The best coaches excel at getting the most out of their players’ talents while masking their weaknesses.
Kings coach George Karl is still trying to figure out what he has as he closes out this season and looks forward to molding the Kings for next season.
There hasn’t been much practice time, and a key to the team’s fortunes, center DeMarcus Cousins, missed Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Sleep Train Arena because of a strained right calf.
Without Cousins, the Kings lost their fourth in a row, 116-105, including the first two games of their five-game homestand.
The defeat mathematically eliminated the Kings from postseason contention, though the playoffs had long ceased being a realistic possibility.
Finding the Kings’ identity has been challenging with Rudy Gay having missed time and Darren Collison likely out for the season.
Karl, however, knows how he wants the Kings to play.
“My personality tilts toward being aggressive to overly aggressive,” Karl said. “I want to be defensively aggressive and offensively aggressive.”
How the aggressiveness materializes depends on the roster, which as it stands does not resemble any of the teams Karl has coached.
“In Seattle, we were an out-of-control defensive team,” Karl said of his run with the SuperSonics that included a trip to the 1996 NBA Finals. “We’d double-team the Coke machine and we had a lot of success with it.”
The Kings have been one of the league’s worst defensive teams for about three months. It will take a change in attitude and personnel to get to the point where they can emulate those SuperSonics teams.
Seattle had a Hall of Fame point guard in Gary Payton, who was one of the best defenders the league has seen, and featured several other athletic players who could pose problems defensively.
The Kings’ bad defensive habits were on display again Wednesday. The Clippers shot 51.1 percent and tied a season high with 17 three-pointers.
Karl’s Milwaukee teams had great perimeter scorers in Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell. The Kings have been one of the poorer three-point shooting teams all season. They went 3 for 17 from beyond the arc Wednesday.
“We could shoot the hell out of it so we accentuated that,” Karl said. “We weren’t a fast-break team, but we shot the ball early as a team and took advantage of some great shooters and we zoned as a defensive team.”
In Karl’s previous stop, Denver, he had a dominant scorer in Carmelo Anthony and several good guards, including Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson, Andre Miller and Ty Lawson. The idea with the guards was to take advantage of the altitude and play at a fast pace.
“We want to play a speed game and we had a team that was pretty good at it,” Karl said.
When Cousins is healthy, Karl is intent on determining the best way to play at a fast pace while utilizing Cousins as an inside presence.
Karl said teams such as San Antonio, Atlanta and Portland have a grasp on how to mesh their players’ talents into a winning style.
“The teams that are going to win without stars are going to have balance,” Karl said. “A balance of offense, a balance of defense, a balance to play fast and also play slow. The balance to play small, the balance to play big.”
Gay said the Kings have shown flashes of the aggressive identity Karl wants, including during parts of Wednesday’s loss.
“We’re playing for the future. We’re trying to build something,” Gay said. “Obviously, George Karl got here a little late, but we want to institute for next year. This is one of those seasons you’ve got to dig it out.”