SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> After more than 1,100 wins, a trip to the NBA Finals, and a Coach of the Year award in his final season in Denver, George Karl still feels he has some unfinished business in the NBA.
So Karl left a cushy job as a television analyst to take over one of the league’s least successful teams when he was introduced Tuesday as the new coach of a Sacramento Kings team that has lost the second most games in the NBA over the past nine seasons.
“I’ve missed the gym and I love the game,” Karl said. “I wanted one more shot to try to win a championship.”
He is joining a team that is far from that level, having not made the playoffs nor had a winning record since 2005-06. Karl is the third coach this season for the Kings, taking over for Tyrone Corbin, who lasted just two months after replacing the fired Michael Malone.
The second in-season change comes after general manager Pete D’Alessandro committed to Corbin for the rest of the season. But after watching the team go 7-21 under Corbin following a promising 11-13 start under Malone, D’Alessandro decided to make another change to a coach he was familiar with from his time in the front office in Denver when Karl was on the sideline.
“You get to the point where you say I know who I want to coach the team and he’s available,” D’Alessandro said. “Sometimes, you have to acknowledge what we’ve done is wrong.”
Karl had been watching the Kings closely in his job as an analyst at ESPN and said he saw a team that lost confidence in recent weeks.
He wants to spend the final 30 games trying to build that back up and figure out what kind of players he has heading into the offseason.
“I think there’s enough talent on this team to win games, enough talent to come back and connect with one another in a way that you can be a solid to good basketball team night in and night out,” Karl said. “It will take some time.”
Karl last coached in the 2012-13 season, when he won NBA Coach of the Year with the Nuggets before being fired following a first-round playoff loss to the Warriors.
The Nuggets made the postseason all nine years under Karl. They advanced past the first round only once during his tenure, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference finals.
“I never really totally understood what happened in Denver,” Karl said. “I knew that how we were playing I had to do it again because I thought there were things happening there that were really good but could be better.”
The 63-year-old Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, is one of nine coaches in league history to surpass 1,000 wins. He has 1,131 victories as a head coach, with stops in Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle and Milwaukee, earning a reputation for turning around teams.
Sacramento certainly presents another one of those challenges.
The Kings are headed for a ninth straight losing season and are trying to rebuild around DeMarcus Cousins, who has a history of clashing with coaches but was close with Malone.
Karl called Cousins the most skilled big man in the league. Karl said Cousins has the physical skills of former Seattle star Shawn Kemp, whom Karl coached, and the emotional fire of another former SuperSonics player in guard Gary Payton.
“To have the skills and the size that he has is going to be something that will motivate me to figure out ways to use him and motivate him and get him at a higher level than he even is now,” Karl said.
Cousins is the main building block on the team. But Karl also talked about his excitement over getting to coach players like Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and the team’s last two first-round picks in Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas.
While Karl and Payton clashed early in their time together in Seattle, they are very close now and Karl said he feels he is better equipped to coach that type of player 20 years later.
Karl credited his battles with cancer for changing his style as a coach and making him more humble.
“I think most of my time as a coach, I’ve been a dictator on the basketball court,” he said. “Since my second cancer, I have become more balanced and more of a director.”