The Sacramento Kings, increasingly concerned about their floundering play under George Karl, entered the weekend hoping to delay any decisions about Karl’s future until the All-Star break, according to the league sources.
But sources told ESPN that the nature of the team’s loss Friday night in Brooklyn and all of the fallout it generated — Sacramento’s sixth loss in seven games — has the Kings contemplating an immediate coaching change.
The Kings have three road games remaining before the break: Sunday in Boston, Monday in Cleveland and Wednesday in Philadelphia. It was not immediately clear if Karl would survive to coach all three of them or who the Kings would choose to succeed Karl as interim coach if they do decide to make a change in coming days, but NBA coaching sources said early Saturday that it is unlikely Kings assistant coach Nancy Lieberman would take over.
One possibility in the event of a coaching change, sources said, is elevating assistant coach and former Kings forward Corliss Williamson to interim coach. But USA TODAY reported early Saturday that the significant guaranteed money still owed on Karl’s contract could factor into Sacramento’s decision-making.
Yahoo! Sports first reported early Saturday that the Kings are “strongly weighing” Karl’s firing.
During the team’s local postgame show on Comcast following the loss to the 13-38 Nets, former Kings standout Bobby Jackson — who played for years with Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac and director of player personnel Peja Stojakovic — appeared to take the rare step of calling for Karl’s dismissal. All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, meanwhile, voiced a fresh round of frustrations with the Kings’ defensive frailties after the game.
“I’m not going to keep blaming these guys in the locker room,” Cousins told reporters in Brooklyn. “Energy and effort is a huge part of the game, but I’m not going to keep blaming it on that. We’ve got a bigger issue and we need to figure it out as a team.
“I’d rather keep [problems] in house, but we definitely have a bigger issue than just energy and effort. That can’t be the excuse every night. … We’re going to work it out as a team and hopefully we can fix this.”
It was roughly this time a year ago that the Kings struck a deal to hire Karl away from ESPN to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin. When he was reminded during the broadcast that Karl was hired during the All-Star break in 2015, Jackson said: “It can be post All-Star break that he can leave, too. There ain’t nothing wrong with it. It’s just the business.”
A recent five-game winning streak improved Sacramento’s record to 20-23 and lifted the Kings into the eight spot in the Western Conference, but the 1-6 nosedive has left them 3 1/2 games behind No. 8 Portland. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made it known that he expected the team to push for a playoff berth this season and bring a halt to a postseason drought dating to 2006.
Karl’s job appeared under threat in early November, but he survived those storms. If the 64-year-old is ultimately dismissed now, it would be Sacramento’s third coaching change since December 2014. Mike Malone was fired after an 11-13 start last season and Karl was brought in on a four-year, $15 million deal after Sacramento went 7-21 under Corbin.