It’s on George Karl to connect with DeMarcus Cousins

No matter the circumstances of what's going on between DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings, the onus is on George Karl to make things right.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

By Bryan Gibberman

The Sacramento Kings have put themselves in a difficult position by being a poorly run organization. It’s becoming clear because of previous moves they’ve lost the trust, and deservedly so, of star center DeMarcus Cousins.

The Kentucky product has been with Sacramento for five years, and the Kings have a 131-263 record (a .332 win percentage). Last season’s 29-53 record was the highest win percentage during the Cousins era. Much of that success was due to a 9-6 start before the first-year All Star missed the next ten games due to meningitis. The organization used a 2-7 stretch with Cousins out as an excuse to fire Michael Malone, who had earned the respect of his star player.

Sacramento made Ty Corbin the interim coach and eventually had to hire George Karl midseason because everything had gone off the rails to such an extreme.

It’s now Karl’s job to try to get the Kings back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005-2006, and the man who can help him do this is Cousins. As a coach it’s on Karl to gain the respect of his best player much as Malone did, but he seems to be struggling with the concept.

In February, right around the trade deadline, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck had this nugget in a story from a source close to George Karl:

“At the trade deadline, everyone was available. Including Cousins? Every single person (on the Kings roster) was available.”

Not exactly the way to start off your relationship in an endearing way. As the new rumors started floating around from almost every major outlet leading up to Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Karl and Cousins relationship was in the spotlight again. The Sacramento Bee had video of Karl speaking Tuesday at a kids golf clinic at the U.S. Senior Open.

The two main takeaways:

1) When given the chance to flat out say he didn’t want to trade Cousins, Karl passed on the opportunity.

Question: “You are not interested in trading DeMarcus Cousins?”

Karl:  “My interests right now is commitment, trust and building a team that’s excited about being in Sacramento. Excited and committed to being a good basketball team and representing the city of Sacramento.”

Nope, sorry, wrong answer. “I am not interested in trading DeMarcus Cousins. He is the face of this franchise and I hope Cousins is here as long as I am.” That’s the response Karl needed to give to that question.

2) Throughout the interview (it was barely longer than a minute), Karl continually shifted responsibility to Cousins to make the relationship work. He referenced Cousins’ “commitment” on multiple occasions.

Why should Cousins show unyielding faith to the Kings organization? What have they done during his time there to prove such faith is deserved? It’s Karl’s responsibility to show Cousins he can be trusted to lead the team in the right direction.

When discussing coaching the focus tends to be on offensive and defensive scheme, rotation, and strategic decisions. One of the more important aspects that often gets ignored is a coach’s ability to get his players to buy in. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr replaced a believed figure for Steph Curry in Mark Jackson. That didn’t deter him — he found a way to develop his own relationship with Golden State’s star and this eventually helped lead to an NBA title.

Karl walked into a similar situation with Cousins, but to this point hasn’t found a way to connect. If he can’t find a way to make this work, the Kings need to send Karl on his way and not the franchise centerpiece.

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