Barring a dramatic change of course, George Karl will reportedly become the Kings’ third coach this season. That the episode has reached this point is in itself ridiculous; there seemed to be no practical reason to fire Mike Malone in the first place. There was no compelling evidence to suggest that Ty Corbin was ready for another head coaching job when Sacramento signed him through the end of the season, and with Karl expected to be hired, the deed could have been done far more elegantly (and with more respect to Corbin) than it was.
Instead, Sacramento has conducted itself in such a manner that it requires the team’s best player to release a statement indicating that he was not involved in the process. “I wasn’t consulted when the decision was made to fire Mike Malone and I’m not being consulted now,” DeMarcus Cousins said through his agent. “I just hope they make a decision soon and stick with it.
“George Karl is an experienced, proven coach and if that is who they chose to coach this team, I will support it. I do not like all these discussions in the media while we have a coach in place. It is a distraction and not fair to coach Corbin and this team.”
With that, Cousins handled the constant trickle of rumor over the Kings’ coaching situation more deftly than the team ever had. Sacramento’s front office seemed to have the damnedest time keeping quiet the prospect of hiring Karl, leading to reports which demanded comment while Corbin was the head coach of the team. For that matter, Corbin still is, until the Kings finally make official what is already reported and publicly known.
Regardless, the desperate Kings have found a match in a winning coach equally desperate to make his return to the bench. Karl wants to be here. He wants to be coaching in the NBA and Sacramento’s roster offers some intriguing possibilities. There’s a clear benefit to having his coaching instead of Corbin and his leadership within a franchise that can’t seem to get out of its own way. Yet, Karl will ultimately have to answer to the front office that committed this comedy of errors in the first place. For a coach who has historically had very specific ideas regarding personnel and the like, there will inevitably be issues.
Admitting that much isn’t at all a suggestion that Karl shouldn’t be hired. He’s a bright, successful coach. His teams’ usual style very much aligns with the open, fluid approach Sacramento is said to be pursuing. Karl tends to create functional, healthy relationships with his best players, and at the moment Cousins -- who frankly hasn’t been the same on the court since Malone’s firing -- could use one of those. There are many reasons to look at Karl, the sixth winningest coach in NBA history, as a hire capable of changing this team for the better.
If there is a balance to be found in playing up-tempo basketball around a plodding low-post center in Cousins, Karl is as good of a choice as any available to seek it out. Karl’s teams haven’t generally been too post-friendly, preferring instead to play loose, movement-oriented basketball. At the same time, Karl has never had a player like Cousins. The league’s best coaches bridge their preferred style with the realities that their rosters allow, and in this case Karl will undoubtedly pursue a tactical middle between what he’s known and what talent he now has at his disposal.
Supposing that Karl and Cousins can find common ground, Sacramento will be in a better place. There will be a five-day window after the All-Star break for Karl to introduce himself and his concepts properly to a team that seems ready to move on. Karl’s arrival will not elevate Sacramento into the playoff picture this season nor resolve the imbalance of its barren bench. Those are problems for another day. What Karl offers is the opportunity to spend the latter half of this season cultivating something rather than just killing time. Corbin was a placeholder. His replacement is a genuine beginning.