Ranking the top coaching candidates for the Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings are casting a wide-net in search of their next head coach, with the goal of ending the league’s longest playoff drought. We rank the known candidates to-date.

With a league-record 16th straight consecutive season missing the playoffs and having gone without a season of 40+ wins since 2005-2006, the Sacramento Kings are casting a wide net in search of their next head coach. With promising young pieces to build around and yet still in search for a team identity (especially on the defensive end), the Kings aren’t wrong to look at candidates with experience on all ends of the spectrum.

Per insiders Adrian Wojnarowki of ESPN and The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Sacramento has been granted permission to interview current assistant coaches Mike Brown of the Golden State Warriors, Darvin Ham and Charles Lee of the Milwaukee Bucks, Will Hardy of the Boston Celtics, and consultant Steve Clifford with the Brooklyn Nets. The Kings are also reported to interview former head coaches Mike D’Antoni and Mark Jackson.

For GM Monte McNair, this is likely his most significant personnel hire in leading Sacramento’s front office, after he retained previous head coach Luke Walton. McNair is tasked with speeding up the timeline of breaking the Kings’ playoff drought, while also building towards long-term success. There’s multiple paths to embark on towards reaching that goal, and based on past examples of success it could very well be a two-step process. It could require hiring a coach to maximize the potential of the current roster in the short-term, while staying alert for the right candidate to helm the franchise for greater aspirations.

Based on the aforementioned names to-date, here are the tiers of candidates who could be next up to helm the Sacramento Kings.

Tier 1: Darvin Ham and Mike D’Antoni

Sacramento is doing their due diligence in hiring their next head coach, and based on the resumés of the known candidates, the Kings are eyeing those who have experience in maximizing teams onward to playoff hopes, or even playoff success. Darvin Ham makes sense as one of the top candidates for Sacramento: having played professionally in the NBA for eight seasons (winning a championship in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons) and holding over ten years of coaching experience as an assistant. He currently sits on Mike Budenholzer’s staff and won a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks last season.

The success and most importantly the development of the Milwaukee Bucks, from playoff hopeful to contender, speaks for itself and its clear Monte McNair would like to mirror that same trajectory for the likes of De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and the rest of the young Kings roster.

If Ham can emulate that same success, it’s not far fetched to assume he would helm the Kings long term. But if Monte McNair wants to see a short-term boost and maximize the talent Sacramento has now, don’t overlook Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s recent success was predicated on his play style of "seven seconds or less" with Steve Nash, Amari Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns. He led the Houston Rockets to great success with James Harden and Chris Paul commanding the offense as ball-handlers. He very well could implement similar tactics with Fox and Sabonis showing their growing synergy in the pick-and-roll last season, helping the Kings speed up their pace of play which can be an advantage against opponents.

With D’Antoni, the hire would come with the acceptance that it would be a short-term return on investment. The belief would be that D’Antoni could help build this current roster and add more wins towards the play-in tournament, and possibly a playoff appearance. From there, the next head coach hire could take the reins for the long-haul.

Tier 2: Charles Lee and Will Hardy

Continuing the trend of mirroring player development towards success, Charles Lee and Will Hardy would be the next tier of candidate hires. In viewing these two assistant coaches, McNair would be making the hire with long-term roster growth in mind and likely would hope for this hire to stick around for the long-haul. Charles Lee, much like Darvin Ham, sits on Budenholzer’s staff with the Bucks and has been a valued part of their path towards being NBA Champions and consistent title contenders. He holds less experience on the sidelines in comparison to Ham, but helping coach Milwaukee towards consistent success is what has made him a consistent mention among the candidate carousel of hires every offseason.

In Will Hardy, the Kings would address the needs that have handicapped this franchise: defense and ball movement. We’re seeing this on display now as the Boston Celtics hold a 3-0 lead over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, with much credit being given to their smothering defense. Sacramento has promising potential with Fox and Sabonis, but until they work towards being competent (at the minimum) on the other side of the floor, the Kings will be doing themselves no favors in the long run.

Tier 3: Mike Brown, Steve Clifford, and Mark Jackson

There’s a chance that McNair could lean towards experience in his hiring process, and if Sacramento misses out or opts against the likes of D’Antoni, then Mike Brown, Steve Clifford, and Mark Jackson would all fall in the tier below. All these names have head coaching experience on their resumé, and they’ve all been a part of or led their teams to success in the win column, more or less.

Brown has held head coaching positions with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, winning Coach of the Year in 2009 with the former and reaching the NBA Finals with LeBron James in 2007. Since his last head coaching stint with the Lakers in 2011-2012, Brown has been the lead assistant with Steve Kerr and the Warriors, winning an NBA title in 2017 and 2018 (adding to his first NBA championship as an assistant with the Spurs in 2003). Brown has extensive experience across the league and namely in winning organizations with the Spurs and Warriors, and a hire would predicate on Brown bringing that culture to Sacramento.

Steve Clifford reached the playoffs twice in 2014 as the coach of the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, and in 2019 as the coach of the Orlando Magic. In both instances, Clifford led his teams to the postseason with a style that hinged on a defensive mentality. While Clifford never won a playoff series in his two appearances as coach of the Bobcats/Hornets and Magic, the fact that he leaned on defense is likely what attracts his name to Monte McNair.

Mark Jackson’s last and only head coaching stint was with the Golden State Warriors from 2011-2014, a stint that resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances in 2013-2014 and the team’s first 50-win season since 1993-1994 in his last year in Golden State. Golden State’s dynasty that was built around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, was largely sparked off Jackson’s success in instituting a defensive mentality while he was head coach. One can’t disregard the impact Jackson had in putting his faith in Curry, Thompson, and Green and being a factor in the core advancing their potential to the next level. A Mark Jackson hire would come with the expectation that Jackson can replicate the same blueprint with Fox, Sabonis, and Davion Mitchell, particularly on the defensive end.

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)