George Karl’s first game as Kings head coach Friday night will be a guessing game for all involved.
“Boston doesn’t know what we’re putting in because I don’t know what we’re putting in,” Karl said. “So I’m sure they can’t scout us right now.”
Karl’s debut against the Celtics at Sleep Train Arena comes the day after the NBA trade deadline, making it even more difficult to figure out who will be where.
The Kings made one trade Thursday, sending reserve guard Ramon Sessions to Washington for veteran guard Andre Miller. Boston dealt former King Marcus Thornton to Phoenix as part of a deal for another former King, Isaiah Thomas.
Darren Collison is still dealing with a strained right hip flexor that has prevented him from practicing, and it’s uncertain if Miller will be available Friday night.
Karl will be left to begin figuring out how to get the most out of his bench, cut down on turnovers, improve passing and get the Kings to be more disruptive on defense.
“For me, it’s an adventure figuring out who to play,” Karl said.
The Kings lost 13 of their past 15 games under former coach Tyrone Corbin, which helped prompt general manager Pete D’Alessandro to hire Karl with 30 games to play rather than wait until the end of the season.
Collison has had some physical activity but hasn’t practiced. Still, he says he likes what he has seen in the past two days with Karl running the show.
“We had two really good practices,” Collison said. “I don’t think we put together two good practices in a long time. So I think guys are definitely in tune with what’s going on. We’re definitely playing the right way.”
Karl is drilling home the basics of passing. He said it’s not simply about making better decisions to cut down on turnovers.
“Not turnovers as much as when a guy’s open hitting him in the chest with the pass rather than hitting him in the head or hitting him in the feet,” Karl said.
Defensively, Karl is looking for more steals and deflections that could lead to easier scoring chances as he tries to speed up the Kings on offense.
More speed and activity will be trademarks of the Kings under Karl if he’s successful getting that across to the team. The players might not completely understand immediately how Karl wants them to play, but they know the veteran coach wants their game to speed up.
“I think it’s going to be a fast game,” Karl said. “Boston plays fast and we’re going to try to play fast.”
Karl is also focused on making Sacramento’s bench more effective. Adding Miller, 38, could help eventually. And having played for Karl in Denver, Miller understands the coach’s offense and will be expected to help stabilize the second unit.
“Adding Andre bolsters our backcourt with one of the most prolific ball distributors in the game,” said D’Alessandro in a statement. “He’ll also provide veteran leadership to the locker room and a wealth of experience at the point guard position. We’re excited to have him join the team.”
Sessions was expected to improve the bench, but he struggled through one of his worst seasons, averaging 5.4 points, 2.7 assists and shooting just 34.4 percent in 36 games. He missed time because of a back injury, too. Sessions signed a two-year deal with the Kings before training camp.
Miller averaged 3.6 points and 2.8 assists in 51 games this season for the Wizards.
Part of improving the bench could mean changes for players such as rookie Nik Stauskas, who could play more point guard.
“My feeling when I watched the team play, the statistics and all the analytics, our bench was really lost,” Karl said. “And I’ve got to figure that out because I like the bench to be a factor, I like the bench being engaged and having a personality to help your team.”
But for all the teaching and the changes that will continue to be made in the final 30 games, there is only one sure way to know if Karl was successful and enjoyed his debut: “A scoreboard that says we won,” the coach said.