The Kings have endured stretches of high and lows this season, to say the least. But through even the best of stretches, Kings fans have endured consistent frustrations. The offense seems to lack any set plays, instead relying on players to create. This is generally acceptable during the flow of a game, but is alarming as a late game strategy. The offense also continues to keep DeMarcus Cousins from operating primarily from the post. Cousins has had a fantastic season, but we're left to wonder if he's capable of more if used correctly.
The defensive scheme has been equally frustrating. Opponents quickly figured out the Kings' switching schemes, and have been exploiting them all season. And we see players like James Anderson inserted into key defensive situations, despite plenty of playing time to dispel any rumors of him being a good defender. Opposing shooters are 0.9% better when guarded by Anderson relative to their averages.
Meanwhile the team's best defender, Willie Cauley-Stein, still struggles to stay on the floor. Why? Because Karl is reluctant to play young guys, and especially rookies. That Cauley-Stein has managed to work his way into the starting lineup is a testament to just how good the rookie has been.
These are ongoing frustrations. And there is no reason to expect George Karl to change.
Karl was run out Seattle despite an NBA Finals appearance. He was run out Milwaukee. And he was run out of Denver. With each stop he left ruined relationships with players, and a reputation for stubbornness. These are the red flags we knew about while openly pining for George Karl. And hiring Karl, I'll maintain, was the smart move at the time. Karl's potential, and his track record of improving teams, was a worthwhile risk for a team floundering and reeling from the blunder of firing Michael Malone. The question going forward will be how long is he worth the frustration?
There's speculation that George Karl will be replaced this offseason. It's easy to argue that he could hold onto his job by adapting and making adjustments. Add some offensive sets. Change the defensive scheme. Trust the young guys, and be ok with it when the make mistakes.
Don't hold your breath for any such adjustments. Look back to Karl's last season in Denver. Shortly before facing the Warriors, he was asked if he would rather stick with his approach and lose, or adapt his approach for one playoff series.
Would he rather lose with this team he's constructed, full of young guys who share the ball, move constantly, and run, than go one round further with a ball-stopping, isolation heavy offense built around a superstar? Would he rather "go down swinging?"
He pauses, smiles, and leans back for a moment.
"Yeah," he says
And George did exactly that. He refused to adapt. And while it's easy to look back now and consider a loss to the Warriors inevitable, the Warriors weren't the Warriors yet. Denver could have, and should have, won that series. But Karl would rather stick to his convictions.
It would be admirable if it hasn't been proven a bad strategy so many times before.