Gifted. Elite talent. One of the best in the game.
Confrontational. Difficult. Mercurial. Obstinate. Unwilling to change.
Who am I describing, DeMarcus Cousins or George Karl?
They are two sides of the same coin. They would never admit it, but they are a lot more alike than you can imagine, which is why one had to go.
The obituary for the Kings 2015-16 season was written before the campaign began. Hall of Fame coach loses trust of star player. Star player takes his team and goes home.
“I never felt like I got into a good place with Cuz and some of that was my stupidity when I said no player is untradeable,” Karl told the Bee’s Ailene Voisin. “I still believe that, but I should have been smart enough not to say it.”
While Voisin points to Cousins’ agents poisoning the well before Karl even walked in the building, the early marriage between coach and player was on solid ground before Karl’s comments to the media.
The tension between the two started with Karl’s comments towards the end of the season. But the discourse between the two built to a crescendo during the summer when the coach allegedly shopped his star player, leading to the infamous snake in the grass emoji tweet from Cousins.
This was a marriage that had divorce written all over it from an early stage. Two highly combustible, highly competitive personalities put into one locker room. It wasn’t a matter of whether it would fail, but when.
“There’s no question our locker room had tension,” Karl told Michelle Dapper of KCRA. “There’s no question that our locker room had, whatever you want to call it - disconnect. How I tried to solve it or how we tried to solve it - to be honest with you, I think it’s more on the players as much as it is on the coaches.”
“The stars of the team, I think got to take more responsibility sometimes for the leadership of your team,” Karl added. “I think that’s probably where it broke down. I think the coach - me, and I think (Rajon) Rondo, Rudy (Gay) and Cuz (Cousins) were the three guys that we never kinda got together.”
Karl was forthright with Dapper, telling her that he didn’t spend all that much time in the locker room. He said that the assistant coaches and even the training staff would better be suited to ask the question about the dysfunction behind the scenes.
Beyond the players, Karl felt hamstrung by the organization. Following an early blow up in the locker room by Cousins, general manager Vlade Divac sided with his star player over his head coach. Karl wanted Cousins suspended two games. Divac instead fined the 25-year-old center an undisclosed amount.
“Eighty percent of the time I think the Kings did what had to be done,” Karl told Voisin. “But I’m old school enough to think that a coach has to feel powerful, has to feel supported, and I never felt that level of support.”
This wouldn’t be the only dispute between Cousins and Karl during the 82 game schedule. But it’s nothing that Karl hasn’t been through in other stops. Karl openly admits that he and Gary Payton had issues in their time in Seattle and he’s even joked about he and Kenyon Martin almost getting in a fist fight.
When asked what his thoughts are about the Kings potentially shopping their talented big man in the offseason, Karl was honest with his answer.
“I can’t deny that ‘what if coaching this team without DeMarcus?’,” Karl said. “It’d be exciting. Some roadblocks would be taken away.”
Karl is fresh off of knee replacement surgery and still living in Sacramento. At 64, he would love one more shot at running a team. While things went really south with the Kings, he told both outlets that he thought he has the team heading the right direction and wished he would have been given more time.
The veteran coach admitted a few faults in his approach to the season. But in doing so, he made a very valid point, specifically with regards to his decision to play Marco Belinelli over Seth Curry for much of the year.
“The unknown is always better than the known, as a coach, you have to realize that, and you have to realize that when you lose, it’s your fault,” Karl said. “Looking back, they’re probably right on Belinelli. I probably gave Belinelli too much rope.”
One decision didn’t derail Karl and the Kings, and there are plenty of people to blame for his demise in Sacramento. But his inability to win the team’s star player probably hurt his chances for success the most.
Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but more than likely he will pop up somewhere. He’s a basketball lifer that loves the game. Be it on a sideline or in front of a camera, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of George Karl.