POSTED: Feb 21, 2015 9:20 AM ET
Celtics vs. Kings
DeMarcus Cousins scores 31 points and grabs 15 rebounds as the Kings defeat the Celtics 109-101.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Kings needed George Karl more than he needed them. Karl knew it and squeezed the organization publicly and behind the scenes. And so it was settled.
The Kings have never had a coach like him.
That's saying a lot for a team that has run just about everyone in the Western Hemisphere through Sleep Train Arena in the post-Rick Adelman error. But seriously, folks. Forget questions about how Karl will fit with emotional DeMarcus Cousins, in other words. How Karl fits with the entire franchise is the real dynamic, now that the Kings have a coach with real weight, far beyond the rookie this front office previously hired, Michael Malone, and more than anyone during previous Sacramento administrations.
Karl has credibility -- he's sixth on the career win list -- and knows how to work a room. He does not duck tough issues. He was one of the endearing figures of the NBA long before it became a sympathy thing due to his neck and throat cancer. It's impossible to miss the truth that the millionaire who didn't come back for the money is really a Pittsburgh kid who wants to work at age 63. George Karl is genuine and popular among media and the fans, and he will swing the hammer.
GameTime: Karl to Kings
Dennis Scott talks about the challenges that await new Kings coach George Karl in Sacramento after Karl's day with the media.
Look how he got the Sacramento job. The Kings were rowing in circles, saw Karl out there but had pledged themselves to Tyrone Corbin for at least the rest of 2014-15 and honestly wanted to give Corbin a chance to keep the gig beyond that. So Karl, whoops, just happened to mention in a Feb. 6 tweet that, among other things, "Love the skills and speed of the Magic...." The Magic -- as in the other team with a coaching vacancy. He might as well have hired a plane to skywrite it above Sleep Train Arena.
Pressure was being applied behind the scenes as well. As the sides debated parts of the contract, including whether the final installment of the contract through 2017-18 should be guaranteed, Karl's representatives pointedly noted to management that someone of his stature would have a lot more options in the offseason and that if the Kings wanted him, the time to step up was now. Wait and it could turn into the latest bungled coaching situation.
Karl angling so hard showed that he really wanted to be in Sacramento, a good sign for a beleaguered front office and frustrated fans desperate for progress, any progress. But it also showed that the new coach won't always conform. He wanted the job and still had management chasing him. Brilliant.
After a long list of first-time coaches or experienced coaches who haven't gotten a No. 1 job in the NBA since, the Kings have someone who is very much his own man. It helps that the general manager, Pete D'Alessandro, knows this as well as anyone -- the two were together for years in Denver, Karl as the coach and D'Alessandro a top lieutenant to Masai Ujiri as head of basketball operations. Karl himself joked that when he needed to vent, he found D'Alessandro.
I think he's very motivational. His energy alone brings energy to the team.
– DeMarcus Cousins
D'Alessandro knows the truth going into the new relationship. George Karl is going to challenge his bosses as much as he challenges Cousins.
"I was with him for three years, and I hope he does," D'Alessandro said. "I hope he does. I think it makes me better. He said I was the guy he yelled at or whatever. We did. George and I would have spirited conversations and discussions. Not in everything, because obviously Masai and George were GM and coach. That goes without saying. But there were a lot of times when Masai's out, I'm in, and we spent a lot of time discussing all types of things. I've been there with him. I respect the heck out of him for it and I think he does make me better and makes the organization better because of it."
The Kings are paying a possible $15 million and a guaranteed $11.5 million for the final 30 games of 2014-15 and the next three full seasons -- he compromised and took a partial guarantee/buyout for the final campaign -- for Karl's basketball mind, but also for his spark. He was kinetic energy on Friday night at Sleep Train, and that was before the game had even started. Karl left the home locker room, walked through a short tunnel that leads under the stands and to the court -- and boom! A standing ovation from thirsty fans as soon as he came into view.
The team showed two video tributes/introductions in the first half alone. Karl's credentials. Karl touring the construction site of the new arena. Karl in a purple hard hat. A shot of Karl with former player Carmelo Anthony, with former player Shawn Kemp, with former player Ray Allen, and many others. George Karl knows stars!
Coach Karl Speaks on Sacramento
Kings new head coach George Karl speaks about his goals for Sacramento this season.
And then beating the Celtics 109-101, overcoming a 16-point deficit in the first quarter and 24 turnovers. The night was complete. Just about complete, at least. When DeMarcus Cousins smiled and joked his way through the postgame media session, then the night was complete. Except for investigation into who kidnapped the real Cousins and replaced him with an identical lookalike who smiled and joked at a rate rarely seen in public.
"I think he's very motivational," Cousins said. "His energy alone brings energy to the team. And we were running. ... I think everybody had fun out there tonight. I don't think guys had fun like that since probably earlier in the season. Running, we're having fun, we're sharing the ball. All we can do is continue to grow from this game and try to continue to get better."
Karl can have that kind of impact. It was one game, a first game against an opponent 12 games under .500, but it was a very encouraging sign that a lot of what the Kings had been missing arrived. That's one of the benefits of being a coach unlike any the team has seen before.
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