By Sam Amick
As expected, the Kenny Natt era has come to an end. And for the third time in the last four years, the Kings will engage in an offseason coaching search.
The interim Kings coach will not return in the post for the 2009-10 campaign, the team announced this afternoon. Natt, who took over for Reggie Theus after he was fired on Dec. 15, went 11-47 during his time with the team and simply couldn't overcome the seemingly-slim odds he had at winning the job. Natt wasn't the only coach waiting to hear his fate, as his assistants were on uncertain ground as well. Assistants Rex Kalamian, Randy Brown, Jason Hamm, and assistant coach/advance scout Bubba Burrage were also let go. Assistant coach Shareef Abdur-Rahim was on a one-year contract for last season.
Yet the prospect of Natt remaining beyond this season was real enough that the Kings had orchestrated a unique contract for his possible return. Not long after he took over, Natt signed the deal which would have paid him $1.7 million for the 2009-10 campaign. The Kings held the contract option on the one-season deal and had a May 1 deadline to pick it up. But now, of course, they will simply pick up where they left off on the coaching front.
The organization that enjoyed such success and stability in eight seasons under coach Rick Adelman (1998 to 2006) has been stuck on the coaching carousel that included Eric Musselman, Theus, and Natt in the last three years. The first coaching search lasted 24 days after Adelman was not resigned, with Musselman wowing his way into the job and a three-year, $7 million deal during the interview process but unable to impress while on the job as his team was 33-49 in his one season.
The second coaching search was 62 days long, with Theus becoming a late leader and securing a two-year, approximately $4 million contract after it appeared Lakers assistant Brian Shaw was ahead of the pack. With Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie scheduled to leave for Europe on Friday and not return until mid-May, it appears this search could be a long one as well.
The preferred salary range this time around is believed to be between $1.5 and $2 million in annual compensation, although Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof may not adhere to their own parameters in either direction. While league sources indicate the Kings did not reach out to any potential candidates before relieving Natt of his duties, they are expected to consider the likes of Mike Fratello, Eddie Jordan, John Whisenant, and Jeff Ruland. Yet in truth, the list is likely to be as long as the process.
Because there will likely be coaches considered whose teams are currently in the playoffs, the possibility exists that the Kings would have to wait as late as the last possible date of the NBA Finals on June 18. There is, of course, also the possibility that a high-profile coach could be fired after the postseason and immediately appear on the Kings' radar. While teams can request permission to speak with coaches whose teams are still playing, Petrie has opted against it in the past.
"You really have to wait until their teams are done playing," Petrie said on May 8, 2007. "Nobody's going to give you permission anyway if you try and get involved and they're trying to coach their team."
While the Kings have the only vacant head coaching position in the league, there may be more to come that could provide competition for candidates. Denver's George Karl, New Orleans' Byron Scott and Philadelphia's Tony Dileo shouldn't feel completely secure unless their teams survive their first round playoff series, while the lottery-bound New Jersey Nets are currently contemplating whether to fire or retain coach Lawrence Frank. Otherwise, Minnesota's Kevin McHale has yet to decide if he will return for a second season, Toronto's Jay Triano has yet to receive a new contract but is widely expected to remain and Phoenix's Alvin Gentry is also expected to receive a new deal.
The economic climate could play a part as well, as fear of an NBA lockout that may be looming could prompt owners to focus on short-term deals for coaches and lower pay. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2010-11 season, but the league has an option to extend it through the 2011-12 campaign. That decision must be made by Dec. 15, 2010, or else the agreement expires on June 30, 2011. Considering the Kings were believed to be on track to lose between $25 and $28 million this season before their flurry of trades in February that included significant salary dumps, the financial factor could be relevant in this situation.
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