Mike Brown, coaching salaries and avoiding basketball hell 2.0

Is it time to give Mike Brown an extension?

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The Sacramento Kings summer list is long. Changes are needed. Running it back didn’t have the desired results and while it is not time to start at square one, the team must balance continuity, while making necessary adjustments to the overall talent on the roster.  

With the NBA Draft just weeks away and then an extremely important free agency period that may completely hinge on whether the team can retain star sixth man Malik Monk, the next six or seven weeks are going to be extremely interesting in Sacramento. 

Monte McNair and Wes Wilcox are tasked with managing the busy offseason, but there is one more piece to the overall puzzle that must be resolved -- the future of head coach Mike Brown, who is entering the final year of his contract. 

There have been rumors about what Brown is looking for in an extension since the season ended. A report from Anthony Slater and Sam Amick of The Athletic put the number in the $10-12 million range last month. Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports added this tidbit earlier in the week, “Brown’s talks are expected to center around a similar eight-figure threshold.”

In his first season at the helm of the Kings, Brown led the team to an 18-game improvement over the previous season, pushed his team to a third place finish in the Western Conference standings and took home the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor. He also helped snap a 16-season playoff drought and posted just the ninth .500 or better record since the team moved to Sacramento before the 1985-86 season.

Brown backed up year one with a 46-36 record in year two, but the Kings fell short of the playoffs, falling in the second of two play-in tournament games. The failure to repeat the success of the previous year hasn’t sat well with ownership, according to sources. 

This shouldn’t be a complicated matter, but like everything else in Sacramento, it is. 

The market has changed

Brown inked his initial deal to take over the Kings in the summer of 2022 after a six year run on Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors staff. Brown took home three championship rings with the Warriors, giving him four rings in his thirty-plus years in the league. 

According to league sources, Brown’s contract with the team was for three seasons with a mutual option for a fourth year. He is set to make less than $5 million this season and with rising coaching salaries around the league, the fourth year option wasn’t exercised. It should also be noted that Brown’s current salary is less per year than the Kings paid their previous head coach, Luke Walton.

After Brown signed his original contract, Monty Williams landed in Detroit on a six-year, $78.5 million contract with an average salary just north of $13 million per season. Since that contract was signed, the floodgates have opened for NBA head coaches. 

Gregg Popovich, the winningest coach in NBA history, signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension. The Heat followed that with an eight-year, $120 million extension for Erik Spoelstra and the Warriors handed Kerr a two-year, $35 million extension.

The going rate for star-level coaches is off the charts, especially those with championship rings. The next tier, which includes Brown, is now starting to take shape. Mike Budenholzer landed in Phoenix on a five-year, $50 million contract last week and he is about as good a comp as you will find with Brown.  

Budenholzer has a career record of 484-317 in ten NBA seasons as head coach. He has a .604 career win percentage in the regular season and a 56-48 (.538) record in the postseason. Brown sports a 441-286 career record with a .607 career win percentage over nine-plus seasons. His playoff record of 50-40 (.556) is comparable as well. 

The one major difference between the two 54-year-old coaches is that Budenholzer won an NBA Championship as a head coach with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2020-21 season, while Brown lost an NBA Finals coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2006-07.

Both coaches have a pair of NBA Coach of the Year awards and both were extremely well regarded as assistant coaches on multiple championship teams.

In today’s market, Brown is a $10-12 million a year coach or more. A four-year, $40-45 million extension is market value for a coach with this track record and it’s the cost of doing business in the modern NBA where team valuations, like the Kings in Sacramento, have jumped from a $535 million valuation in 2013 to nearly $3 billion in 2024.

Why this is the right time to extend Brown

First and foremost, having Brown go into a season as a lame duck head coach is a mistake. The Kings have worked tirelessly to build a culture of winning and frankly, allowing a head coach of this ilk to walk into a final contract year without any future job security is an embarrassment.

For context, the Kings have posted a .500 or better record 10 times in their 39 years in Sacramento. Eight of those seasons came under Hall of Fame head coach Rick Adelman, with the remaining two going on Brown’s record. 

Following Adelman’s departure after the 2005-06 season, Sacramento cycled through 11 different head coaches, be it full season or interim, before landing on Brown. Six of those 11 coaches have come since Vivek Ranadivé took over the franchise as primary owner in 2013. 

