NBA Handicapping: George Karl and the Sacramento Kings
by Trevor Whenham - 2/17/2015
It's only the all-star break, and yet the Sacramento Kings are about to play under their third head coach of the season. At least in theory the hiring of George Karl should provide some stability and stop the carousel of coaches this year and well into the future. This is the Kings we are talking about, though, so stability and success is not only far from certain but perhaps even unlikely. Karl is better-positioned than most coaches, though - and certainly better positioned than Ty Corbin was - to have some success for this team.
So, what should bettors expect from the Kings going forward this year? Let's take a look:
Chaos: Total chaos has been the reality for so long in Sacramento that it just seems like the norm. Karl is the eighth Kings' coach in nine years. Given that; combined with all the other turmoil, uncertainty, and regular changes of direction for this organization; and it's only logical that the players are going to be a little weary and resistant to change. Karl has a lot to overcome - more than in most situations.
Malone's firing was a bad decision: Mike Malone absolutely did not deserve to get fired. He was a decent 11-13 at the time of the axing, which is impressive enough for what he had to work with. If you consider, though, that DeMarcus Cousins, by far the Kings' best player, missed his last nine games due to injury, and that he was 9-6 with Cousins in the lineup, the move moves from odd to illogical. It came down to politics in the front office and an uncertainty about where the team is going and how to get there. Malone's success showed that there is at least some potential for this team to be good - or at least better than they have been since he left. His firing and what has come since, though, makes it very hard to imagine that the mindset of the players is in a particularly good place.
Corbin is a hot mess: While Malone is a solid coach who deserved better, hiring Ty Corbin as an interim was a bad choice, and he was destined to run this team into the ground. Poor game management and confounding decision-making had led him to underachieve consistently in Utah, and the problems he had there were only more apparent here. Instead of picking a path, and installing systems to advance along that path, Corbin was reactive, and he seemed to change focus and philosophy every week. It was a total mess. No one deserves to be strung along like Corbin was when he was forced to coach while everyone in the world knew Karl was coming even though Corbin had been promised that he would finish out the season, but there is no doubt that the absence of Corbin improves this team immediately.
The core is solid: Rudy Gay is not my favorite style of player because of his love of inefficiency, but he has been better in Sacramento than anywhere else. He and Darren Collison are very solid pieces for Karl to be able to build around. The prize, though, is Cousins. He's one of the best two or three big men in the league right now, and he brings a skill set unlike Karl has ever had to work with. If Karl can figure out how to use him, and if they can get on the same page and build a strong relationship, then the sky is the limit. Outside of those three there are more questions than answers, but Karl could certainly be in worse shape as he looks to build some early momentum.
The development of Stauskas has been shameful: The logic of using a lottery pick to draft a shooting guard a year after you had just taken one in the lottery never really made any sense. Given that they chose to draft Nik Stauskas, though, what they have done to him since is ridiculous. By rarely playing him, and using him poorly when they have, they have shattered his confidence. A sharpshooter now practically forgets where the hoop is. More than any other single thing, the mishandling of him is a clear sign of how many issues this team has. Karl either needs to work to turn him back into a positive contributor, or the team, as has been rumored, needs to trade him away for a new toy that they aren't going to wreck as soon as they take it out of the box.
Karl knows turnarounds: We know that Karl is a legitimate coach who has had results. We don't need to cover that ground again. What s interesting, though, is that this is the third time he has taken over a team mid-season. Teams that are good and playing well never make coaching changes in February, so we know he has taken over bad, messed up teams before. In 1991-92 the Supersonics were 20-20 when he took over and went 27-15 after he took over. The turnaround was even more impressive in 2004-05. Then the Nuggets were a dismal 17-25 before Karl and went on to finish out 32-8 with their new coach and made the playoffs. Now, the Kings aren't going to make the playoffs, and the hole here is deeper than what he has seen before, but it's still a pretty good bet that this team will be significantly better going forward than they have been since Malone left..It's important to remember, too, that the last time Karl coached was in 2013 when he was named NBA Coach of the Year for the first time, but then the Nuggets bizarrely fired instead of extending him. This is a guy who still knows how to coach, and he has something to prove. If nothing else, Sacramento's April 12 trip to Denver will be must-see TV regardless of how well the team is turned around.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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