VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8
NEWS OF THE MORNING
With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:
League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.
The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.
“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”
Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.
After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.
Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.
Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.
The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.
“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”
A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.
As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.
Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”
After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.
And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:
The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.
NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.
Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.
Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.
The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.
Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.
Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.
Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.
VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling
With the Los Angeles Lakers out of playoff consideration — let alone championship consideration — it’s safe to say there will be only three more games for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to play against one another.
Two of them will happen this week: on Wednesday, when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Lakers, and in Sunday’s All-Star game in Toronto, where Bryant and James will face off in the annual East vs. West game.
James admitted Monday that seeing Bryant play out his final season has touched him.
“Anytime I even watch his games, even when I’m not playing him, it’s always, like, very emotional just knowing it’s his last hurrah,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-100 win over the Sacramento Kings. “And he’s done so much, not only for the Lakers organization, but for me as a kid growing up watching Kobe and things of that nature and also competing against him.
“So it’s going to be really cool to see him on Wednesday for sure, and hopefully — I know our fans — they’re going to give him a great reception, well-deserved.”
James shared his favorite Bryant moment on Monday.
“I think my most fond moment is he gave me his shoes when I was in high school,” James said. “I think I was playing in a tournament in Teaneck, New Jersey, and they were playing in the  All-Star game in Philly. And I had an opportunity to go meet him, and he gave me a pair of his shoes, and I actually wore them in a game against Oak Hill, against Melo [Carmelo Anthony], actually. So, six degrees of separation right there.”
“He’s made some big shots. I watched the game in New Orleans, where he made some big shots, and also watched the game at home, when they played Minnesota and he hit some big shots. So it’s great to see that.”
Although James was mostly gracious when asked about Bryant, he gave a coy response when asked how his relationship with the “Black Mamba” has changed over time.
“I don’t want to answer that,” James said. “I don’t want to answer that.”
VIDEO: LeBron James talks about playing Kobe Bryant this season
No. 3: Communication woes remain at root of Bulls’ issues — Since they rattled off a six-game win streak in early January, the Chicago Bulls are 5-12 and have lost three in a row. Last night, they were simply outplayed by the Hornets and exhibited a porous defense as Charlotte became the sixth straight team to score 100 or more points on the Bulls. Afterward, veteran forward Taj Gibson boiled down the Bulls’ problem to a memorable soundbite as Chicago tries to pull itself out of this funk. Nick Friedell of ESPN.com has more:
After his team’s latest defeat, a discouraging 108-91 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Gibson was asked if the Bulls had lost their identity.
“What was our identity?” Gibson said. “Our identity was defense and then we went offense. But you got to look at it, we got a whole different group of guys from previous years. In previous years, we had a lot of defensive guys that [had] dog in them. Now we got a bunch of young guys [with an] offensive mentality. Now we’re just trying to figure out a new system.”
The Bulls were a tired, depleted team on Monday night and the game was never close. The fact that they still don’t have an identity over halfway through the season is a problem and has been a continuous issue throughout the season. But that’s not even the single biggest quandary surrounding the Bulls at this point.
The larger problem is that this team continues to lack the leadership that any successful team needs. The Bulls have a room full of solid characters, but they lack the unity and distinct voices that can lift a group out of funks like they are in now.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Gibson said. “Guys come and do the work. It’s just a different group from what we had in the past. We had straight defensive guys, hungry dogs. Now we have guys coming in, offensive-minded, shoot the 3. … We used to be scrappy. Now we’re trying to mold these guys into getting scrappy. Every game is rough because we’re still trying to get guys to talk. And you would think talking would be the easiest thing, right? Every day we’re just trying to get guys to talk. It’s frustrating, but what can you do? Right now, a lot of teams smell blood; you just got to figure out a way to get over it. In this league, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. That’s the thing.”
Joakim Noah used to have the clout within the locker room to rally his teammates. But after being taken out of the lineup earlier in the year by coach Fred Hoiberg and then getting hurt, he’s not even in the locker room these days to try and help his team right the ship as he continues his rehab. Jimmy Butler has been open about trying to be the team’s biggest voice; he has blossomed into a two-time All-Star and signed a max extension over the summer, but that self-empowerment has been met with resistance in some corners of the locker room.
Derrick Rose has never been a vocal leader throughout his career, although he has acknowledged recently that he has tried harder to use his voice around his teammates. The problem for Rose is that he has played just 105 regular-season games in the past four years and has not been able to stay on the floor. He missed another opportunity to build more leadership equity on Monday night after a surprise scratch just before game time.
“There’s not a-holes on this team,” veteran Pau Gasol said before the game. “Sometimes it is useful that a guy gets on somebody else’s [case] just to make him react or do better and not take it personally. There’s a fair argument that that’s something that could be used and it could be useful, and it is useful at times. But we don’t have that type of personality in the team here, in that way. You could approach a guy and say, ‘Hey, let’s just try to do this better, let’s just pick it up, let’s try to figure this out.’ Communication, it’s important. I don’t think you really have to say, ‘What the F, wake the F up.’ Some guys are comfortable using that type of language but I’m not going to do that.”
In years past, as much as the front office may not want to acknowledge it now, Tom Thibodeau was the guy players took their cues from. They respected his work ethic and were ready to run through a wall while following his orders in any situation. They didn’t need a player to be that vocal leader because Thibodeau assumed that role from the bench. But as Gasol admitted after Monday’s shootaround, the Bulls’ inconsistencies aren’t unique just to Hoiberg’s first season. This team has been dealing with the same problems for the past year and a half, dating to Thibodeau’s final campaign last season.
Hoiberg has struggled to get his team to carry out the plan the coaching staff constructs for them each game. But several of his players have gone out of their way recently to stand up for him during this team’s trying time.
“Fred is a great coach,” Gibson said. “He has a lot of mental toughness. Even though he may seem quiet, he’s always in here, he’s always giving us good talks. He’s always giving us praise. He’s always just trying to keep us encouraged. Every team goes through a rough stretch. That’s what makes these teams good. But at the same time, in the Thibs days we went through a lot, so we had no choice. We went through a lot of this, so we had no choice but to keep rising. It was different personnel back then. We got a totally different new group of guys, young guys that’s coming from different clubs, so we have to try and mold them, try to keep pushing forward.”
VIDEO: Kemba Walker powers Hornets past Bulls
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: For the record, Kobe Bryant is not a fan of doing away with the ‘hack-a’ rule in the NBA … Being traded around often hasn’t messed with Jared Dudley‘s game … If the New York Knicks get active in the trade market, don’t expect them to deal Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis … Ratings for local TV broadcasts are up across the board, led, of course, by the Golden State Warriors … San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker changed his mind and will play for France in the Olympic qualifying tournament and beyond … The Orlando Magic may be willing to listen to trade offers for Tobias Harris …