserable slog and keep them happy in this process.
This season Joerger showed that he meant what he said last season. After a year of teaching, the training wheels came off. The Sacramento Kings play fast as hell and are led by their youth. De’Aaron Fox looks like an absolute star. Buddy Hield continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Bogdan Bogdanovic is awesome. Willie has (mostly) stopped taking mid-range jumpers. Justin Jackson is looking like a solid contributor. It’s been a long time since Kings fans got to enjoy evidence that Kings can actually help young players grow and develop, but we finally have it. Dave Joerger and his staff have helped the young players grow. They’ve made them earn their places in the rotations. And it’s all starting to pay off.
Take a moment to listen to Harry Giles’ post-game interview after Thursday’s win against the Pistons.
Coach Joerger embraced Harry after the game.— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 11, 2019
"As you saw I just messed up probably 10 times straight but regardless of all that he just told me that you get better." pic.twitter.com/4s6GaaShEH
Harry knows the mistakes he made, but he made turnovers trying to get guys involved in the game who don’t get to play much. It’s a sign of Harry being a great teammate, but also an indicator of the camaraderie in the locker room. The Kings have great chemistry with each other. Some of that is roster construction, but some of that is also coaching. In the clip above you can hear the pride in Harry’s voice as he talks about Joerger saying that Harry is getting better.
The Kings organization knows that they have great chemistry, and we’ve heard reports that the Kings are going to be cautious about making any trades that could hurt that chemistry. But the distraction of the coaching staff’s future can jeopardize that chemistry as well. When the Minnesota Timberwolves fired Tom Thibodeau, speculation immediately began about whether Joerger would be interested. Sam Amick wrote for The Athletic:
The 44-year-old Kings coach was born and raised in Staples, Minn., played two years of college ball in his native state, and has been unofficially tied to the Timberwolves ever since he was nearly traded — yes, traded — to Minnesota in May 2014 before deciding to return as Memphis Grizzlies head coach.
So, is there a chance Joerger might eventually fill the spot that was vacated by Thibodeau and will now be filled by interim coach Ryan Saunders? Yes, if only because that job will always have some allure with him and he is known to have fans within the Timberwolves organization, but there’s no indication that it’s likely. Especially considering Joerger’s affinity for this upstart Kings group.
As Amick notes, the move shouldn’t be considered likely at this point, but the speculation will remain. And that kind of speculation could fester. Remember how Joerger got to Sacramento in the first place. After his relationship with the front office grew strained, Joerger asked to interview with the Sacramento Kings, leading to his dismissal from the Grizzlies. Joerger isn’t afraid to chase greener pastures.
So how do you remove the feeling of uncertainty a coach would have going into the final year of his contract? How do you show a vote of confidence that you support him and appreciate what he’s done for this team? How do you remove his name from the speculative chatter when other openings come up? It’s simple.
The Kings need to extend Dave Joerger and his staff. And they need to do it as soon as possible.