Former Sacramento coach George Karl discusses his firing, his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins and the turmoil inside the Kings organization in a wide-ranging interview with Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee. It represents Karl’s most extensive comments since the team dismissed him April 14th.
- Karl says executive/GM Vlade Divac has a huge task ahead in trying to rebuild a team that hoped to be a playoff contender this season, but sputtered to a 33-49 record and finished tied for 10th in the West. Divac’s most pressing offseason decision will be whether to keep or trade Cousins. “The roster needs to be tinkered with,” Karl said. “[Divac] is going to be in for an NBA free agency unlike anything we have ever seen. If the decision is made to keep Cuz, you have to put the right players around him. But it can’t be about Cousins. You have to make basketball decisions.” Karl believes the Kings have too many guards and that Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and Marco Belinelli are too similar to function on the same roster.
- Karl said his relationship with Cousins was doomed from the beginning because Cousins’ agents, Dan Fegan and Jarinn Tasi Akana, lobbied hard to prevent Karl’s hiring. Former Sacrmento GM Pete D’Alessandro signed off on the move, but he was demoted weeks later and replaced by Divac. D’Alessandro left for a job with the Nuggets just before the draft, taking valuable information on the Kings’ strategy with him and leaving Divac with an inexperienced staff. Meanwhile, Karl was failing to set down new borders with Cousins and didn’t respond forcefully to early incidents of disrespect. “I never felt I got into a good place with Cuz,” Karl said, “and some of that was my stupidity when I said that no player is untradeable. I still believe that. But I should have been smart enough not to say it, and I in no way, at any time, thought DeMarcus was going to get traded.”
- The situation escalated when Divac orchestrated a public handshake between Cousins and Karl on NBATV at last year’s Las Vegas Summer League. Cousins reluctantly shook Karl’s hand, then embarrassed his coach by quickly turning away. “Vlade thought he was helping me,” Karl said, “but that looked really bad.”
- Their relationship became more poisoned when Cousins unleashed a profanity-filled tirade at Karl following a November 8th loss. Karl wanted to impose a two-game suspension, but Divac opted for an undisclosed fine. “When they supported Cousins instead of me, I felt, ‘OK, I’m in the compromise position. Cuz has the power,’’’ Karl said. “They sent that message many times, too many times sent it to the players. And the players wanted someone to stand up to Cuz, and they wanted it to be their coach. But at that point, I realized that you either compromise or you blow it up, and my job was to make us a better basketball team and get to the end of the year.”
- Karl believes Sacramento’s front office expected too much too soon after an aggressive summer of trying to rebuild the team. He hopes a better atmosphere greets whomever the Kings select as their next head coach. “Whether or not they trade Cuz,” Karl said, “they have to empower their coach. They have to let him coach. It takes a few years to build a program. It becomes a culture, an energy force. [Owner] Vivek [Ranadive] wanted magic to happen, but in the NBA magic happens once in a while, and usually is associated with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan.”