Brown’s .573 win percentage is the second highest in the Sacramento-era, trailing only Adelman, who posted a .633 over eight seasons with the Kings. Brown’s 94 wins, in just two seasons on the job, rank fourth amongst the 20 head coaches the Kings have employed since 1985. Adelman is first with 395 regular season victories during his eight year tenure. Gary St. Jean ranks second with 159 in parts of five seasons and Dave Joerger is third with 98 victories over three years at the helm.

The Kings banked on continuity this past season and they finished two losses behind the previous season, despite more games lost due to injury. Brown lost associate head coach Jordi Fernandez and player development coach/assistant Deividas Dulkys to the Brooklyn Nets, but the rest of the coaching staff is intact.

Fernandez’s ascension to head coach should be viewed as another positive for Brown and his standing in the league. Dulkys is taking a new opportunity that comes with a promotion and more responsibility on Fernandez’s staff.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

The quote above is credited to philosopher George Santayana and it may be the most important part of this entire discussion. 

Ranadivé has been in very similar situations during his first 11 years as the steward of the Sacramento Kings. At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Ranadivé’s club had a developing culture and a very good young head coach who had the ear of the team’s super star in DeMarcus Cousins. And he made the decision, aided by others, to jettison head coach Michael Malone 24 games into the 2014-15 campaign and just 106 games into Malone’s tenure.

Malone has gone on to lead the Nuggets to 464 regular season victories and an NBA Championship in the nine years since leaving Sacramento. Despite his Denver Nuggets falling in Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals on Sunday, Malone is one of the league’s best coaches, but his success, post-Kings, doesn’t really capture the entire story.

What happened following Malone’s departure is a cautionary tale and deserves rehashing. After his departure on December 14, 2014, the Kings went into a tailspin of epic proportions. Tyrone Corbin was elevated to head coach, initially on an interim basis, but then under a two-year contract. He lasted a total of 28 games, posting a 7-21 record before being replaced by NBA coaching legend George Karl. 

Upon his arrival during the 2014-15 NBA All-Star break, Karl was infamously greeted by Kings forward Rudy Gay with, “Welcome to basketball hell.” During a recent taping of 7PM in Brooklyn with Carmelo Anthony & Kid Mero, Gay dove deep into this exact moment in time and explained this quote.

According to Gay, “I signed a contract and two days later, they fired him (Malone).” 

In reality, Gay’s extension with the Kings came on Nov. 18, about a month before the Malone saga, but the point stands. Gay, along with plenty of other players, had bought into Malone and his brand of coaching and they felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath them when he was let go.

Sacramento finished the 2014-15 season with a 29-53 record. None of the next three head coaches won more than 11 games, and the disfunction bled into the next season when the team posted 33 wins and fired Karl at the end of the season.

Fast forward to the summer of 2024 and we might be facing a similar situation. Malik Monk is priority No. 1 for the Kings in free agency and his relationship with Brown, both good and bad, is well documented. This is the coach who helped unlocked Monk’s potential by giving him the opportunity and space to grow into the player that will enter the offseason as one of the top free agent available.

The same could likely be said for Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. This pair have developed into All-NBA players under Brown’s coaching. Sabonis renegotiated and extended his contract last summer and the Kings will likely offer Fox an extension this summer, like they did last year.

While Brown and his squad took a slight step back this season, the Kings should still be considered a team on the rise and the head coach is a huge part of that success. Is this time to mess with the formula? This is the time to add talent to the roster to help get the team get to the next phase of their build. 

Final thoughts

This shouldn’t be all that difficult. The Kings have something good going and despite a hiccup in their development that can be easily be explained away by plenty of issues outside of the head coach, we are entering eerily familiar territory. 

Brown was the right man for the job two years ago and he proved that by increasing the win total from 30 in the season before he arrived to 48 in his first year on the job. He backed that up with a 46-win season, but it wasn’t enough in an improving Western Conference. He is the right coach again today, but he needs more support, not less. 

NBA coaching salaries are skyrocketing, or maybe the market is finally correcting itself. Brown has a proven track record of success, both in other stops and during his two seasons in Sacramento. His numbers speak for themselves, as does the lack of success that came before him in Sacramento. 

This is a moment when the Kings should be focused on one thing -- winning. We’ve been here before. Ranadivé has been here before. Can Sacramento afford to risk taking another detour into basketball hell?

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