Why George Karl’s firing won’t fix Kings

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So here we are, two months after this was supposed to happen, after George Karl told confidants he was out after the All-Star break, after players privately grumbled that Karl had long since lost the locker room. The Kings should have fired Karl then, should have installed Corliss Williamson, should have ended a relationship that was doomed from the start. Instead, they extended a charade that on Thursday, finally, mercifully came to an end.

George Karl didn't have the full support of the Kings' front office. (AP)
George Karl didn't have the full support of the Kings' front office. (AP)

Out goes Karl, but really: Does anyone think the Kings’ problems go with him? For sure Karl was the cause of some of the dysfunction: his refusal to foster a relationship with DeMarcus Cousins crushed any hopes of success early, and his near-constant combativeness with the All-Star center was an all-too-frequent distraction. Yet Karl never had the full support of those above him, and VP of basketball operations/GM Vlade Divac’s decision to fire assistant coach Vance Walberg, a loyal lieutenant, after the All-Star break absolutely crushed Karl. No coach thrives through all of that.

Sacramento will hop on the coaching carousel now, and boy, the names you are going to read about. The Kings will engage Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks, while Kevin McHale is steadily gaining internal support, league sources told The Vertical. If Cousins truly is the future, the Kings have to hire a coach he will buy into, and McHale, a respected voice and one of the game’s all-time great post players, certainly seems like a good fit.

They won’t get him, of course, and the likes of Thibodeau and Brooks will take a pass, too. The word is out on Sacramento: The Kings’ coaching job is radioactive. Unpredictable ownership and a novice top executive have established coaches recoiling at the mention of the gig. The organization’s nickel-and-diming habits have spread through the league. An example: Coaches were barred from eating meals prepared for the players at the team's practice facility this season, league sources told The Vertical, and staff members reported similar limitations on what they could eat at team breakfasts on the road.

While Karl considered his future toward the end of the season, league sources said assistant coach Nancy Lieberman, hired by owner Vivek Ranadive, was telling players she expected to have an enhanced role – possibly as director of player development – on whatever staff was in place next season.

Ask any coach: organizational stability is paramount. Ranadive’s reckless stewardship has privately evoked sharp criticism from other NBA owners, infuriated by the Kings’ embarrassingly comical downward spiral. Too often, it’s amateur hour. Consider: Last summer, the Kings signed free-agent forward Luc Mbah a Moute to a one-year deal. Days later, the Kings voided the deal, citing a failed physical. Sources told The Vertical it was Ranadive who led the charge to change course. Armed with clean medical exams, Mbah a Moute filed a grievance against the team. He went on to sign with the Clippers and was a productive rotation player in 75 games this season.

The Kings have had plenty of turmoil under majority owner Vivek Ranadive. (AP)
The Kings have had plenty of turmoil under majority owner Vivek Ranadive. (AP)

Divac is smart and well liked, but the Kings are staggeringly understaffed, with few experienced hands to speak of. Sacramento continues to interview front-office candidates – longtime NBA executive David Morway is deep in negotiations to join the team in a high-level role – but it’s unclear just how much authority Divac is willing to cede. Deep down, Divac has to know: He could be hiring his replacement, making a cap expert telling him what he can do preferable to a true personnel man helping him decide what he should.

Established coaches are not stepping into that fog, not now, not ever. Thibodeau, Brooks and McHale may take a meeting, may listen to an offer, but the idea that it would be for anything other than leverage is as giggle-worthy as the propaganda about former GM Pete D'Alessandro, and not Ranadive, pushing former coach Mike Malone out the door. Vinny Del Negro is the most realistic candidate, with support internally and a history with Sacramento. Del Negro is hungry for an opportunity to coach again, and the Kings would present an enormous challenge.

Another Kings coach is gone, and make no mistake: more could follow. This is a mess of Ranadive’s and Divac’s making, and little will change until they get serious about cleaning it up.

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