George Karl’s status as head coach is a lot like his team’s play this season. It’s hard to know what to expect.
After the Kings’ latest defensive dud, allowing the offensively challenged Brooklyn Nets to put on a shooting exhibition that made them look like the Golden State Warriors, multiple reports surfaced that Karl’s job was in danger again.
League sources said Karl’s firing was not imminent even as the Kings have dropped six of seven and fallen to 10th in the Western Conference in a season that will only be deemed successful if they reach the playoffs.
Karl isn’t sweating the situation.
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“I don’t think I’m in limbo,” he said Saturday after the Kings practiced at Harvard. “I think I’ve got a hell of a challenge (Sunday at Boston against) a team that’s played (darn) well, probably its best basketball in the last six weeks. But if you want to overreact to the last four, five games, that’s someone else’s reaction; that’s not my reaction. I think this team is still in a place where we can solve some problems and be good.”
Conversely, there have been no recent declarations from the team that Karl would be the coach for the rest of the season, something general manager Vlade Divac made clear last summer and again last November when speculation about Karl’s job status was rampant.
Entering Saturday, the Kings trailed Utah by 3 1/2 games for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Divac does not want to panic, but the situation is being monitored closely.
How the next three games of this four-game trip play out could say a lot about Karl’s future. The Kings figured they needed to beat Brooklyn, which has the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Boston is one of the hottest teams in the league. The Kings will play at Cleveland on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.
The Kings’ defense has been exploited repeatedly with teams piling up season and career highs thanks to Sacramento’s turnovers that lead to easy baskets and its inability to find shooters in transition.
Players have had issues with Karl’s style at times, citing a lack of focus on defense. Karl has called for more effort and commitment but repeatedly has praised the team’s perseverance, giving it a “B-plus” for the season.
“The whole season, when you change a roster with 10 new players, you’re consistently trying to build better communication and better connection and trying to get a commitment that’s a winning commitment,” Karl said. “Players question coaching, coaching questions players – that’s what it’s going to be. The truth of the matter is I think this team is coming together pretty well through a lot of ups and downs this year.”
The Kings’ effort is wildly unpredictable, too. Playing the league’s worst teams or clubs plagued by injuries seems to bring out the worst in Sacramento, and the Kings often appear to mentally check out in home games.
During many of those bad games, principal owner Vivek Ranadive has had a hard time containing his emotions from his courtside seat.
“When we play good teams, we usually play well,” Karl said. “Our weaknesses have been home court, intensity and maybe overlooking a team with a bad record.”
After the Brooklyn game, DeMarcus Cousins said the Kings had “bigger issues” than energy and effort, the usual explanations for Sacramento’s bad starts or poor defense.
“Our players were good,” Karl said of Saturday’s practice. “Our players were fine today. They’re disappointed; nobody likes losing. I’m happy that they’re disappointed; I’m happy that they’re angry and maybe frustrated.”
Kings guard Rajon Rondo said he was not affected by any speculation about Karl.
“I haven’t heard it,” Rondo said. “I talked to my agent, but it was just about how the team was doing, how the team morale was, but I haven’t bought into it or read too much into it. It’s part of the business. Coaches fired, players getting traded – it’s no different.”
Rondo said it’s not time to panic.
“Our last 10 games, our record is 5-5,” said Rondo, who in reality was a game off (4-6). “It’s not the worst; it’s not 3-7. We started out the season 1-7, so we’ve hit a tough stretch, some games we could have won.”
If the Kings are going to get out of their rut, they’ll likely do so short-handed. Rudy Gay sprained his left ankle against the Nets and is doubtful for Sunday. Ben McLemore (wrist) is also doubtful.