Over the last two years, perhaps no coach in basketball has undergone more turmoil than George Karl. He was hired amid controversy at last year's All-Star break, nearly fired after just 30 games and faced constant rumors about his job status before finally being let go in April.
At the center of most of the controversy was Karl's relationship (or lack thereof) with star DeMarcus Cousins. In a wide-ranging interview with Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee, Karl admitted he never clicked with Cousins and took part of the blame.
“I never felt I got into a good place with Cuz,” Karl said, “and some of that was my stupidity when I said that no player is untradeable. I still believe that. But I should have been smart enough not to say it, and I in no way, at any time, thought [Cousins] was going to get traded.”
One thing becomes clear when Karl speaks: He believes the Kings have emboldened Cousins to the detriment of the organization. In particular, Karl highlighted a well-documented November incident where Cousins berated his coach in front of teammates and vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac:
That night the bomb went off. [Divac] was right there. When they supported Cousins instead of me, I felt, ‘OK, I’m in the compromise position. Cuz has the power.’ They sent that message many times, too many times sent it to the players. And the players wanted someone to stand up to Cuz, and they wanted it to be their coach. But at that point, I realized that you either compromise or you blow it up, and my job was to make us a better basketball team and get to the end of the year.
Karl later suspended Cousins in March for conduct detrimental to the team. When asked by Marc J. Spears of ESPN's The Undefeated about the ban, Cousins pointed the finger directly at his head coach and said it "wasn't a suspension from the organization."
Despite never getting along with Karl, Cousins was again brilliant in 2015-16. He averaged a career-high 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while adding a three-point stroke to his arsenal. The Kings nonetheless went 33-49, finishing eight games out of playoff contention. It was sadly a career high in NBA wins for Cousins, who is spearheading an organization on a decadelong postseason drought.
“Eighty percent of the time I think the Kings did what had to be done,” Karl said of his firing after his 44-68 record, per 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.”
Karl says part of the reason is the Kings front office isn't committed to building a well-rounded team around Cousins:
I don’t disagree, but he needs players around him that are better fits. You could tell at the end of last year that Rudy (Gay) and Cuz didn’t work. We added some pieces last summer, but we had too many guards. I kept telling Mike (Bratz), ‘Darren Collison, Ben McLemore and Marco Belinelli are too similar. Trade one of them because you can’t keep three (shooting) guards happy.’ And I wanted to play Seth (Curry), but you can’t give a player seven minutes here, seven minutes there, and think they can gain any confidence.
Karl also calls on the organization to "empower" the man who replaces him. He was noncommittal on whether the team will ultimately deal Cousins this summer, but he hinted at what he'd do if he were running things.
"I think you can win with him (Cousins)," Karl said, "but my thing is, how long is it going to take to get there? Then, how long before you become a winning team? I think there are faster ways to go.”
Luckily for him, Karl won't have to hang around and make that decision. It's an unenviable task from every imaginable place. The Kings are opening a new arena in October; Cousins is the only player on the roster who can fill seats. Unless their 1.9 percent odds come up and they win the lottery, they're almost stuck with Cousins unless they want a half-filled state-of-the-art building.
That means whoever winds up on the bench next season better reach the enigmatic big man, or the new coach may be giving a similarly dispirited interview a year from now.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.