Editor's note: Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Rick Pitino's interest in the Sacramento King's coaching position on May 7. The job eventually went to Paul Westphal.
Rick Pitino has emerged as a candidate for the Sacramento Kings’ coaching job, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Pitino has communicated his interest in a possible NBA return to Kings ownership, sources say, and one league official describes the Maloof family as “intrigued.”
It is believed that Pitino intermediaries initiated the contact. No Kings offer is imminent and so far conversations have been exploratory in nature.
Sources caution that there are significant hurdles that need to be cleared before Pitino could become Sacramento’s coach, but say for a variety of reasons Pitino is feeling the pull of the pros again.
Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof denied that the Kings have spoken with Pitino, but several NCAA and NBA sources strongly insist that Pitino has talked by phone with at least one member of the family and has been a major topic of discussion within the organization the past week.
“I think he’s a great coach and he’s done an unbelievable job at Louisville,” Maloof told Yahoo! Sports. “But we haven’t talked to him.”
Nevertheless, sources say the Maloofs are weighing the worth of paying what it would take to secure Pitino. The Kings are considering several candidates, including front-runner Eddie Jordan, and had been waiting until later in May to start interviews. The Maloofs hadn’t planned to pay much more than $2.5 million a season for any coach, sources say, but the owners understand they’ll need to significantly raise that figure to get serious with Pitino
Beyond money, the Maloofs would have to sell Pitino’s candidacy to general manager Geoff Petrie. Pitino has insisted that he no longer craves the personnel control that he had with the Boston Celtics, but his ego and power-hungry history can make entrenched league executives hesitant. It’s unclear where Petrie stands on a Pitino candidacy.
The Maloofs own the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, a city that Pitino likes to spend time in the offseason. Seven years ago, Pitino strongly considered an offer to coach at UNLV before taking the Louisville job.
When the Kings hired ex-Louisville assistant Reggie Theus as coach two years ago, the Maloof brothers – Gavin and Joe – did so largely on Pitino’s recommendation. The Kings fired Theus midway into last season and interim coach Kenny Natt was let go in April.
Pitino hadn’t been part of the Kings’ original coaching search, because a high-priced and high-profile candidate didn’t seem to make sense for the cash-strapped organization. Now, the Maloofs are re-examining that based on the interest Pitino has shown in returning to the NBA. Pitino makes more than $3 million a season in a multi-year deal at Louisville.
Nevertheless, NBA executives have insisted for more than a year that Pitino has been monitoring pro openings in hopes of returning to the league for a third time as head coach.
Sources say Jordan, the ex-Kings and Washington Wizards coach, has been the front-runner for the Sacramento job. Paul Westphal and Mike Fratello are also candidates.
Pitino had a successful two-year run as coach of the New York Knicks coach, who he twice led to the playoffs. Eventually, a power struggle with GM Al Bianchi pushed Pitino to take the job at Kentucky in 1989.
After two Final Fours and a national title at Kentucky, Pitino took a $50 million contract to run the Celtics in 1997. His tenure was marred with impulsive trades, folly free-agent signings and losing basketball. Four years later, Pitino resigned with a 102-146 record and no playoff appearances.
Since losing to Michigan State in the regional finals of the 2009 NCAA tournament, Pitino has been under siege at Louisville. He’s been involved in a bizarre extortion case involving the estranged wife of a basketball staff member. Pitino filed charges against the woman, Kim Sypher, who federal authorities arrested and charged on April 24.
Before the controversy became public last month, Pitino sent his son, Richard, a Louisville assistant, to join Billy Donovan’s coaching staff at the University of Florida. One of Pitino’s top recruits, Jeremy Tyler, decided to skip college to start his professional career in Europe.
The Maloofs would be banking that Pitino could generate interest, sell tickets and play an appealing up-tempo style. The Kings were 17-65 last season, worst in the NBA, and have lost clout with a fan base that sold out Arco Arena for years. Sacramento has the best chance among lottery teams to earn the No. 1 pick in the June draft and select Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin.