KINGS’ FIRED ASSISTANTS PROUD OF THEIR WORK

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Ja­son An­der­son

LAS VE­GAS — Frayed nerves and frac­tured re­la­tion­ships led to upheaval in Sacra­mento when the Kings fired coach Dave Jo­erger and as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Bran­don Williams at the end of the sea­son. Head coaches and front-of­fice ex­ec­u­tives come and go ev­ery year in the NBA, but they aren’t the only ones whose lives are im­pacted when an or­ga­ni­za­tion chooses to make a change.

The fall­out from Jo­erger’s feud with Williams and strained re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers also af­fected as­sis­tant coaches El­ston Turner, Bryan Gates, Ja­son March, Bob Thorn­ton, Duane Tic­knor and Larry Lewis, some of whom were spot­ted at the Las Ve­gas Sum­mer League this week. Over the past two weeks, Hous­ton Rock­ets coach Mike D’An­toni hired Turner as his lead as­sis­tant and Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves coach Ryan Saun­ders added Gates to his staff, but the oth­ers are still look­ing for NBA work.

“This is a life that in­volves tran­si­tions,” Lewis said. “It happens in this sport. I think ev­ery coach has gone through it.”

In sep­a­rate in­ter­views this week in Las Ve­gas, Lewis and Turner re­flected on their time in Sacra­mento — what went right, what went wrong and what’s next for them­selves and the tal­ented young play­ers they left be­hind.

Turner, who served un­der former Kings coach Rick Adel­man in Sacra­mento and later in Hous­ton, has more than two decades of NBA coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It didn’t take Turner long to find a new job, but it felt like an eter­nity to him.

“When you’re out of work, it seems like a long time, so I’m look­ing for­ward to this,” Turner said. “Obviously, they have a good team in Hous­ton, and the op­por­tu­nity there is out­stand­ing. I’ve been in all types of sys­tems with all kinds of play­ers, so I think I can help.”

Lewis has proven he can help an NBA team, too. He played pro­fes­sion­ally all over the world for al­most 20 years be­fore start­ing his coach­ing ca­reer in the G League in 2011. The Kings hired him in 2016.

Lewis led a player de­vel­op­ment staff that con­trib­uted to the growth of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bog­dan Bog­danovic, Marvin Ba­gley III and Harry Giles III. The Kings won 39 games last sea­son — post­ing their high­est win to­tal since 2005-06 — and re­mained in the Western Con­fer­ence play­off race un­til the fi­nal weeks of the sea­son.

“It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” Lewis said. “The play­ers re­ally grew. They re­ally ma­tured a lot. We had a great sea­son. The team got a lot bet­ter. The play­ers got a lot bet­ter. That’s what it’s all about.”

Lewis said the bond the young play­ers share is “very spe­cial,” adding: “The blessing about this team is that they’re good peo­ple, and good peo­ple find a way to make things work. These are good guys.”

Turner praised Lewis and the rest of the player de­vel­op­ment staff for their work.

“You could see the im­prove­ment,” Turner said. “A lot of guys got bet­ter and Larry was head of the player de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment, so he did a hell of a job.”

Jo­erger and the front of­fice clashed re­peat­edly in their fi­nal year to­gether. They were at odds over the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s de­ci­sion to draft Ba­gley over Luka Don­cic, Jo­erger’s al­lo­ca­tion of min­utes for Ba­gley and Giles, and the way Jo­erger be­rated Hield dur­ing a game against the Golden State War­riors.

Nei­ther Turner nor Lewis claim to fully un­der­stand the fac­tors that prompted the Kings to over­haul the coach­ing staff fol­low­ing their best sea­son in more than a decade, but both men said they have come to accept the de­ci­sion.

“It was tough and it was a bit of a sur­prise be­cause we knew we had done a good job, and that was kind of re­flected in the com­men­tary you get from the com­pany peo­ple, from fans, from co­work­ers across the league,” Turner said. “For that to happen was a lit­tle bit of a shock, but I’ve been around long enough to know how this busi­ness works.”

They move in, move out and move on, tak­ing their fam­i­lies and friend­ships with them when they go to coach play­ers and touch lives in other cities. One day you look up and Gates isn’t lead­ing his triplets through the halls of Golden 1 Cen­ter. March and his fam­ily stop show­ing up at player ap­pear­ances. Giles is over in the corner at Thomas & Mack Cen­ter, hug­ging Thorn­ton like he hasn’t seen him in months.

Kings gen­eral man­ager Vlade Di­vac rec­og­nized an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion be­tween Jo­erger and Williams. He acted quickly and de­ci­sively when the sea­son ended to cre­ate bet­ter syn­ergy in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The fall­out af­fected peo­ple’s lives, but it won’t undo the work the pre­vi­ous coach­ing staff did to give the Kings a brighter fu­ture.

“They have a couple Al­lS­tars,” Lewis said. “I saw a lot of po­ten­tial in that young, core group. These play­ers have a learn­ing curve, but they were adapt­ing very, very quickly to what was go­ing on. Do they have a lot to learn? Of course, but at the same time, these guys are for real. I would have loved to have been a part of that go­ing for­ward, but their de­ci­sion is their de­ci­sion and I’m at peace with it.

“They have their rea­sons and they make their de­ci­sions, based not on what I think or any­body else thinks. They get to­gether, and they’re ob­ser­vant of the sit­u­a­tion, and they make de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the coach and ev­ery­thing else in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I’m not in those meet­ings, but I know they are work­ing to be the best they can be.”

GRE­GORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

Head coach Dave Jo­erger of the Sacra­mento Kings yells from the bench while playing the Cleve­land Cava­liers.

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