This might be counterintuitive, but I wish the Kings had been a little better or a lot worse. They won just few enough games to not matter, and did so boringly, and that’s a shame: This was one of the most dysfunctional seasons in recent memory, and even though everyone knew it, I’m not sure it gets the historical credit it deserves.
Consider the last calendar year:
- Their target free agents turned down more money from Sacramento to go elsewhere.
- George Karl tried his hardest to convince the front office to trade DeMarcus Cousins.
- The Kings tried to trade Cousins, with GM Vlade Divac even exchanging proposals with other teams, but couldn’t make a deal.
- Divac tried to force a public reconciliation between Karl and Cousins, and it could not have been more awkward.
- Karl angered majority owner Vivek Ranadive.
- The Kings tried and failed to lure John Calipari to replace Karl.
- Players started complaining about “issues” just eight games into the season.
- The Kings almost fired Karl.
- The Kings almost fired Karl again.
- The front office pushed Karl to retire in order to save the money it would have cost to fire him.
- Cousins yelled at Karl in the locker room and was fined.
- Cousins yelled at Karl during a game and was suspended.
- Rajon Rondo called referee Bill Kennedy a “faggot,” was suspended, and a few days later Kennedy revealed he was in fact gay.
- Most of the team reportedly bailed on a shootaround.
- The Kings’ minority owners reportedly sought a way to force out Ranadive.
- The Kings fired Karl.
That’s incredible! That is more dysfunction than any team should be physically able to muster. But so rarely does a team end up with its best player, its coach, its GM, and its hands-on owner all roundly and simultaneously despising each other. (They call that a Sacramento standoff.)
Karl’s been removed from the equation, but the longtime coach has been around the block enough times to realize that the team still has more problems than can be solved by his ouster. In a surprisingly open interview with the Sacramento Bee, Karl says he was doomed from the beginning, and the Kings might be doomed to mediocrity without a full overhaul. And that, naturally, might require trading Cousins.
“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...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.”
Karl said the roster is kind of a disaster, that Cousins and Rudy Gay can’t play together and that there are too many guards, and the Kings wouldn’t trade any of them when he asked. It all goes back to Karl’s belief that he never had a chance in Sacramento, not with his authority undermined from day one by his bosses generally siding with Cousins.
Like how someone leaked on draft night that Karl’s job was on the line, which he believed ruined the Kings’ chances of getting creative in the draft. Or the staged handshake between him and Cousins, which only served to reveal just how large the rift between them was.
“Vlade thought he was helping me,” said Karl, “but that looked really bad.”
Karl believes Divac repeatedly undermined him, even if unintentionally. Cousins blew up at Karl in the locker room after a loss in November, and Karl wanted a two-game suspension for his star. Instead, Divac fined Cousins an undisclosed amount and kept the incident secret.
“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.”
Karl opted for compromise, which ultimately made him and the Kings dead men walking—his employment, and their chances of anything resembling an enjoyable or successful season. The future does not look particularly bright, either: Ranadive hasn’t proven he knows what he’s doing, Divac hasn’t proven he can make the team better with or without Cousins, and Cousins hasn’t proven he can get along with anybody else. The Kings’ next coach will be their 10th since 2006, and good luck to him.