Yahoo! Sports’ (The Vertical) Chris Mannix just dropped an incredibly important column in regards to the Sacramento Kings, the relationship the organization has with George Karl, and where this saga is heading. If you want the short version, I’ll steal a line from Mannix here, "Sacramento Kings coach George Karl is getting fired, an inevitability that grew closer following a 128-119 shellacking by the Boston Celtics on Sunday." Well, there you have it.
Mannix also sourced a lot of new information that is neither pro-Karl, nor pro-Kings. No party comes away clean here, just as it should be. I find that sort of reporting much easier to acknowledge as fact, even though I disagreed with some of Mannix’s larger points, but Chris is an excellent reporter, one of my favorites, actually, and he certainly doesn’t need my validation. Anyway, let’s talk about some of it, shall we?
Chris Mannix, via The Vertical
Players have tuned out Karl, privately seething over inefficient practices and shootarounds, and ineffective in-game adjustments from the bench, league sources told The Vertical. The dysfunction may have originated with Karl and DeMarcus Cousins, but it has spread through the locker room like an infection.
"Seething over inefficient practices and shootarounds, and ineffective in-game adjustments" is a doozy. It’s hard to come back from that one, and the fact that this has spread beyond the narrative everyone loves to preach (DeMarcus Cousins is a coach killer!) this isn’t just about DeMarcus Cousins.
Chris Mannix, via The Vertical
Mannix also dumped a lot of the blame of Michael Malone’s firing at the feet of Vivek Ranadive. I have zero sources, but I fundamentally disagree with that notion. I don’t want to dive all the way back into that, because that was like two head coaches ago, and the Kings are about to fire another one, but while Ranadive certainly had the authority to save Malone’s job, I do not think that firing him was his idea. His call, technically? Of course, he is the owner, but owners execute decisions based on the guidance of their front office every single day.
Chris Mannix, via The Vertical
He has done it while Ranadive has played "NBA2K" with the roster, signing and acquiring names that look good on a press release but are brought in with little regard to fit. He seems genuinely surprised that his veteran coach, Karl, has clashed with his rookie vice president and general manager, Vlade Divac, and that his team doesn’t play with passion when many of the players have been informed by their agents that the front office is actively shopping them.
I don’t know if I agree with Mannix about the pieces Divac brought in being acquired with "little regard to fit". The Kings desperately needed veterans, and I’ll tack on championship experience as part of that, too. I don’t think Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, or Rajon Rondo were bad signings. I didn’t have an issue with any of those contracts at the time. It’s easy to look back now and suggest that signing Belinelli was a bad idea, because he isn’t shooting well, but he fit a desperate need (shooting) at a position of need (shooting guard) and brought with him championship experience. Omri Casspi is awesome. Willie Cauley-Stein fit a big time defensive need, and his ability to play with Cousins has been a huge bright spot for the Kings this season. Kosta Koufos brought the team some established, defensive bench size the Kings haven't had in years. While I can understand critiquing the Rondo signing, I didn't hate the gamble, and I don't think that particular acquisition has been anywhere near the top of the list of the Kings' problems this season.
Vlade Divac is an easy target. I can’t speak for how he’s performing behind the scenes, or how he’s scouting, or how well he understands the salary cap, and I don’t even disagree with Mannix in suggesting that Vlade Divac is in over his head, but I don’t think the moves, the actual roster decisions the Kings have made since Divac took over, suggest that he has been a disaster, or even in the bottom half of the league in comparison to what other general managers are doing. And I’m perfectly ok with the Kings replacing Vlade Divac this summer if that is what they want to do, I just don’t think his tenure has been as bad as a lot of folks wanted it to be.
Mannix's point about agents funneling information to their clients about trade discussions is alarming, and an angle I hadn't considered before. That could be unpacked into its own column, really, but it's a great point. It's hard to play well under the stress this organization has put on most of its core pieces, from the front office on down. It has been an unhealthy work environment.
It’s also worth mentioning that Vlade Divac did an excellent job salvaging Karl’s relationship with DeMarcus Cousins this summer. It didn’t work out, obviously, but it was a miraculous effort on his part, and it gave the Kings an opportunity to compete this season. In the end, dysfunction won out, but for a man who (speculation incoming) didn’t have the support to fire Karl in the offseason, I thought he did a very good job trying to manufacture chemistry where there was none.
Chris Mannix, via The Vertial
Divac’s decision to discuss Karl’s future with select players, including Cousins, was a mind-blowing undermining of a coach with a Hall of Fame résumé.
I think we are talking about that "you don’t’ want to play for coach?" meeting Divac held earlier in the season, which was way overblown considering the first reports suggested Divac walked in to the locker room and asked the team if he should fire George Karl. If this was a separate conversation Mannix is referring to, I agree with him. It isn’t right for either part in a GM / Head Coach relationship to undermine the other, but I will say Karl is the king of undermining. I’d tell you about all of the times he’s undermined the front office, but I’d like to get lunch at some point. It’s an unhealthy relationship in Sacramento, period, and the blame belongs to everyone.
Mannix rightfully slams the Kings for all the ways in which Ranadive has mishandled nearly every situation since his arrival in Sacramento, and the notion that the Kings will have a hard time finding a good head coach this summer is one that I worry about. On the flip side, they weren’t hiring the big head coaching names before the Karl saga, so it would be foolish to expect that now.
Post-Rick Adelman, pre Kings laughing stock, Sacramento hired the likes of Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, and Michael Malone. Aside from Westphal, an older coach who had been away from the sidelines for some time, none of those coaches came in as a big name, and some of them didn’t have any NBA head coaching experience at all, so while I’m worried about who the Kings will give the keys to next, I’ve been worried about that for ten years. An established coach is unlikely, a young, hungry, smart coach like the Mannix-suggested, Boston Celtic assistant, Jay Larranaga, is still someone the Kings should be able to hire, provided the organization will have patience with another rookie head coach. That is no given.
I highly suggest reading Mannix's full column, and can certainly agree with his main talking point, "There is nothing healthy about the Kings situation".