After all the speculation about coach George Karl’s job status, it was another coach on the staff who was fired by the Kings.
Assistant coach Vance Walberg was let go by the team on Wednesday. General manager Vlade Divac removed the first coach Karl added to his staff last February.
Walberg, noted for his dribble-drive offensive philosophy, left Brett Brown’s staff in Philadelphia to join Karl.
Divac is still looking to make a trade before Thursday’s noon deadline but said firing Walberg was necessary to improve the coaching staff.
“Obviously (Karl) didn’t like it, but I felt like we had to do something to shake things up,” Divac said.
Wednesday was the first practice after the All-Star break for the Kings, who stumbled in losing eight of 10. Divac said the move allows Karl to hire another coach, possibly one who would focus on defense, where the Kings have struggled most of the season.
“Vance is a guy who has been intellectually influential in my thoughts on basketball, probably in my top 10,” Karl said. “He’s that good, he’s that talented, he’s brilliant in a lot of ways ... there’s no question I’m disappointed and confused.”
Karl’s firing seemed imminent before the All- Star break. Divac assured the coach before the Kings’ final game before the break that was not the case.
“I know it’s going to sound crazy, but the balance in my life, I’m pretty balanced right now,” Karl said. “Were there days I thought I was gone? Probably. It wasn’t all day, it might have been a moment, a comment, a phone call.”
Karl said blaming assistant coaches for the Kings’ struggles, which include allowing a league-high 109.1 points per game, is wrong. Associate head coach Chad Iske is in charge of the defense.
“It’s not (the assistant coaches’) decisions, it’s my decisions,” Karl said. “The criticism should be of me.”
With 29 games left and the Kings 4 1/2 games out of playoff position, Karl doesn’t expect to find a quick solution to the staffing deficit.
“I’m not a fan of thinking there’s a savior out there,” Karl said. “The book we have on defense is pretty thick.”
Karl said he has no choice but to move on and get the Kings ready to host Denver on Friday night. He said “none of us should be happy with our defense” and that it will take the players and coaches to fix the problems.
“That’s my job,” Karl said. “Not to take my personal feelings I have for Vance in the situation, but to coach this team into a better defensive place, play with more passion and hopefully play better at home.”
As for the trade deadline, league sources said the Kings are aggressively pursuing Chicago center Pau Gasol.
Sacramento is also interested in acquiring Cleveland shooting guard Iman Shumpert, a good defender, but that would be contingent upon the Kings’ willingness to part with third-year guard Ben McLemore and center Kosta Koufos. Cleveland would send center Timofey Mozgov to Sacramento as part of the deal.
Divac said he thought he would be able to make a trade Wednesday. The Kings are only interested in making moves that could help get the Kings into the playoffs. Stockpiling young talent and draft picks are not the priorities.
In addition to speculation about McLemore and Koufos, guard Marco Belinelli could also be dealt, sources said.
One report had guard Darren Collison and forward Rudy Gay wanting out of Sacramento. Collison took to Twitter to refute the report, and did so again after practice.
“It was false,” Collison said. “I said it was false and I moved on from it.”
The Kings have also been in the news regarding a potential search for a general manager. Divac, who has that title, kept Mike Bratz from the previous front office as his assistant general manager but did not add any other experienced front office personnel in the offseason.
This is Divac’s first time handling the NBA trade deadline and he scoffed at the notion it’s overwhelming. He called it exciting.
“I’m the GM,” Divac said. “It’s just rumors. Like the team, coaches, front office, we always try to improve. We’re going to see what we’re going to do, but I’m the GM.”