LAS VEGAS – DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl finally shook hands during the Sacramento Kings' summer league game on Monday night. It was a start, but there is a lot more work to be done to repair the relationship between the Kings' All-Star center and their coach before next season.
"I just said hello to him this afternoon," Karl told Yahoo Sports. "I don't think it's something we have to rush through. You got two guys that are very frustrated with losing, two guys that are somewhat stubborn and two guys that love to compete.
"Sometimes, that doesn't work the first time you hang around. But you have to take your time to make it work. I'm very confident to make it work."
Karl was given a four-year, $14 million deal to coach the Kings on Feb. 8. Days later, Cousins made his first NBA All-Star appearance. Karl had an 11-19 record coaching the Kings last season.
The rift between Cousins and Karl grew after Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported before the NBA draft that Karl wanted Cousins traded. Cousins responded by tweeting out an emoji of a snake in the grass. A day later, Karl said Cousins was the Kings' best player but the franchise needed him to be "committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento."
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was so upset with Karl that he seriously considering firing him, a league source said. Cousins wanted to be traded before the draft, a source told Yahoo Sports, but no deal was consummated.
"Cousins felt like if Karl wanted [him] to be traded then he wanted to be traded, too," a source close to the situation said.
Cousins declined comment when asked about Karl by Yahoo Sports on Sunday and simply said he was "straight" [good]. New Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports that he expects Karl to be the coach when next season begins.
When asked what he needed to do to reconnect with Cousins, Karl told Yahoo Sports: "Communicate. Get everything honest. Come to whatever you want to say, an agreement on what he wants from me and what I want from him. Just be professional about our jobs and communicate."
Divac said he would play a strong role in helping Cousins and Karl get on the same page before next season.
"It's going in a good direction," Divac said. "I have a goal for the two to be in a great place. And they will be."
Divac has actively tried to upgrade the Kings' roster this season, as a way to put Karl and Cousins both in a better mood.
The Kings signed free agent point guard Rajon Rondo – whom Cousins said he is excited to play with – to a one-year, $10 million contract. Sacramento also signed shooting guard Marco Belinelli, forward/center Kosta Koufos and veteran swingman Caron Butler and re-signed forward Omri Casspi. The Kings drafted 7-foot-0 forward/center Willie Cauley-Stein out of Kentucky with the sixth pick in the draft.
"What we've done in the last month is complimentary of the organization," Karl told Yahoo Sports. "Ownership jumped up and made a play that probably cost them some money. And then Vlade jumped up and got a lot of the guys that we wanted. And now as coaches we have to jump up and do our job.
"Our job is to make it work. Our job is to make it fit."
The Kings have not been to the playoffs since 2006. Sacramento also hasn't been a power since the days when Divac was wearing their uniform from 1998-2004.
When asked what his sales pitch was to the free agents, Divac said, "We are changing the culture and we want to make a team that's going to have the same energy that we had during my time because Sacramento needs that. They believe in it and I believe it. We really put good talent over there and now it's up to Coach to put it together."
The Kings hired Divac, who had no previous NBA front-office experience, as vice president of basketball and franchise operations on March 3. Karl said he has faith in Divac and his impact on the Kings. Divac sat courtside with Cousins during a summer league game on Sunday and put his arm around him when they shared a laugh.
"When Vlade walks in a room, there seems to be a positive presence to it," Karl told Yahoo Sports. "There appears to be a good energy to it. A good karma. He saw our last 30 games and saw how our roster kind of didn't fit. He got the ownership to buy out and work out to get enough money to go out and get some free agents."
In addition to getting along with Cousins, Karl also is going to have to learn how to best coach Rondo.
Rondo had a horrible stay with the Dallas Mavericks after being dealt from the Boston Celtics last season and didn't see eye-to-eye with coach Rick Carlisle. While Rondo and Karl both have strong and stubborn personalities, Karl is expected to give the four-time All-Star much more freedom offensively. Karl also has experience coaching talented point guards, some of whom offered their own challenges: Hall of Famer Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller and Ty Lawson.
"He's called me maybe twice and we talked on the phone for 30 to 40 minutes each time," Rondo said of Karl. "Just getting a feel for what's going on and what he wants out of his point guards, what he is looking for as far as assists … and how we can mesh well together."
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