With the Kings concluding another disappointing season Wednesday night in a 116-81 loss to the Houston Rockets, the team’s front office won’t waste time reshaping its coaching staff.
The first matter will be to fire coach George Karl, which is expected to happen Thursday upon the Kings’ return to Sacramento. Karl compiled a 44-68 record in his season-plus with the Kings.
Karl said before tip off Wednesday that coaching with his dire job status is not a problem.
“It’s easy to coach,” Karl said. “This is a fun game, it’s a free swing. We’ve got a team that’s going to come after the game at a high, high level. If we’re going to match them we’re going to have to be ready to play.”
The Kings will then begin the process of hiring their fourth coach since Vivek Ranadive took over as majority owner in May of 2013, a fact that is likely to lead big-name candidates such as Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks to steer clear of the Golden 1 Center that opens in the fall.
League sources indicated former Kings guard Vinny Del Negro, Jeff Hornacek, Kevin McHale and Patrick Ewing are among the names being considered. The sources did not want to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter.
Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson and former Cleveland coach David Blatt are also expected to be considered.
What remains to be seen is if the next coach will be given time to try to change the Kings’ fortunes. The last coach to get at least two full seasons with the Kings was Paul Westphal, who was fired seven games into his third season in 2011.
“I’m a huge believer that continuity is important in the successful building of a foundation of success,” Karl said. “And continuity is something that doesn’t exist anymore in pro sports in a lot of ways except in the stable organizations that can fight through the bad times. So I’m a huge fan of continuity. I don’t think it gets enough respect, enough credit.”
The Kings had playoff aspirations before the season, and late in January were eighth in the Western Conference before going into a tailspin that nearly cost Karl his job before the All-Star break.
The primary concern from general manager Vlade Divac and the players was the Kings’ defense, which was ineffective for most of the season.
There were also players unhappy with Karl’s style, most notably DeMarcus Cousins, who along with Rajon Rondo were the two public voices of locker room discontent.
The next coach will need to forge a strong relationship with Cousins, the kind that hasn’t existed since Michael Malone was fired in December of 2014. Cousins and Karl had their run-ins with a verbal outburst during a game in March leading to a one-game suspension for Cousins.
Karl, however, remained positive about the team’s progress.
“We changed 10 new faces on this roster; we made improvement,” Karl said. “I think the team did its job, I think the coaching staff did its job and in a lot of ways the personnel people fit some players on this roster that made us a better roster than last year. The consistency and continuity of that I think will be important.”
The new coach will join a team still piecing together its front office as Divac looks to add a basketball executive with more experience.
The Kings finished the season 33-49, their final loss giving them a strong chance to keep their top-10 protected draft pick depending on the outcome of the draft lottery.
Sacramento suited up just eight players against Houston, which needed to win to secure the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Cousins, Rondo and Darren Collison did not make the trip to Houston. Rudy Gay and Caron Butler were given Wednesday off. Omri Casspi and Marco Belinelli are out because of injuries.
While the Kings posted their best record in eight seasons, it is the 10th consecutive season they have missed the playoffs. The team’s last playoff berth came in the 2005-06 season under Rick Adelman.
Karl said he enjoyed how the Kings played over the past six weeks, and how players stepped up on nights where players sat out. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s uneven play most of the season.
“Maybe because of inconsistent rotations, injuries, or just me pushing the wrong buttons as a coach, the connection hasn’t been as smooth as you want it to be,” Karl said. “But in the same sense it’s moving in the right direction right now. It’s the most wins they’ve had in eight years.
“It’s an offensive team that’s very close to being a good offensive basketball team. It’s a defensive team that’s better than people think it is, that does need some adjustments but can be adjusted very easily, very quickly in the summer.”