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George Karl Reflects On His Tumultuous Tenure With The Kings

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Over this past weekend, The Sacramento Bee's Ailene Voisin delivered a stellar interview of George Karl. It was by far the most comprehensive of Karl's feelings about his time with the Kings, and I laud Voisin for delivering what has previously been unavailable. I highly recommend that you read the article in its entirety. Hitting some of the key quotes:

"Vlade (Divac) has a helluva task ahead of him," Karl said. "The roster needs to be tinkered with. He 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."

Now, read this as though it is not coming from George Karl, but from any StR member with whom you find yourself in general agreement. You would likely hit the "rec" button on such a comment, as it is a pretty spot-on analysis of where the Kings are and what they need to do.

"Eighty percent of the time I think the Kings did what had to be done," Karl said of his firing after his 44-68 record. "But I'm old school enough to think that a coach has to feel powerful, has to feel supported, and I never felt that level of support."

This is what has now become the new mantra of the organization, as the front office has pretty much stated that the next head coach will be given more command, control and authority. So it's hard to disagree with Karl here without disagreeing with the current direction of the front office.

"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."

Agreed 100% with Karl that some things are better left unsaid, especially when you are dealing with someone as historically volatile as DeMarcus Cousins. This was Karl throwing gas on an already brewing fire, given that Camp Cousins was never on board with the Karl hire. It was a poor choice of words for Karl had he been talking about his star player Anthony Davis or his star player Andre Drummond. But it was an egregious choice of words when your star is Cousins, based on history.

Later that week, Divac summoned Cousins and Karl to a private counseling session, and throughout training camp and the opening weeks of the season there were hints at a thaw in the relationship. But that ended when Cousins directed a postgame, profanity-laced locker room outburst at Karl after a loss to San Antonio on Nov. 8. Karl wanted Cousins disciplined with a two-game suspension. Instead, Divac, still intent on pursuing diplomacy, quietly fined his best player an undisclosed amount.

"That night the bomb went off," recalled Karl, his voice rising. "Vlade was right there. When they supported Cousins instead of me, I felt, ‘OK, I'm in the compromise position. Cuz has the power.' 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."

This was a gaffe by the front office, and it was a huge one. While Karl's "untradeable" comments may have set the wheels in motion, this was the moment where the season came off the rails. Even the front office realizes this in retrospect, hence their new-found (and tardy) direction that the next coach will have more authority and power over the players. Vlade Divac had his hands full from the get-go, both Karl and Cousins made things even tougher on him, and he wound up getting this one very, very wrong.

"The greatest asset for Cuz is that he can play different places," Karl said. "There are certain nights he is good in the block (post). Other nights, when he's covered by, say, a Tim Duncan, he is probably better facing the basket, on pick-and-rolls. His shake-and-bake game is as good as his post-up. His shot selection has to get better, and he has get down to three turnovers a night and get his assists up."

Again, this is a comment that you probably "rec" if it is coming from an StR member whose opinion you respect. I would add that Cousins needs to learn how to become even more of an asset on offense when he does not have the ball, be it by setting more screens or drawing his man away from the middle. But that is not all on Cousins, as the roster makeup and the coaching staff's utilization of that roster are big factors here.

"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. Vivek 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. I think you can win with him (Cousins), but my thing is, how long is it going to take to get there? Then, how long before you become a winning team? I think there are faster ways to go."

There's the "T" word again, but you can't fire George Karl twice. But the bottom line is that Karl is talking about what has dominated the conversation in the threads at StR for the past several months, and that is can the Kings get to NBA relevance faster with DeMarcus Cousins or with the assets that he would bring in trade?

My takeaway? Pretty much what it has been for months:

  • There are no innocents here. Everyone from ownership down through the players played a role in the debacle that was the 2015-16 season.
  • A coaching change alone does not make this team successful. The front office needs to walk the walk, and the roster needs a lot of work, perhaps more from the neck-up than neck-down.
  • The Kings squandered a golden opportunity this season. Rewind it to last summer, and have Karl contain his thoughts and have Cousins give the coach honest buy-in. 41-41 would not have been out of the question. The playoffs would not have been out of the question. One has to wonder if, even after Karl and Cousins went off this summer, a more veteran and savvy front office could have righted the ship. Hard lessons for Vlade -€” now let's see what he does with the education.