Monte McNair stepped to the microphone Wednesday to answer questions for the first time since becoming general manager of the Kings late last week. While it wasn’t a conventional press conference filled with handshakes and photo ops due to social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, the Zoom video was nonetheless informative.
One of the larger questions hanging over McNair's hire is the fate of head coach Luke Walton, who is entering the second season of a four-year contract with the Kings. McNair fielded the question early and often, as he confirmed that Walton’s job is safe and he will coach the team next season.
“Luke is going to be our coach next year, I’m really excited to work with him and I think we’re aligned in our vision and we’re going to start implementing it,” McNair said.
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Walton drew fire during the team’s slow start to the season and again when the Kings got off to a rough start in the Orlando bubble. He was also hired by former GM Vlade Divac last summer, which always introduces an interesting dynamic.
According to McNair, he and Walton did not have a prior relationship before taking the job, but they do have mutual friends around the league and they’ve found common ground over the last few days of working together.
While the Kings don’t have James Harden and Russell Westbrook, like McNair had in his time with the Rockets, their idea is for the team to push the tempo. That is something Walton was able to accomplish in Los Angeles with the Lakers, but struggled with last season in Sacramento, in part due to injuries to key positions early in the year.
“In Houston, we obviously pushed some things to the extreme, that was partly due to our personnel there,” McNair said. “I think here, we’ll have to adapt to our personnel. There are some tenets that I think we’ll apply here. We’re definitely going to play fast, we’re going to space the floor, but there’s a lot of versatility and talent on this roster, so I think that we’ll dictate how we build the team.”
The current roster in Sacramento is built for speed, although they finished just 20th in the league in pace. McNair’s Rockets club finished third in the league under head coach Mike D’Antoni and it’s likely he will want to see that style of play repeated in Sacramento.
With the hiring of McNair, the Kings filled a huge void in the organization. If he is going to rely on Walton, at least in Year One, there should be some continuity on the floor. Hopefully it leads to more success than the 2019-20 season.