Wednesday night wasn’t the ideal timing for George Karl to meet his new players.
It wasn’t only because he’d just been hired, but with the NBA trading deadline Thursday at noon, it’s normal that players who have seen their names in rumors might be distracted. So Karl did not want to overload them.
But the Kings should be accustomed to rumors after their first 52 games that led to Karl being their third coach this season.
Karl’s message to the players at their first practice together was simple: All that happened before the All-Star break does not matter. It’s time to focus on winning and building toward next season.
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“In general, I said I want you to forget about the last 52 games,” Karl said. “I said I’m going to talk to you all one on one, but I want to think about winning now in the 30 games that we have left and stay away from blaming anyone for what happened.”
Karl said the practice focused on offense. Thursday’s session will focus on defense as the Kings prepare to host the Boston Celtics on Friday at Sleep Train Arena.
Veteran forward Reggie Evans is the only player who has played for Karl, so the rest of the roster had no idea what to expect other than what they saw when they played against Karl-coached teams.
“I just knew it was tough to play against (his teams),” said forward Rudy Gay. “They’ll pressure you. Offensively, they’ll come after you and make you work. He’s one of those coaches who really wants to pressure people offensively, get shots up, get more shots up and also defend.”
This is also a time for Karl to learn about his players. He said he’ll experiment with ways to make the bench more productive and change lineups around.
Karl plans to play Gay at power forward more, a position he played last summer for Team USA in the FIBA World Championship.
Gay said Wednesday’s practice featured a lot of scrimmaging. Only injured players Eric Moreland (out for season after shoulder surgery) and Darren Collison (strained right hip flexor) did not scrimmage.
“I’ve got to figure out what they do well and what their habits are,” Karl said. “If I had one thought, it is they turned it over too much, but I sped them up, too, a totally different speed than they probably played at all year.”
Turnovers have been a problem for the team all season. The Kings average 15.7 turnovers, tied for third most in the NBA.
Karl said cutting down turnovers is about keeping it simple.
“Don’t be Magic Johnson,” Karl said referring to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Hall of Fame point guard who made no-look passes look easy. “Be a good basketball player, and good basketball players don’t make bad decisions.”
The Kings’ offense has been bothered by more than just turnovers. A lack of effective three-point shooting and passing have been issues, too.
Gay likes the concept of Karl’s offense and said it will be “great’ for him.
“It’s one of those offenses where everybody has a chance to be successful,” Gay said. “I think the better all of us get, the better our team gets.”
The Kings are being asked to adjust to a third coaching philosophy this season. They began with Michael Malone for 24 games and had Tyrone Corbin for the next 28.
Now it’s Karl’s turn to mold the team. But unlike with Corbin, the players know Karl wasn’t hired to finish out the season, so what’s being done now will carry over to next season.
“I think I’ve got to get in some of my stuff and keep some of the stuff they’ve been good at,” Karl said. “It’s a combination of both. The concepts and plays of NBA teams are somewhat similar, but I would like to gravitate to where I’m comfortable.”