Following their winningest season in over a decade, the Sacramento Kings decided it was time for a change at the head coaching position and they signed Luke Walton to a four-year contract after just one interview with Vlade Divac. Walton was the only coaching candidate the front office interviewed.
The Kings failed to reach the “next level” that Divac thought Walton would take them to in his first season as head coach, as they’re on pace to finish with a lower winning percentage than they did last season (47.6%). There was an opportunity for the Kings to contend for a spot in the postseason in spite of their disappointing regular season record, but they came back from their four-month hiatus in a discombobulated state and went 1-5 through their first six games. On Sunday, they were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
There are a handful of reasons the Kings didn’t live up to their own expectations in Orlando, but Walton believes is has to do with his team’s mental toughness and lack of experience in high-pressure situations.
“We have to understand and change our mindset as far as what it takes to win,” Walton said. “We have a very good group of guys. It’s just ... the main thing I hope we take from this whole bubble experience is learning that lesson firsthand, playing these types of games night in and night out. That’s one of the main things we have to keep working towards going into the offseason.”
While it’s true that the Kings aren’t as a seasoned as a lot of the teams in the Orlando bubble, Walton is just as inexperienced and that’s been evident in Sacramento’s seeding games. Time and time again, Walton was presented with opportunities to show that he could lead his team when things grew stagnant and he didn’t. In fact, after the Kings’ 129-112 loss on Sunday, De’Aaron Fox said there have been times during the season where the team has felt lost.
“I think there were times where we knew where everything was coming from,” Fox said. “And then tonight, with the Rockets, when they’re playing like that, we need to know what we’re going to do and I don’t think we did that tonight. I think that was the case for a lot of games this year.”
Fox didn’t criticize Walton specifically, but it is the head coach’s job to keep guys in line and motivated. Sure, there are going to be teams that are better and more experienced than the Kings, but they can control how hard they play and more often than not, Sacramento was outplayed in that respect too.
That being said, the players also have a responsibility to play hard and disciplined, and Fox acknowledged that he and his teammates could have been better about taking of the little things.
“Every single second of every game matters and you can’t have those mental lapses, because when you have those teams that are playoff teams, experienced team, they’re getting those things done and that’s how get into those positions. I just don’t think we were there,” Fox said.
The Kings will have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. PT on TNT nationally and NBC Sports California locally.