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That Should About Do It For Luke Walton

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 17: Head coach Luke Walton of the Sacramento Kings looks on in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on November 17, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
David Berding/Getty Images

Four days ago, Luke Walton was in danger of being fired. Three days ago, the Sacramento Kings beat Detroit by 22 points and eased the pressure on his leonine skull. One night ago, the Kings lost by 10 to Minnesota, in a game that inspired Tristan Thompson to air the team’s grievances about, well, the team.

“No man in this world should rely on another man to inspire them,” Thompson said after the loss to the Puppies in front of a team logo-festooned backdrop, which makes everything somehow more official.

“You can put that in all capital letters,” he said, trying to typeset the obituary before it’s been ordered. “No one should ever need a coach to inspire you. If you don’t get inspired in a game then you shouldn’t be on the court. Losing teams, losing players, you need to get inspiration from your coach, and I’m not with that shit. My teammates aren’t with it because I know guys want to win. So it’s not about Coach Walton inspiring you, this is not no fricking ‘Glory Road’ shit. No, you’ve got to be ready to play. Your number is called, you’re in the damn game. I don’t need no fucking coach to inspire me. Never have, never will. The day I need a coach to inspire me is the day I’m fucking retiring.”

And to make sure you understood his authority, he added, “I speak for my teammates with that quote. So we don’t need no coach to inspire us.”

And you know what all that heartfelt patty melt means? Walton is done on both sides, ready to come out of the oven and then dropped into the turkey fryer, just to make sure.

Not because Thompson was insincere or Machiavellian, but because the Kings are outliers when it comes to telegraphing their moves. Nothing is ever a surprise with them, not even when they traded DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star Game he was playing in. They thought they were better than they are, again, owner Vivek Ranadive is pissed, again, and other than the two times he turned on his head of basketball operations, he has grown tired of Walton.

Fair? By Kings standards, probably. Ranadive has had five coaches in eight years, a bastion of stability when compared to the five coaches in six years the rollicking Maloof boys had at the end of their tenure. Walton has coached 159 of Ranadive’s 651 games, not quite a quarter of them, and only Dave Joerger had more, and he got fired after the team’s best record in 13 seasons. In other words, as coaching gigs go, you don’t buy in Sacramento or even rent, but borrow stuff from friends.

But you must know most of this by now from Comrade Redford’s self-inflicted tire-chainings on the matter. To be a Sacramento Kings fan is to demand flagellation, so Walton’s current cliffside position is standard.

Nobody has ever truly loved Luke Walton as a coach, to be sure. His best stretch ever was the 39-4 record he didn’t get credit for while manning Steve Kerr’s workstation after Kerr had a back surgery that went so far south that Kerr said afterward that the best medical alternative to back surgery is to never have back surgery. That was at the height of the first Warrior dynasty (yeah, let’s all lose our minds on this season after 14 games, shall we?), and it got him a gig with the Los Angeles Lakers in the wreckage of the post-Kobe era. That lasted three hideous years, ending with the arrival of LeBron James and the departure of Magic Johnson, the end of the longest stretch of non-playoff basketball the Smugskateers ever endured, and Walton needed only a month or so before arriving at his next stop, which is his current stop, which speculators have said for months now would stop soon. The trick was in guessing when.

When looks now. Insiders think the Kings are a team on the come. Outsiders think the Kings are still the Kangz, which has been the accepted code word for a team that since firing Rick Adelman in 2006 have finished 11th, 11th, 15th, 14th, 14th, 14th, 13th, 13th, 13th, 10th, 12th, 12th, 9th, 12th, 12th, and T-11th, and drafted 10th, 12th, 4th, 5th, 7th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 6th, 8th, 5th, 2nd, noneth, 12th, and 9th. Of those picks, hope still abides in De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Davion Mitchell, but hope and $1.9 million gets a house between Lake Tahoe and the next fire line.

Besides, what’s been done poorly is done, and the next chapter in Kings history will be described first with the name “post-Walton.” When Tristan Thompson has your back, you’ve just been jacked.