When George Karl joined the Sacramento Kings in February 2015 and coached his first game against Boston, he was greeted with a standing ovation from a fanbase that had campaigned hard for him. There were plenty of reasons for optimism that the sixth winningest coach in NBA history could bring some semblance of stability to the team, figure out a coherent offense, and lead the team to success (or at least more than 29 wins).
Over the past two weeks, those reasons for optimism died out quicker than Willie Cauley-Stein's minutes after a bad foul. Karl's offense has succeeded in making the Kings the third highest-scoring squad in the league, but the team still lacks nearly as much offensive control and consistency as they do defensive success. There's valid reason in questioning whether the players have fully bought into the system, but as DeMarcus Cousins pointed out last night, "Not going to keep blaming the guys in the locker room...we got a bigger issue." DeMarcus was clearly referencing Karl's comments on effort, but the biggest point still remains - you can blame the players, but not while ignoring the bigger foundational issues with this team.
There's almost no change Karl will be coaching this team come May, but after the 128-119 loss to the 13-win Nets on Friday, the issue may not be one that Vlade Divac can keep putting off till then. Here are some pros and cons with Divac showing Karl the door with over 30 games left.
Pros: Karl's offensive game plan is frustrating (and underutilizing) his players, and the trigger-happy switching defensive gameplan is constantly exploited by perimeter shooters. Karl has proven throughout his coaching history that he's very reluctant to systemic change (this find from our buddy Omer is damn eerie), and the Kings shouldn't expect that he'll change now.
It's depressing to waste what should have been DeMarcus Cousin's prime year, but likely-interm Corliss Williamson (according to Aaron Bruski and others) has been around this team through the Michael Malone era. He's clearly got some respect in the lockerroom and in the organization, and he'd probably be able to offer some semblance of stability until May. Playoff hopes are gone, but maybe with some significant personnel-driven decisions (play Willie Cauley Stein 30+ minutes a game, and realize that Ben McLemore is the only guard who consistently tries defensively!), this team can have a bit more hope going into May that they would otherwise.
Most importantly, DeMarcus Cousins won't be in as much personal limbo. The Kings aren't firing a beloved-lockerroom leader this time, and Cousins knows that Divac believes in him and desperately wants this team to succeed. Cousins isn't going to be (and should expected to be) patient, but at least his general manager has his back this February.
Cons: George Karl isn't the long-term coach of this team, but the Kings aren't a move away from being a good team. Firing Karl doesn't make this team a playoff squad, with all due respect to Corliss Williamson (Big Nasty will always get respect).
More importantly, letting Karl go doesn't equate to getting the proper coach in place, and as was proven last year, neither the Kings fanbase (myself included!) nor the organization are patient with interims when we know they aren't the long-term answer. Plus, the 2015-16 Kings are infuriatingly inconsistent on a whole new level from years past, but they're playing better overall basketball than they were a year before. Any foundation for the next few months is better than limbo; those who don't learn from history are doomed to watch another three months of true-instability Kings basketball.
Plus, there's the fact that the Kings have had five coaches in six seasons, and firing Karl continues to expose the lack of a foundation. Sacramento would still be waiting until May to gamble on a coach, and what non-Mark Jackson coach is going to pick Sacramento over Minnesota or Phoenix after another reminder of their instability? Rather than repeat the mistakes of last year, Vlade and Vivek Ranadivé should learn from them.
In the end, I hope the Kings opt for patience and keep Karl through the next three months. He's not the long-term answer, but no top coaches (Tom Thibedeau!) are waiting to grab their clipboards. Three more months of Karl isn't going to cause any irreparable damage, and it at least lets the organization show some semblance of patience. Regardless, no one should envy Vlade's job over the next few weeks.