Karl looks to wash away two months of “basketball hell”
After spinning their tires for the last two months, the Sacramento Kings finally figured out a way to get some traction today. George Karl is officially the new coach of the Kings, a move weeks or even months in the making.
“I’ve missed the gym, I love the game and I want one more shot at trying to win a championship,” Karl told a packed media house.
Karl, 63, currently ranks sixth all-time in coaching wins with 1,131. He takes over a team in a complete tail spin. Losers of 13 of 15, the Kings were in desperate need of a shake-up coming out of the All-Star break.
“Rebuilding the culture, rebuilding the confidence, rebuilding the enthusiasm, it takes time,” Karl said of the task at hand. “I think what I see when I see Sacramento play over the last couple of games/weeks, is that they’ve lost the connection. They’ve lost a connection with each other and a little bit of connection of confidence that’s necessary.”
That can happen when a team switches head coaches three times in a season. Karl takes over for Tyrone Corbin who finished his stint in Sacramento with a 7-21 record. Corbin will move into an advisory role with the front office, which is far better than the fate that awaited coach Michael Malone who began the season as the Kings head coach. Malone led the team to a surprising 11-13, but was let go on December 14 in a move that still has experts dumbfounded.
Sacramento isn’t the first club that Karl has taken over mid-season. During the 1991-92 season, Karl took over the Seattle Supersonics with 42 games remaining in the season and led the team to a 27-15 record. Karl accomplished a similar feat in the 2004-05 season when he took over the Denver Nuggets and led them to a 32-8 record in the final 40 games of the season.
The 2013 NBA Coach of the Year has led his team to a .500 or better record in an astounding 21 straight seasons, and he has taken his team to the playoffs in 22 of his 25 seasons in the league.
“We want success, that’s really the bottom line,” general manager Pete D’Alessandro said. “We want to get these players focused on winning again and I think we have the coach to do that.”
Karl will have 30 games to establish a base with this team, including a brutal eight-game road trip in March.
“I think the commitment of the players to take these next 30 games and wash away what I call the basketball hell that they’ve been living in for the last two months,” Karl said of what he is expecting moving forward.
The new skipper wouldn’t put a solid number on how many wins he expects down the stretch, but it sounds like he is targeting his familiar .500 number. More than a win total, Karl is looking to sink his teeth into talented big man DeMarcus Cousins.
“It’s going to be a hard job, winning in the NBA is not an easy process,” Karl said. “I’m excited to work with DeMarcus, who I think is the most talented big guy I’ve ever coached in my life.”
Cousins is coming off his first All-Star appearance and was not happy with the early-season dismissal of Malone. But when asked about Karl this weekend in New York, the 24-year-old center seemed cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a coach for more than a year and a half maybe,” Cousins said during All-Star weekend. “It feels good to know I have one for the long haul, at least for now. That’s a good feeling in itself.”
Karl was quick to compare Cousins to former Sonics power forward Shawn Kemp. But he added that Cousins also brought back memories of one of his outspoken former players as well.
“I compare him talent-wise to Shawn and a little bit emotionally to Gary Payton,” Karl said. “Gary was one of these players that wore his emotions on his sleeves. He said things he shouldn’t have said. He acted crazy and kind of out of control at times. Gary Payton is one of my best friends now.”
While the basketball world has already began to pass judgement on the Karl/Cousins soon-to-be marriage, the veteran coach appears invigorated by the challenge of working with one of the league’s best big men.
“To have the skills and the size that he has is going to be something that I think is motivative for me to try and figure out ways to use him and motivate him and get him at a higher level than he even is now,” Karl said.
No topic is off-limits for Karl, including his health. The Kings’ new frontman turns 64 in May and is a two-time cancer survivor. He took the questions in stride, even going into detail regarding his treatments and their effect on his tastebuds.
“I’m not afraid of my energy level,” Karl said. “The only thing I’m afraid of is my bad knees. I’ve got bad knees that hurt a lot. I might have to sit down a little bit. From the standpoint of work ethic and putting the time in and having the process that I know produces success, I’m excited about that.”
George Karl is ready to get to work. The process of rebuilding the Sacramento Kings will start tomorrow with the team’s first practice, and Friday night’s home game against the Boston Celtics will officially begin the King Karl era in Sacramento.