With former Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl set to become the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Denver Stiffs wants to be among the first to welcome our former coach, and his 1,131 regular season wins, back to the NBA. What surfaced as a rumor a few weeks ago has come to fruition, per the folks at the Sacramento Bee, per an ESPN.com report from Marc Stein, and today from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (everybody was in on it!).
When the rumors first surfaced about a Kings and Karl marriage, subsequent rumors surfaced about Kings' All-Star DeMarcus Cousins' representatives being against the move, due to some past issues with Karl. This prompted Hall of Famer Gary Payton (who played for Karl in Seattle) to come out strongly in support of his former coach:
"You listen to yourself. You're going to make a lot of money. You don't even know George Karl. So let me tell you, you're going to have to go out there and play for this guy. When you play for this guy, he's going to let you do whatever you want, he's going to make you another All-Star, he's going to make you $100 million dollars, so leave your agent alone!" -Payton on Fox Sports 1
Add me to the chorus alongside Payton strongly in support of this move. The Kings, a non-playoff participant since 2006, desperately need to become relevant in the NBA's brutally competitive Western Conference and Karl, if history is any indication, essentially guarantees you NBA relevance.
Rightfully lauded as a terrific coach for point guards (Karl himself played point guard for the recently deceased Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina, and in the ABA and NBA for the San Antonio Spurs), Karl's record with exceptionally talented, but exceptionally ego'd front court players bares recognition, as well. In addition to coaching Payton in Seattle, Karl coached Shawn "The Reign Man" Kemp - who, like Cousins, was a phenomenally talented yet personally flawed superstar. Under Karl's supervision, Kemp had his best seasons as a pro, competing in five of his six All-Star appearances and helping guide the Sonics to the NBA Finals in 1996.
Moving on from Seattle to coach the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, Karl had the challenge of coaching Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, a former first overall draft choice who had never appeared in a playoff game or an NBA All-Star Game. With Karl coaching him, Robinson posted career highs in field goal percentage and rebounding and appeared in two consecutive All-Star Games and an Eastern Conference Finals. The Bucks haven't been anywhere near a conference finals since.
After departing Seattle, Karl joined our beloved Denver Nuggets and we all know what happened here. Guiding the Nuggets to a 32-8 record in his first 40 games as a mid-season coaching replacement in 2005, Karl had the unenviable task of coaching front court lottery selections Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario - each coming to the NBA with their own set of unique personality issues. But under Karl, like Kemp and Robinson before them, they thrived. Not only did each of them have their finest all-around seasons as professional basketball players, but sans Camby those Nuggets competed for a Western Conference championship in 2009.
Point being, Cousins should be dancing in the streets to have Karl as his head coach as Karl's record with front court players is certainly on par with his record coaching point guards, be it Sleepy Floyd, Payton, Sam Cassell, Andre Miller, Chauncey Billups or even Ty Lawson.
Why Karl would want to coach the Kings is a completely different matter, however, when more attractive coaching opportunities could be available were Karl to be just a little more patient. When Karl rescued the Nuggets season in 2004-05 by taking a 17-25 team and getting them into the playoffs the Western Conference was nowhere near as competitive as it is today. Today, if a team doesn't have at least 48-50ish wins in the west they cannot compete for a playoff spot. And just as I struggled to see how our own Nuggets would compete for a playoff spot in 2015, I struggle to see how the Kings will get there in 2016 ... despite having a roster that has a lot of upside to it. But when Anthony Davis's New Orleans Pelicans can barely crack the West's top eight, how exactly will Karl's Kings do it?
Moreover, while the Kings roster has some undoubtedly talented players like Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Derrick Williams and others, in their panic to become relevant they locked themselves into a giant contract for Gay through 2018 and have little roster flexibility cap-wise through 2016. And thus, my fear for Karl is that IF the Kings don't make the 2016 playoffs will new billionaire owner Vivek Ranadive and his looming $477 million arena be patient enough to keep Karl around?
Conversely, had Karl been a little more patient it's possible that the Orlando Magic job - in the wake of the Jacques Vaughn firing - would have come available. Not only is Orlando a more desirable place to live than Sacramento (sorry, Kings fans, but it's true: I've been to both cities!), but the Magic roster has nothing but upside and flexibility. And by playing in the Eastern Conference, the expectations for Karl would be much lower than they will be in the West.
But by all accounts, Karl is heading to Sacramento and we'll wish him the very best there. Except for when the Kings play the Nuggets, of course.
And who would have ever guessed that when the Nuggets released their 2014-15 schedule that Sunday afternoon April 12th versus the Sacramento Kings would be the biggest game of the season?!
From Jeff Morton on Karl's hiring in Sacramento:
The NBA missed George Karl, and he in turn missed the NBA. It was odd to not have his constant presence, and overall basketball knowledge, dominating the basketball scene. It felt like the NBA was missing its heart.
Now that Karl will be back patrolling the NBA sidelines with the Sacramento King, things feel right. The Kings are getting an all-time great who, while flawed, will immediately give the Kings organization gravitas, class, confidence and swagger that they haven't had in over a decade.
Kings fans. You are getting someone who will immediately impact your team positively and they will play hard for him. Karl is an offensive genius and it will be interesting to see how he works with DeMarcus Cousins. Either way you are going to see entertainment in Sacramento you haven laid eyes on for years.
I miss our annual breakfasts with Karl and the stories he would tell. Miss the histrionics and the flair. Yet, it's damn great to know that the NBA has its heart back. Congratulations George and best of luck with the Kings. See you April 12th in Denver!
From Nate Timmons on the Kings hiring of Karl:
George loves being in the basketball gym, and he belongs in the NBA. Had Karl stayed on with the Nuggets, he most certainly would have been faced with a tough situation, but it would have been incredibly interesting to see how he dealt with a youth movement and a rebuilding project.
He'll get his chance at a rebuild with the Kings. Folks like to say that Karl hates big men, but when he had a talented one in Nene - he used him pretty well. But Karl is going to be tasked with his big man being his best player - Nene was never that in Denver, so it'll be extremely interesting to see how Karl adjusts and how DeMarcus Cousins adjusts, as well.
Karl loves to challenge guys. I can recall Karl in the Nuggets practice gym, talking to the media, saying loud enough for Ty Lawson to hear, that Russell Westbrook had recently torched the Nuggets and they needed to find someone who could guard him. Lawson responded to Karl and you could tell the two had already talked about Westbrook in practice.
George is known for getting the most from his roster and he'll have an uphill battle, but one he has been waiting for since exiting Denver. It's great to have him back in the NBA and I look forward to seeing how he does with the Kings.
Maybe we'll get some of this Furious George ...