February 16, 2016, 4:55 am
George Karl is set in his ways. He’s a system coach that by most reports isn’t a guy that budges on things.
That’s actually why the Sacramento Kings are in the place that they are at from a coaching and on-court performance standpoint.
They have a roster suited to play through DeMarcus Cousins in the post, but Karl’s system demands that they be the fastest paced team in the league.
They don’t have a lineup chalk-full of great perimeter defenders, yet they employ a defensive system that requires exactly that.
Both of the systems require ‘flow’ and cosmic basketball balance and Kings players might say they require more crazy than they’d like to deal with.
The effects of the systems have created the #Kangz, KINGO!, and a roller coaster team that sometimes can overcome these system limitations, but often times it results in a whole lot of slop.
Right around Game 10 the problems became mostly clear — Rajon Rondo’s jaunts to the hoop looked great when they worked but created chaos when they didn’t. DeMarcus Cousins’ perimeter play highlighted his overall skills package but the demands of being a guard have resulted in inefficient play. The ‘flow’ offense hasn’t created so much of a ‘flow’ as it has created Yakety Sax, leaving the Kings with the 27th ranked turnover percentage and feeding into the problems with their punchline defense.
The defense? It’s bad. It’s real bad. Omer Kahn of Sactown Royalty did the dirty work in exposing not just how ridiculous the scheme is, but how it actually helps give the appearance that players’ effort is lacking.
Of course, the players help further the favorite narrative of certain media by getting frustrated with their coach and no — they’re not playing for him as if he were, say, Michael Malone.
It doesn’t help that when they do play hard the story is the same after every loss. Karl blames the players for lack of effort, energy and their poor attitude, without any reference to the decisions that he makes nightly to set them back.
We haven’t even gotten to the Marco Belinelli / Willie Cauley-Stein conundrum yet, where the underperforming offensive player gets miles of leash and the overperforming defensive player gets yanked at a moment’s notice.
Then come more complaints about defense from the coach.
So when the minority owners influenced Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac’s about face on Karl’s future — based both on money and image concerns — it was a stunner. Giving him 29 more games and cutting him this summer isn’t saving anybody a tremendous amount of money. And if anybody thinks that Karl gets another year in Sacramento without a playoff appearance they’re a part of Karl’s camp.
So if we’re talking about this season, and stubborn George isn’t changing anytime soon, how could anybody really expect things to get better on the court or off the court?
That is, unless of course, he actually does change.
Here are a few nuggets from Karl on KHTK 1140 with team play-by-play man Grant Napear, wherein the topic of defensive change was broached (surprisingly he starts by talking about offense, 8 min. mark):
“I can’t evolve and leave out everything we talk about, but there’s a part of me that says maybe we should slow the pace of the game down a little bit. I’m going to be honest with you we play at the No. 1 pace in the league.”
Then George gets into the defense:
“We’re still not a good defensive team. I’m not going to ever rationalize that. And so you know we’re talking about zones and we’re talking about you know different, but you know, to put those things in you’ve gotta have practice time. And we will have some practice time after the All Star break. We’ll have four or five days where we as a coaching staff are probably going to have to decide one or two things that maybe we can put in to help our defense.”
And back to the offense:
“And then the other things are slowing down the pace and tinkering with the combinations to maybe have a fast team on the court and then a half court team on the court.”
Now for a rare bit of public reflection on the job he is doing:
“So one thing that I think I’ve been surprised by and it’s on my head because I’m surprised by it, when I coached the last 30 games of the season, you know I saw the league – and I knew the league was moving to playing faster. But I’m gonna tell you I’ve been shocked by how many teams now are playing with a higher pace and have a desire to play in the open court, in transition and shoot the three. It’s become, before when I was coaching in Denver, there was less than 10 teams that play kinda that pace. Last year I thought there might have been maybe 15, 16 teams. The number now is in the 20s and maybe even the mid-20s. I’ve been surprised by that and I think every season brings you some surprises.”
This summarizes what outsiders have seen all year:
“What you go into training camp with, your philosophies, some things are working. Some things maybe don’t fit the personality of your team as well. And also maybe the league surprises you some along the way.”
And it wouldn’t be an interview with George if he didn’t tease Kings fans with the chance he’s going to continue sitting guys like Willie Cauley-Stein and Quincy Acy for Marco Belinelli and James Anderson:
“As a coaching staff we talk every day about how to tweak it. And there also has to a conversation about personnel. The personnel of our team might not have enough defensive players on it. Do you want to play the defensive players and slow down the pace and play at a slower rate in which will have an effect on your efficiency offensively? Or do you want to stay where you are right now and figure out the defense and be a pretty good offensive team when things are going right?”
If Karl hadn’t brought up slowing down the pace I’d have much more concern if I was a Kings fan. Pace is his baby and running Cousins down on the block is the last thing he wants to do. There has been plenty of cover provided for Karl on his offense in the press and the Kings only talked about defense when discussing why he was retained. Clearly, somebody or something has gotten in his ear about the pace of play, style of offense and maybe even the reality that if he doesn’t change — he could coach his last NBA game at any time.
I think most NBA fans are rooting for Karl to turn things around in Sacramento. He’s a part of the league’s fabric, a future Hall of Famer, and an icon linking us back to the outstanding basketball tradition in Seattle.
If minority owners did indeed empower Vlade and/or Vivek to give Karl the mandate to change, and then George bucks all expectations and actually does it, there’s a way the Kings soap opera can have the happy ending the franchise desperately needs.