Longtime NBA coach George Karl has agreed to take over as the Kings’ coach after this weekend’s All-Star break, The Sacramento Bee has learned.
Final details still must be ironed out with Karl’s contract – four years at more than $4 million annually – before an official announcement next week.
The Kings are delaying the formalities because Karl is in North Carolina today for the funeral of his college coach, Dean Smith, and they do not want to interfere with DeMarcus Cousins’ first All-Star appearance this weekend in New York.
Karl becomes the Kings’ third head coach this season. Michael Malone began the season 11-13 before he was unexpectedly fired Dec. 14. Lead assistant Tyrone Corbin replaced Malone and reached a deal to be the head coach the rest of the season. The Kings intended to conduct a thorough coaching search in the offseason.
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But plans changed.
A recent stretch of poor play and angst among fans, some of whom said they would decline to renew their season tickets, caused principal owner Vivek Ranadive and the front office to pursue Karl. He has not coached since the end of the 2012-13 season and has been working as an ESPN analyst.
“It’s been really hard to stay focused with the things going on off the court,” Rudy Gay said after Wednesday’s 111-103 loss to Milwaukee. “I commend this team; I commend Ty; I commend the rest of the staff.”
General manager Pete D’Alessandro began negotiating with Karl last week. The Kings were eager to make a deal, even though Karl had no other coaching offers and some in the front office had reservations about hiring him – specifically regarding how he would get along with Cousins.
The pursuit of Karl excited fans but strained the relationship between Cousins and the franchise. It was leaked to media outlets that Cousins and his agents were against hiring Karl, intimating if the deal wasn’t done, it would be because of their objections.
The reports angered Cousins because they implied he had say over who coached the team, an irrational suggestion because he was a big supporter of Malone and he was still fired.
The situation was exacerbated when Kings officials told Cousins in December they did not believe Karl was the best coach for him or the team. The speculation upset Cousins to the point he issued a statement through his representatives Tuesday before the Kings played Chicago.
“I just hope they make a decision soon and stick with it,” Cousins said in the statement. “George Karl is an experienced, proven coach and if that is who they chose to coach this team, I will support it.”
Karl, 63, has an NBA record of 1,131-756 in the regular season and 80-105 in the playoffs. His regular-season win total is sixth in league history.
In 2012-13, Karl led Denver to a franchise-best 57-25 record and was named NBA Coach of the Year. But he was fired after Golden State upset the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.
Karl has a strong personality and has had issues with stars like Ray Allen in Milwaukee and Carmelo Anthony in Denver.
But Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Payton, who played for Karl in Seattle, came out strongly in support of his former coach this week, saying Karl would be good for Cousins. Karl also has had success coaching several strong personalities, including Allen Iverson in Denver.
Meanwhile, Corbin coached the past four games while reports circulated that the Kings were working to replace him.
Corbin said he’s “seen a lot of crazy things happen” as a player and coach in the NBA. He said he wasn’t thinking about Karl taking over.
“It’s not an easy situation to be in,” Corbin said. “But I have to move forward, and I have to make sure I am an example to my players on this young team. They go through ups and downs and have things to deal with, and I have to be an example to them on how they handle themselves in those times.”
Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.
GEORGE KARL AT A GLANCE
Age: 63; born May 12, 1951, in Penn Hills, Pa.
Player: North Carolina (1970-73); selected in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA draft by the Knicks but played five seasons for the Spurs (three seasons in ABA, two seasons in NBA); averaged 6.5 points in 264 games.
Coach: Assistant for Spurs (1978-80); head coach for Montana Golden Nuggets of the CBA (1980-83); head coach for Cavaliers (1984-86), Warriors (1986-88), SuperSonics (1991-98), Bucks (1998-2003), Nuggets (2004-13)
NBA coaching record: 1,131-756 (.599) regular season, 80-105 (.432) in playoffs; lost in NBA Finals to the Bulls in 1996
Honors: NBA Coach of the Year, 2012-13
KINGS COACHES SACRAMENTO ERA
Kings coaches since the team moved to Sacramento in 1985:
Garry St. Jean