DeMarcus Cousins is the soap opera that never ends. Six years into his NBA career, he is suspended today, presumably here tomorrow, but who knows for how long?
All talks are on.
George Karl’s situation is the easy one. There is a graceful resolution for the future of the embattled coach and his organization: When this tumultuous season ends, Karl can walk away from coaching, into the front office in some yet-to-be-determined capacity and assist the transition into that gorgeous Golden 1 Center.
This move makes almost too much sense. The Kings will owe Karl approximately $6 million at the end of the 2015-16 season. The players are not responding to the once-fiery, famously crazy coach whose vocal chords have been severely damaged by treatment for throat cancer. General manager Vlade Divac is interviewing front-office candidates, intent on strengthening his undermanned basketball operations and scouting department and intrigued by the prospect of adding someone with vast experience and acumen.
And Karl, 64, a survivor of prostate (2005) and throat cancer (2010), has had yet another health scare. On Thursday, he underwent a procedure at UC Davis Medical Center to remove squamous cell carcinoma on the left side of his neck. The common skin cancer is treatable and not considered life threatening, but that’s real life, and that’s still scary.
“It was the size of a nickel,” said Karl, who missed Thursday’s practice but plans to coach Friday against the Orlando Magic. “It was cut out, and they scraped it until there were no more cancer cells. There is a 99 percent chance it doesn’t come back. I just have to be careful for a week to 10 days.”
Now, if the Kings were cruising toward the playoffs, if Cousins hadn’t already sucked the air/energy out of the locker room – out of both teammates and coaches – and if the mood inside Sleep Train Arena wasn’t one of emotional exhaustion, easing the visibly fatigued future Hall of Fame coach from the bench to the front office wouldn’t even be part of the conversation.
Until his arrival after last season’s All-Star break, Karl had coached the Seattle Sonics, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets into the playoffs for 20 of his previous 21 seasons. His last full losing season was with the 1987-88 Golden State Warriors. In the aftermath of the horrifically timed firing of Michael Malone in December 2014, coupled with the players’ lackluster response to interim coach Tyrone Corbin, hiring a veteran coach known for transforming losing franchises was a popular move within the community, if just as publicly unpopular with Cousins and his agents.
But not much has changed. The Kings are limping along at 25-38 and preparing for another early offseason, and perhaps most troubling, the atmosphere around the team is toxic. Cousins is amassing career-best stats while continuing to erupt at officials (15 technicals) and repeatedly berating his coach. Last season, last November, last Wednesday. Same scene, different night.
According to several players – and, let’s face it, the eyeball test tells the same story – Karl no longer appears to have the energy or vocal chords to contend with his immensely talented, if perpetually problematic, center. Though Divac refuses to discuss the matter, the overwhelming sense within the organization is that Karl, an admitted basketball “lifer,” is approaching his final weeks as head coach.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t be around for the grand opening or remain part of the organization. There is plenty of precedent within the league of coaches being retained in front-office capacities, among them Doug Moe, Chris Ford, Pat Riley and Rudy Tomjanovich.
While Divac refused to discuss Karl’s obviously tenuous coaching status, he was surprisingly forceful when asked about a possible transition from the sideline to the front office.
“Absolutely,” Divac said. “Why wouldn’t I want George to stay? He is a legend and has a tremendous basketball mind. We can sit down at the end of the season and talk about it. Whatever he wants.”
Besides wins and losses, the Kings’ bottom line is this: Karl might not be the right coach for this roster, but his contacts within the league and his encyclopedic basketball knowledge are huge assets. The arena opens in October, but between now and then, the Kings have hires to make, miles to travel and major decisions to make.
Keeping Karl around is an easy one.