The Sacramento Kings are meeting with former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, current Warriors assistant Mike Brown and former Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford for in-person interviews this week in the final stage of the franchise's head coaching search.
The Kings concluded their second-round discussions with Clifford in Sacramento on Monday. Next in line will be Jackson and then Brown, who is amid Golden State's second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies. After an initial list of seven candidates, Kings officials have maintained their three finalists each hold a level chance of securing the post. A decision could come as soon as next week.
But early indications during this round of interviews are that Jackson is the front-runner and Kings chairman Vivek Ranadive's favorite to emerge as Sacramento's replacement for interim head coach Alvin Gentry, league sources told B/R.
Jackson has long been a darling of Ranadive, who was vice chairman of Golden State when Jackson piloted the upstart playoff contender in the early stages of the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green era. In 2020, Ranadive urged the Sacramento front office to consider Jackson for the associate head coach position that went to Gentry, sources said.
Today, Jackson's candidacy appears staked in a few key areas. The Kings are prioritizing previous head coaching experience and defensive identity, but Ranadive is also said to be searching for a vocal leader who can introduce a much-needed element of day-to-day identity to the organization. A head coach is often a franchise's loudest public voice, speaking to the media following every practice plus before and after every game.
Jackson is popular among many active players, perhaps because of his visibility as a color commentator for ESPN or his status as a former All-Star and the 1987-88 Rookie of the Year. LeBron James is known to have interest in Jackson for the Los Angeles Lakers' opening, as does LaMelo Ball with the Charlotte Hornets' vacancy, sources said.
But which faction of the Kings brass makes this decision may hold even greater intrigue around the league. For months, Ranadive has told colleagues across the NBA that general manager Monte McNair has full autonomy atop Sacramento's basketball operations. Kings personnel insist that to be the case. The move to terminate Luke Walton midseason, for example, came from McNair, not ownership.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation believe Brown is the favorite among McNair's front office. Wes Wilcox, a Sacramento assistant general manager, began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, overlapping Brown's first tenure as Cleveland head coach from 2005 to 2010.
If this choice is McNair's to make, he not only has to decide which coach is best to develop the budding pick-and-roll duo of De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis but also which coach has the greatest likelihood of steering Sacramento into the postseason. The Kings' well-known playoff drought has stretched to an NBA-record 16 seasons, and there's a strong expectation around the league that Ranadive may look to make changes to the management structure if Sacramento fails to reach the postseason again in 2022-23, the third campaign of McNair's tenure. Turnover has been a constant in Ranadive’s nine-year reign. This will mark the seventh head coach during that span, and McNair is the fourth lead executive of basketball operations.
Should Jackson lose footing in the Kings' search, that may be in part because of the departure of Kings chief strategy officer Joe Dumars, who left Sacramento on Monday to replace Kiki VanDeWeghe as the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations. Dumars was known to be very influential in all decision-making—he led the GM search that landed on McNair—and Jackson was believed to be Dumars' top choice to become the Detroit Pistons' head coach in 2011, when Jackson took the Golden State job that first brought him onto Ranadive's radar.
Brown offers the same Warriors shine that Ranadive has seemed so set on recreating in Sacramento ever since he purchased the franchise. Unlike Jackson, who has only coveted head coaching opportunities since Golden State fired him in 2014, Brown has spent six years as an assistant since his last top job with Cleveland, in 2013-14. This season, Brown slid into the role of de facto defensive coordinator, and Golden State finished second in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
Clifford, a consultant with the Brooklyn Nets, is viewed by some in the NBA's coaching ranks as the most viable candidate for the position. By all accounts, Clifford would have remained with Orlando had the Magic front office not pivoted toward a rebuild at last year's trade deadline. He is highly regarded around the league for his affinity for teching defensive principles, professionalism and ability to build and maintain daily structure.
It's unclear how Gentry will fit with Sacramento beyond this season. He has been offered a position in McNair's front office, sources told B/R, but Gentry is considering whether to pursue a consulting role like Clifford held with Brooklyn and D'Antoni with the New Orleans Pelicans.
While the Kings' search should be completed shortly, the Hornets are in the early phase of their outreach to potential candidates for their head coaching opening.
The decision to terminate James Borrego, only eight months after Charlotte awarded him a two-year contract extension, appears to have come directly from Hornets governorship, not the front office spearheaded by general manager Mitch Kupchak.
League sources had been whispering about Charlotte chairman Michael Jordan's dissatisfaction with the Hornets' lackluster defense, though it's fair to wonder which bench leader could have had greater success on that end of the floor with such a young unit and a roster that is devoid of a trademark rim protector.
Kupchak, sources said, has been conducting Charlotte's due diligence on potential candidates and operating as if he will remain as the Hornets' front-office leader for the foreseeable future even though his contract will expire at season's end. While Charlotte has discussed pinpointing an eventual Kupchak successor for multiple years, it appears the roadblock to a new contract has been more of a monetary divide with ownership than the executive's fitness for the role.
D'Antoni is expected to receive consideration for the Hornets' opening. Kupchak hired him in 2012 to helm Los Angeles, and Charlotte is said to value previous head coaching experience in its search, similar to the process in Sacramento. D'Antoni's uncanny ability to maximize playmaking point guards would seem to form a natural marriage with the Hornets' future, featuring second-year All-Star Ball.
Charlotte may be D'Antoni's best chance to return to the sideline in 2022. He's been a popular name floated among league personnel as a potential replacement for Doc Rivers in Philadelphia should Rivers or the 76ers decide to change direction at the conclusion of these playoffs. But despite widespread rumblings of Rivers' intrigue in the Lakers' opening, and incessant talk of Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey perhaps desiring a different play-caller, the 76ers have maintained that Rivers and team leadership remain aligned about their future together. Rivers' contract runs through 2024-25 at $8 million per season, which is a hefty price for ownership to swallow.
Brown and Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson were identified as other potential candidates for the Charlotte position. League sources have also mentioned Jerry Stackhouse, a North Carolina product who is the head coach at Vanderbilt and has long been known to desire an opportunity in the NBA.
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder is another candidate to monitor for Charlotte's search, sources told B/R. Not only was Snyder a Lakers assistant during Kupchak's tenure, but Snyder also played college ball at nearby Duke in the 1980s and was a Blue Devils assistant from 1995 to 1999 before taking his first head coaching post at the University of Missouri.
Whether Snyder will be a candidate for the Hornets or Lakers job remains to be seen. He has one year left on his contract, league sources confirmed, and an option for the 2023-24 season, as first reported by The Athletic's Sam Amick. For Snyder to become a free agent, he would need to walk away before the conclusion of the agreement.
The rampant speculation about his future has stemmed from the coach's rebuffing Utah's offers to extend him prior to this season. And while the Lakers are known to have strong interest in Snyder, pessimism persists around the NBA and several sources familiar with Snyder's thinking that Los Angeles does not present an attractive landing spot for the veteran coach. He is more often linked as a possible eventual replacement for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.
The Lakers have requested permission to interview Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham. Los Angeles appears to be taking the most patient approach among the league's three teams with coaching vacancies.
Jake Fischer has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2019 and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.