SACRAMENTO KINGS -- The Sacramento Kings have mastered the art of instability. They’ve even taken it to a new level. Eight coaches in 10 seasons is the most in the league over the last decade. Paul Westphal was the only coach to get two full seasons at the helm. The stack of discarded name plates are being used somewhere as replacement pieces for a game of Jenga.
George Karl’s firing was one of the worst kept secrets in the league. The veteran coach ran amuck in Sacramento after just weeks on the job with his comments aimed at DeMarcus Cousins. His agenda was derailed when Vlade Divac took over the reigns of the front office from Pete D’Alessandro, leaving Karl without a single ally in Sacramento.
“I feel bad doing this but after what we experienced this year, I thought we could do better and try and improve our team,” Divac told reporters on Thursday as Karl tenure in Sacramento came to an end. “We chose to go in a different direction. I think George did a great job this year, but there was a part where where he was disconnected with the play and the players and I decided to let him go.”
Divac hit the nail on the head. Really the discussion starts and ends here as to why Karl had to go. There was a major disconnect between the play and the players.
This isn’t complicated or maybe it is. Karl implemented a system of play that ignored the strengths of his players. It was his system. Maybe even his legacy. It wasn’t just uptempo, it was chaotic and refused to shine a light on the attributes of the 13 players who suited up every game.
The Kings constant switching on the defensive end allowed opponents to create mismatches all season long. Teams exploited the holes in Karl’s system, in fact, they game planned for them.
Even the worst teams in the league knew the Kings didn’t guard the 3-point line. Sacramento gave up an astonishing 28 triple attempts and 10.2 makes per game, which ranked them last in the league.
The uptempo style led to lots of points (106.6 per game), but also lots of turnovers and opportunities for their opponents. Sacramento gave away the ball 16.2 times per game, which ranked 28th in the league and they allowed the most points per game at 109.1.
Karl continued to preach that it was a process, which is completely understandable. Sacramento rolled over most of its roster in the offseason and Karl had the tall task of putting them all together.
But adding to the angst of learning new teammates, the players also had to learn a style of play that is not taught anywhere else. Even Karl admitted during the season that his approach can take a year or more to learn, because the players have to unlearn an entire lifetime of conventional ways.
By Christmas time, Karl had already lost most of the locker room. The players were questioning who was actually coaching the team - Karl or associate head coach Chad Iske. Iske was the one standing on the sidelines directing traffic both in practice and at games.
While the players held together, the frustration of the season wore on all of them. Cousins was the most demonstrative in his critique of Karl, but his sentiments were often shared by most in the locker room.
Rudy Gay never found a niche in the system and was open about his frustrations.
“I think you can go in there and get a bunch of players,” Gay said last week. “But I think at the end of the day you have to mesh personalities, you have to mesh talent, you have to do all of that. It’s not just getting a bunch of people on a team - it’s not that easy.”
Veteran point guard Darren Collison spoke his mind as well. The reality of another lost season in Sacramento was hard on a group who began the season with so much promise.
“It definitely has to change, we can’t have another season like this,” Collison said. “I don’t want to spend another season like this. It’s been a tough season for me, despite what I may do individually. I might have had one of the best years of my career here, but as far as the team goes, it’s been real frustrating.”
And off the record, the players vented - be it about Karl’s scheme or his rotations. His use of the media to call players out burned bridges as well.
Divac was asked multiple times what kind of coach they will look for next and his answers were vague. While his response wasn’t a direct dig at Karl, it spoke volumes to where this team will look going forward.
“We need openness, we need a coach who can be on the same page with the front office and the players and make sure we are doing the same thing,” Divac said.
He’s also looking for a long-term solution after so many failures.
“I want to make sure we bring in somebody who’s going to be here more than one year,” Divac added.
According to Divac, the plan is to build a list of available coaches and then hit the ground running on Monday.
The choice of the new coach will be his, although he will take input from others. Divac plans to reach out to former Kings coach Rick Adelman for advice on his coaching search as the Kings will look high and low for a better fit.
“It’s definitely a long process,” Divac said. “It’s a very important decision for us and we have to take time and talk to as many people as we can and find the best person.”
The Kings will continue their search for another piece or two for the front office, but the coaching search is taking precedence. According to sources, veteran NBA executive David Morway is still a potential candidate to join the Kings.
“I’m the GM, and trying to improve our team in the front office, on the court and obviously with the coaching situation,” Divac said. “I’m glad that I’m in this situation to kinda start fresh.”
There are plenty of open jobs in the NBA and the list is bound to grow. Divac will have stiff competition for most of the “A-list” coaches, but of the available jobs, the Kings roster might be one of the more intriguing.
“We have a lot of talent on our team,” Divac said when asked what the selling points are for Sacramento. “We have the best fans in the league. We have a beautiful arena - probably the best in the world. So things are going to be different here.”
The Kings are once again looking for stability. They are looking for a new voice to carry them into the Golden 1 Center next season and that search begins now.