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Luke Walton to remain Sacramento Kings head coach

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Charlotte Hornets v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Former Arizona Wildcats star Luke Walton will return as head coach of the Sacramento Kings for a third season. James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area was the first to report the news Monday.

Walton’s job was thought to be in jeopardy in recent months as the Kings limped to a 31-41 record, extending their playoff drought to 15 years.

Back in April, Walton’s name was even floated around for the vacant Arizona head coach position, but Walton quickly shut down rumors that he was interested in returning to his alma mater.

“I love Arizona and I think Sean Miller did an amazing job there in his time. I have a job. I have a job I love. I have a group I love working with. I’m very committed to being here in Sacramento,” Walton said on April 7.

One week later Arizona hired Tommy Lloyd.

Walton has never made the NBA Playoffs in his five years as an NBA head coach (first three with the Los Angeles Lakers), nor has he ever posted a winning record. Still, Walton is respected and well-liked by the young Kings squad.

Here’s what our friends over at Sactown Royalty said about the Kings’ decision to retain him:

Players have continued to express enthusiastic support for Walton, in particular De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, the latter of whom went to bat for Walton in his exit interview earlier today.

As The Athletic reported earlier this month, the Kings owe $11.5 million to Walton for the remainder of his contract and cannot defer any of those payments, so it’s possible that this decision was financially motivated instead of based on Walton’s performance. To Walton’s credit, Haliburton did have a fine rookie season under his tutelage and Fox has improved steadily over the past two years. Walton also brought in highly-respected assistant coaches to round out the staff, showing a willingness to adapt after his first year in Sacramento.

The front office hasn’t made Walton’s job much easier. The team didn’t make any meaningful improvements to the roster other than drafting Haliburton, and the depth was clearly an issue during the first part of the season. By the time the Kings brought in reinforcements at the trade deadline, the starters were so banged up that it was too late to make a run at the postseason.

There is plenty of blame to be spread around for how the Kings ended this season. All we know for now is that the team has decided that Walton will not bear the brunt of it.