Instead of firing his coach as had been reportedly imminent, Kings general manager Vlade Divac began discussions with George Karl on Tuesday about how to pull the team out of its slide.
“We are not firing George,” Divac told The Sacramento Bee. “We have to sit down, work together and figure out how to turn this around.”
The Kings (21-31) have lost four consecutive games and eight of nine. They are in 10th place in the Western Conference and end a four-game trip Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers in their last game before the All-Star break.
Before this slump, the Kings won a season-best five consecutive games and moved into the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Entering Tuesday, they were five games behind the eighth-place Utah Jazz.
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Tuesday’s conversation between Divac and Karl focused on the Kings’ three-point and transition defenses and overall lack of defensive energy – three areas that have plagued the team all season.
Divac does not believe firing Karl is the solution.
“We have some issues, but it’s not that we can’t win,” Divac said. “This is how we are now. It can be painful to watch. I can only imagine what it’s like for the fans.”
The Kings are giving up a league-high 10.7 three-pointers per game and 14.6 fast-break points per game, 23rd in the league.
The energy deficit on defense leaves three-point shooters open and allows opponents to beat the Kings downcourt in transition.
109.1 League-high points per game allowed by the Kings
Increasing the team’s defensive effort will be a challenge. Not all the players are expected to celebrate the news that Karl will remain their coach.
The four-game trip was thought to be an opportunity to enter the eight-day All-Star break on a positive note. “Got to get three (wins). Got to,” center DeMarcus Cousins said before the trip.
Instead, the Kings surrendered 128 points each to the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics and 120 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Kings are allowing a league-high 109.1 points per game.
Players have been unhappy with many of the defensive schemes and what they see as a lack of adjustments to address the problems.
“We’ve just got to take pride in defense,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday’s loss at Cleveland.
Rondo noted the Kings have allowed at least 120 points in five of their past eight losses.
“We’re giving up 30 a quarter a night; we’re giving out career highs, season highs, first of whatever. It’s frustrating,” he said. “We just can’t keep laying down. We’ve got to have some kind of fight and find a way.”
The ease with which opponents score has caused many to question the pride of the players and their commitment to defense.
We are not firing George (Karl). We have to sit down, work together and figure out how to turn this around.
Kings general manger Vlade Divac
“I think everybody has to find it for himself,” Rondo said. “We’re all men; we’re all grown. … It starts with me. I’ve just got to do a better job taking care of the ball, getting us in our sets and trying to find a way to get some energy defensively, to try to get consecutive stops.”
After the Celtics scored 46 points in the first quarter Sunday, Karl said one solution might be to simplify the Kings’ defensive schemes. He reiterated that thought after Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers.
“My belief is that anytime there’s anything we’re struggling (with), you go back to the basics of playing the game fundamentally the right way, which is always with energy and intensity and playing hard,” Karl said. “That’s hard to do for 48 minutes. People don’t understand – the NBA game is a long game. It’s very difficult to stay mentally and physically engaged and intense. Losing causes frustration.”
Divac didn’t say if Karl would remain the coach for the rest of the season. But the general manager said he planned to meet with Karl after the season to discuss the future. Karl has two more seasons at $5 million per year on his contract.
“Yeah, he has a contract with the team, but as the GM, I try to improve not just the coaching position but the players,” Divac said on KHTK on Tuesday. “We will talk at the end of the season and see where we are. I think we should be much better than (we are) right now. If we show improvement, we will sit down and talk and see where we want to be in the future.”