The odds say George Karl’s coaching career in Sacramento will last only six more games, which is too bad. He really likes the place, and he knows more about winning than anybody around here. Maybe somebody will wise up and realize there are few coaches who could have survived the misery of this season like the guy who really knows what it means to survive.
George Karl didn’t beat cancer by being obtuse, and he’s no dummy when it comes to reading the Kings’ tea leaves and seeing the plot twist that pencils him out of the script.
“Some days I wake up and I go, ‘I probably have no chance,’ ” Karl said in an interview Friday.
Sometime after the Kings’ season finale April 13 in Houston, the word is likely to descend from upper management. Karl’s work will be done here. The team will still owe him $6.5 million, and maybe he’ll run off to Europe to coach a team over there again.
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But Karl does not want to leave. He likes it here, loves its proximity to some of the coolest places in the world, including itself.
“It’s a laid-back town, learning to be a city,” Karl said.
If only it could figure out its basketball. Karl’s done what he could to help, despite circumstances of acrimony. His bosses undercut him the second week of the season when it refused to uphold his suspension of center DeMarcus Cousins for foul-mouthing the coach in the locker room. The Kings’ hope for the playoffs faded there, despite January’s mirage.
The power of positive thinking sustained Karl, through months of bad vibes.
“I think this whole season has worn out all of us,” Karl said. “There are moments when we want to give in, but I think for the most part we haven’t given in. I’m proud they have kept fighting and that we actually have played some of our best basketball in our last two or three games. I think our challenge for the next seven is: don’t give in. Keep playing. Keep being proud. Be a pro.”
Lousy as the season has been, Karl has guided the Kings to their most wins since 2008. In coming years, Kings fans might look back with nostalgia. Under scenarios that require the skills of computer science to decipher, it looks as if the Kings have airballed their shot at some pretty good draft picks. They might not win 30 games again until the next president’s second term. Such a shame. They’ll be playing in such a nice building.
The time frame of the Kings attaining long-term success will lengthen when they get rid of Karl. Going into Friday’s game with Miami, he had won 1,172, fifth most in NBA history. No doubt, if the Kings bounce Karl, his replacement will enter Golden 1 Center with several hundred fewer wins, as well as the need for a psychological examination for deciding to come here. Why would anybody want to work for an organization that couldn’t make the team work under the leadership of a future Hall of Fame coach?
Karl’s successor also must face the possibility of two more seasons with the mopery of DeMarcus Cousins. Gifted of skill, Cousins is bereft of maturity, challenged of character. He shows no signs of gaining either. We saw it again in the final seconds of Wednesday’s victory over Washington, when Cousins clapped sarcastically in the face of an official whose call he did not appreciate. The demonstration earned him his league-leading 16th technical foul and a suspension for the Miami game. It was his third suspension of the season.
Maybe the Kings should refund to the fans the estimated $525,000 they save from not having to pay Cousins for those three games. It would give them another factor to consider this summer as they mull his retention.
What if the Kings don’t trade Cousins – can they keep Karl, too? Cousins won’t even acknowledge Karl when they see each other, so he probably doesn’t recognize he is having his best season statistically for a coach he very publicly disrespects. Karl opened up Cousins’ outside game, allowing him to shoot three-pointers and beat big guys off the dribble – and some small ones, too.
Karl said Cousins “has the talent to be an MVP guy.” But will he ever become a good basketball citizen?
“Our jobs as coaches aren’t to be predictors,” Karl said. “Our job is to get them better, and I think in general Cousins is a better basketball player today than he was last season.”
Is there any way he could make it work if they’re both still here next year? “I’ve always been an optimist,” Karl said. “Summertime can heal any wound.”
Most days, not just some days, Karl wakes up and thinks he’s gone from the Kings. But it’s not all days.
“There are days I wake up and I’m excited and I think I can turn it around and make it work,” he said.
It’s crazy for the Kings to think they will find anybody any better. They need to lose Cousins, whose attitude will never change, and rebuild the team according to Karl’s design, and then it will really begin to improve.