Mike Brown actually got two head coaching jobs in the same week. The longtime Golden State Warriors assistant was named head coach of the Sacramento Kings on May 9. At the same time, he became acting head coach of the Warriors while head coach Steve Kerr was in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Brown coached the Warriors in games four, five, and six of the team’s series win over Memphis in round two of the Western Conference Playoffs. He returned to his familiar role as lead assistant when Kerr returned in the Western Conference Finals. He’ll remain with the Warriors until their playoff run comes to an end.
Brown has already begun assembling his staff in Sacramento, though. It includes Doug Christie, a Kings legend and a holdover from the previous regime, as well as Jay Triano and Jordi Fernandez.
Brown’s task will be a tall one. The Kings have been one of the least successful franchises in the NBA over the last two decades. The team has missed the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons, one of the longest active streaks in major North American professional sports. Their future odds to win next season’s NBA title are a whopping +80000.
That comes on the heels of one of the most successful runs in what has been a mostly bleak franchise history. The Kings of the 2000s, with Christie as a key player on several of those teams, were one of the most exciting teams in the league during that stretch and made the playoffs eight straight seasons.
Here are four key questions facing Brown and the Kings this offseason.
Will Brown impact the defense?
Brown’s role on Kerr’s staff has been overseeing the Golden State defense. The Warriors have had some great defensive seasons during Brown’s six seasons on staff. He was also known as a defensive guru during previous head coaching stops with Cleveland and the Lakers.
But the Kings represent a unique challenge in that respect. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the league for years, with a defensive rating of 108 or higher each of the last 16 seasons. This past season, they gave up the second-most points per game of any team in the league.
Sacramento does have some intriguing personnel, particularly on the perimeter. De’Aaron Fox is one of the fastest guards in the league and averages 1.3 steals per game for his career. Davion Mitchell was a good defensive player in college and had a promising rookie season. Veteran small forward Harrison Barnes also has a reputation as an intelligent and sound defender.
The challenges are in the frontcourt, though. All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis is not a good defensive player. The team is reportedly trying to trade center Richaun Holmes, who is their best shot-blocker.
Even if Brown is able to maximize the defensive efficiency of the team’s perimeter players, Sacramento will need to add some rim protection and interior defense to truly have a defensive turnaround.
What will they do with the No. 4 pick?
Trading Tyrese Haliburton, a productive young guard still on his rookie contract, for Sabonis, a talented but high-priced established veteran, the Kings clearly are entering a win-now phase.
There is reportedly a belief among NBA executives that the Kings will shop that pick for a veteran. Players like Detroit’s Jerami Grant or even Suns center DeAndre Ayton in a sign-and-trade could be targets.
What will Holmes fetch in a trade?
Holmes has been injury-prone, but he’s an efficient scorer around the basket, a good rebounder, and a solid shot-blocker. He’s also playing under an affordable contract. He moved to the bench after the team acquired Sabonis. It is likely both bigs, neither of whom stretches the floor with consistent three-point range, can’t share the court much. Sabonis and Indiana center Myles Turner were a bad pairing defensively and the Kings certainly don’t want to replicate that.
But Holmes’ injuries and his shooting limitations also make the return on him unclear. If he’s packaged with the No. 4 pick, it’s possible Sacramento could end up with another impact player in its lineup.
Can Fox and Sabonis be an elite duo?
Fox has had strong second halves the last two seasons, posting All-Star-level numbers on both occasions. He’s yet to put that level of production together over the course of a full season, though.
Playing with Sabonis for an entire season should take some of the offensive pressure of him. Due to injuries to both players at different times, they were only on the court together for 15 games last season after the trade. Both are excited about the offensive potential they should bring entering next season healthy.
Sabonis is also a great passer for his size, and Fox’s ability to move without the ball should make him an intriguing target around the basket as they get more time on the court together.
There’s no question that the Kings will only end their playoff drought if both players have great seasons, and Brown getting the most out of each of them is critical to the team’s success and his as coach.