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Cousins Excited to Move Forward with Karl

DeMarcus Cousins is excited to turn things around in Sacramento under new head coach George Karl.

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Perhaps no team has endured more ups and downs this year than the Sacramento Kings.

The team got off to a 9-5 start under head coach Mike Malone and seemed to be on pace for a 40-win season, which would have been a vast improvement from last season’s 28-win campaign.

Instead, Kings management let Malone go after the team fell to 11-13 (while All-Star DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined due to viral meningitis). Assistant Ty Corbin was promoted to interim head coach. Once Corbin took over, the season appeared to be headed south quickly, as several Kings players were blindsided by the move. Cousins said the firing of Malone was unexpected and star Rudy Gay said he felt betrayed by the firing after signing a three-year contract extension in November. Cousins missed Malone’s last nine games (and the first game under Corbin) due to his illness, and he felt partially responsible for Malone’s firing as the team went 2-7 in those nine games he was out.

“[There have] been a lot of ups and downs,” Cousins said. “We started off hot in the beginning of the year, and we’ve been through a lot of adversity throughout the year. Now, we’re just trying to figure each other out and stay strong and stay positive at the same time. There have been a lot of big obstacles throughout my career here so far, but all I can say is stay positive [and] keep moving forward.”

Having already made one coaching move, the Kings opted to bring in their third head coach of the season on Thursday when they reached an agreement in principle with George Karl. The team has drawn criticism from around the league for the way the team handled their coaching search. Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy called the treatment of Corbin “inexcusable” and “unfortunate.” Team management didn’t hide the fact that they were searching for their next head coach, while Corbin continued to lead the team. Van Gundy praised Corbin for the way he handled the entire situation and blasted the Kings for handling it very poorly.

Karl had been linked to the Kings quite a bit throughout the course of the season before eventually agreeing to take over the job. Karl made his intentions of returning to coaching very public in recent months. He said previously that he felt he had one last stint left in him, which could last between three and five seasons. Karl even engaged with fans on Twitter and said that he’d be interested in the Orlando Magic head coaching position after Jacque Vaughn was fired, which is what reportedly pushed the Kings to hire him now.

Sacramento’s executives also met with free agent coach Mark Jackson earlier in the season, but reports surfaced shortly after the meeting that the Kings only met with Jackson to give them more leverage in their talks with Karl. Karl was perhaps the biggest free agent head coach on the market. The 63-year-old has accumulated 1,131 wins during his 25 years as head coach and most recently coached the Denver Nuggets for nine seasons (2004-2013), guiding them to the playoffs in each season.

“He’s a good coach,” Cousins said of Karl. “I haven’t really gotten the chance to talk to him. So many things happened at the same time, so we haven’t really gotten the chance to talk but everybody knows he’s a great coach, though. I’m excited to move forward.”

Now after a tumultuous first half of the season, the Kings will turn to Karl. After a promising start, the 18-win Kings are on track for another trip to the lottery since they’re nowhere near a playoff berth in the stacked Western Conference. Most head coaches prefer to take over a starting job over an offseason, but the Kings were forced to make a quick decision on Karl or risk losing him to the Magic or another team. Karl was fine with taking over now since this gives him the rest of the season to see what he has on the roster. When he joined the Nuggets, that was also a midseason hire and Karl led the team to a 32-8 record. Karl takes over at the best possible time with the All-Star break now lasting a week versus just a handful of days like in previous seasons. He’ll have time to look at his new team and begin the process of adjusting the game plan.

Karl will also be tasked with trying to repair relationships between the players and team. With some of the players feeling betrayed and shocked about the turnover at the head coaching position, it seems as though he’ll have his work cut out for him. But Karl inherits a team with plenty of talent that just needs to find some consistency. The Kings will return several core players next season in Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas and Ramon Sessions and have Cousins locked in for the next three seasons and Gay for two more seasons.

“[It’s going to take] everybody being on the same page,” Cousins said when asked what it’ll take to turn things around. “I think that’s been the biggest issue so far, just trying to figure things out, trying to figure exactly what our plan is. I think we’ve done that. Right now, I think it’s just about everybody being on the same page.”

Karl will use the team’s remaining 30 games to experiment with different lineups and rotations that lead to success. Karl has previously transformed the Milwaukee Bucks and Nuggets from lowly teams to playoff squads and could ultimately do the same with the Kings given the talent that he is working with. Karl will also use the rest of the season to evaluate his upcoming free agents. Derrick Williams, Reggie Evans, Omri Casspi, Ryan Hollins, Ray McCallum and Eric Moreland are all potentially on expiring contracts so a decision will need to be made on those players.

The All-Star break came at a perfect time for Kings players to forget about the first half of the season and focus on the remaining 30 games. They’ll come back to practice with a new head coach who is looking to end his career on a high note and change the culture of a franchise. It certainly seems like the team could be on the rise for the next several seasons after plummeting to rock bottom.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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