HEADLINE

New coaches look to turn around Kings, Suns

Field Level Media

October 23, 2019 at 12:53 am.

The Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns will begin a quest Wednesday to end the two longest current NBA playoff droughts with new coaches and a ration of optimism.

Sacramento moved swiftly to hire former Golden State Warriors assistant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton in the offseason to lead a young, talented roster that includes former high first-round picks De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III.

The Kings will look to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005-06, the longest dry spell in the league. The Kings finished 39-43 and came in ninth in the rugged West Conference last season.

The Suns removed “interim” from general manager James Jones’ title in April, and Jones’ next move was to hire Monty Williams as head coach. Williams, who was the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans’ head coach from 2010-15, is Phoenix’s seventh full-time or interim coach since the team last made the playoffs in 2009-10.

The Suns also concentrated on finding veteran reinforcements to join guard Devin Booker and center Deandre Ayton, adding starters Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric and reserves Frank Kaminsky and Aron Baynes. Phoenix went 19-63 in 2018-19 to finish last in the West by 14 games.

“I actually like where we are at,” Booker told reporters. “We’re building from ground zero, but I think people … know we have high IQ guys and NBA guys that are ready to come in and compete.”

Booker had career-high averages of 26.6 points and 6.8 assists last season for a team that played without a legitimate point guard.

The Suns have a league-low 87 victories over the past four seasons — 22 worse than any other team — and even the draft lottery was unkind last summer. They ended with the sixth pick in the draft in the Zion Williamson/Ja Morant sweepstakes, despite finishing tied for the second-worst record. They traded down to take shooting forward Cameron Johnson at No. 11 in the deal that also netted Saric.

Williams has implemented a “no-stick” offensive philosophy that asks players to pass, dribble or shoot in five-tenths of a second. Rubio, Booker, Saric, re-signed free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ayton are the expected starters.

Walton, free from drama surrounding LeBron James and Lakers, wants change at both ends of the floor. He expects the defense to improve, and he told the Kings to shoot 35 3-point attempts a game. They were 20th in the league in both field-goal-percentage defense (46.6 percent) and 3-point attempts (29.9 per game) last season.

Hield, who ranked fourth in the NBA with 278 made 3-pointers last season, agreed to a four-year, $94 million contract extension late Sunday, a day after flashing a “show-me-the-money” thumb-finger rub at the team’s fanfest festivities as general manager Vlade Divac looked on.

“I’m here as a King now,” Hield said at a press conference Tuesday, “and I’m just trying to win games and take us to the playoffs.”

Kings shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, also eligible for fourth-year max contract extension, told the Sacramento Bee that he has received a four-year, $51.4 million extension offer, which will stand until next June.

Bagley, a 6-foot-11 forward, was the second player taken overall in the 2018 draft, after Ayton. He was sidelined twice by injuries in his rookie season but averaged 18.8 points in his last 21 games, up from his overall average of 14.9 points. As with third-year point guard Fox, the Kings will be looking for him to take a step forward.