NBA Rumor: George Karl Hot Seat?

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Multiple league sources tell CBS Sports that at least four head coaching jobs are expected to become vacant in the coming days or weeks, with Washington’s Randy Wittman likely to be the first to go on Thursday or Friday. The other non-interim coach on the rocks is George Karl, who, unless the Kings suddenly change course and agree to trade All-Star DeMarcus Cousins this summer, appears to be a goner, sources say.

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On Vlade Divac saying Karl will coach the rest of the season (I’m not sure Divac actually said or meant this, but …) I’m tired of it. Stop trying to make a story out of it, we’re fine. Our only goal this season is to make the playoffs. That’s it. All the other stuff, just stop, it’s not necessary. Context is kind of important, because on the surface these comments read a little colder than they looked on video, which you can check out here. Cousins seemed in good spirits during the Aldridge interview, laughing, kind playing it off, etc. I just thought he handled that extremely well. Diplomatic.

If they don’t, is he worried he’ll be out of a job? “When you’re younger, I think you’re always a little more into what people are saying and what people are thinking,” he said. “But as you get older, I think you learn you have no control over that. You can do your job perfectly. From the standpoint of the encyclopedia, you can do your job perfectly in this league, and if you don’t win and don’t fulfill expectations, you’re gonna be criticized. When you sign the contract, that’s the job you’re signing up for. I try to stay in my world. I love my world. My world is exciting to me, and this team is still exciting to me.”

When the discussion ended, Karl vowed to end the drama (for now) that seems to always surround the organization. “We talked about the team, talked about the trade deadline situations and talked about going forward in a positive way, in a committed, connected way,” Karl said after the Kings’ shootaround on Wednesday morning. “I feel good with Vlade. I always have felt good with Vlade. I don’t think Vlade and I have had a disconnect other than we want to win more games than we’re winning right now. That’s fine with me. Everybody should want to win more than we’re winning right now.”

The atmosphere inside the Kings locker room, one source with knowledge of the team said, can be best described as “poisonous.” It is under that cloud that coach George Karl is surviving, if barely. ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon that Karl has staved off firing once again, but another go at this tenuous relationship is not really going to change that dynamic, which has been present in one form or another through the long line of coaches — eight in total — the Kings have gone through in the last decade.

The Sacramento Kings will keep George Karl as their head coach despite several reports that he could be fired during the NBA All-Star break. Kings general manager Vlade Divac said in a statement released Tuesday that Karl would not be dismissed. “George will remain our coach. We are collectively working out our issues,” Divac said in the statement. Divac called Karl while the coach was at lunch in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Divac told Karl in a roughly five-minute conversation that they would work together and that better defense was needed. Karl took the lunch-time call privately with the expectation that he would be fired, a source told Yahoo Sports.

A person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that it’s highly unlikely Karl will be fired during the All-Star break, meaning he gets to coach at Philadelphia on Wednesday before reassessing the sordid state of his team during the break. The Kings’ schedule from there is quite ironic, as they host the Denver Nuggets and former Kings coach Michael Malone on Feb. 19 only to then play at the Nuggets on Feb. 23. The Kings’ decision to fire Malone in Dec. 2015, of course, led to their latest dysfunctional episode.

Karl is 33-50 as head coach of the Kings after being hired nearly a year ago. The Kings (21-31) have playoff aspirations, but have lost four straight games and eight of nine. “He is not a quitter,” a source close to Karl told Yahoo Sports, adding that Karl never had any intention of resigning during the recent turmoil. Divac and Karl spoke in-depth Tuesday about improving the team’s defense, a source told Yahoo. The Kings are last in the NBA in points allowed at 109.1 per game and last in opponent 3-pointers made at 10.7. Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday at Philadelphia.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style. Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Ranadive will soon be on the hunt for a new coach, though don’t be surprised if interest in the Kings’ gig is lukewarm. “One of 30 jobs in the world” is a popular cliché spouted by recently hired coaches, yet Ranadive has made it 29 and a “Well, if I have to” proposition. Established coaches won’t touch the Kings’ job while rising assistants like Atlanta’s Kenny Atkinson or Boston’s Jay Larranaga won’t run toward it either. Coaches with options don’t fight to work for management that refuses to support the people it hires, and they don’t sign on with an owner who seems more interested in the cache that comes with owning an NBA team than the business of operating one.

Yet while former head coaches like Scott Brooks, Tom Thibodeau and Mark Jackson are known to have been on the Kings’ radar for quite some time and are currently available, firing Karl now would complicate the process of conducting a more thorough coaching search. The Kings play at the Boston Celtics on Sunday, at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday and at the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday before the All-Star break. Whether or not Karl makes it that long remains to be seen.

George Karl on thin ice

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac were so livid about a blowout defeat to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night – the franchise’s sixth loss in seven games – they were strongly weighing the firing of coach George Karl, league sources told The Vertical. “An overreaction to the loss” was how one league source involved in the conversations on Karl’s job status described the organization’s response late Friday night.

Less than two weeks after the Sacramento Kings’ five-game winning streak had them in position to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, all the familiar signs of discontent returned after a 128-119 loss at the Brooklyn Nets and, for the second time this season, their head coach’s future is clearly being debated internally. The lackluster loss was the Kings’ sixth in the last seven games, dropping them 3½ games behind the eighth-place Portland Trail Blazers and prompting all sorts of curious comments from Kings players and former players alike.

“I’m not going to keep blaming these guys in the locker room,” Cousins told reporters. “Energy and effort is a huge part of the game, but I’m not going to keep blaming it on that. We’ve got a bigger issue, and we need to figure it out as a team. “I’d rather keep (the undescribed issue) in house, but we definitely have a bigger issue than just energy and effort. That can’t be the excuse every night. … We’re going to work it out as a team, and hopefully we can fix this.”

Ric Bucher of Bleacher: The belief still is it’s a matter of when, not if, Karl will be removed as the head coach. If that should happen during this season, the short-term answers are, according to owner Vivek Ranadivé – or sources say – he would like to move Nancy Lieberman into the head-coaching position, making a big splash by having the first female head coach in NBA history. Vlade Divac, the GM is more inclined to fill with Corliss Williamson for the remainder of the season. But Ranadivé’s biggest dream is to have Kentucky coach John Calipari come out and coach this roster full of Kentucky players.

There have been stories with anonymous sources speculating about Karl’s drive and energy — cheap shots by the faceless at a 63-year-old two-time cancer survivor. No, Karl doesn’t rant and rave like he used to. That’s a good thing, both for the team and for his health. Yes, he delegates and defers. That’s also a good thing. Karl put a deep, diverse and talented staff together, one that includes strong assistants like Chad Iske and Vance Walberg, former players Anthony and Corliss Williamson and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. Karl doesn’t need to burnish his bona fides, not after 1,146 career coaching victories. If anything, it’s the Kings that should have to prove to him that they’re worth coaching.

Along with the Kings’ worst start since the 1990-91 season, when Sacramento started 1-13, Karl has increasingly become more scrutinized, especially by NBA observers who question whether he has the stamina to endure an 82-game regular season. Karl doesn’t run up and down the sidelines raising ruckus. Associate coach Chad Iske is the loudest voice players hear from the sidelines during games. It’s something people inside and outside the organization have expressed concern over privately, wondering if Karl’s health and energy will hold up.

The Sacramento Kings coach who came to town nine months ago, who was given a $15 million contract ($11.5 million guaranteed) that doesn’t expire until the summer of 2018, and whose sterling record of success has been tainted by way of the 12-26 record ever since, isn’t seen internally as their coach for the long-haul anymore. Barring a shocking turnaround – and by that, we’re talking a 40-plus win season that seems unlikely – that much has become increasingly clear.

If the Kings’ 1-7 record that prompted a team meeting on Tuesday gets even worse, his dismissal could come this week. Wednesday, the Kings – as irony would have it – face the same Detroit Pistons team that beat them last Dec. 13 and inspired the firing of coach Michael Malone. Or, should the early-season bleeding subside enough to calm the waters, Karl’s firing could come in the summer. But Karl, whose hiring had as much to do with the Kings’ business situation as it did basketball, is going to be just fine no matter what happens. It’s the Kings and their fanbase who have every reason to be worried.

The day after the San Antonio loss, the players had a well-publicized players-only meeting. What hasn’t been reported is that after the players spoke, Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac and assistant GM Mike Bratz talked to the players and Divac asked the team, “We don’t know what to do with George [Karl], do you think we should fire him?” The players, a person close to the situation said, were shocked and didn’t know how to respond. Stunned speechless and lacking a leader, the Kings then trotted out Omri Casspi and Caron Butler to meet the media. Casspi played for the team a few years ago, but was in Houston last season and just re-signed with Sacramento less than two months ago. Butler was signed in the offseason.
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