Karl's downfall was the game he talked

On The NBA

May 31, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

That the Seattle SuperSonics fired George Karl wasn't surprise, considering the team's recent playoff failures. Yet, until a week ago Friday, the Sonics were talking about signing Karl to another contract.

It appears it was Karl's mouth -- and not his inability to win -- that got him fired.

Just before Karl was fired, the New York Post's Peter Vescey wrote a column that recounted a conversation between Karl and team president Wally Walker about contract talks that were about to begin. Walker had asked Karl specifically to keep the conversation under wraps, and felt betrayed.

Walker was also unhappy about Karl's interview with ESPN's Roy Firestone, during which Karl was asked whether he felt management resented his success.

"Of course. It's human nature," Karl answered. "There's a human nature to all relationships. The one great thing I like about how I coach and relate is how I feel and a sense [I have]. It's not on statistics or gossip. It's on how you're acting with me. How you're relating back to me. Human nature, there is a jealousy of success."

Said Walker of those remarks: "I cheer for everyone's success here in this organization. And for him as a coach, if he felt that [way] for a second, then it probably wasn't a good fit."

The Vescey column came out after the ESPN interview, which set the stage for Karl's firing.

"I'm surprised Wally Walker put up with George as long as he did," said Bill Ackerley, the son of Sonics owner Barry Ackerley.

"George worked at developing a 'suits vs. talent' relationship in the organization. To me, it was a matter of professionalism. The question was, could George get us over the hump without paranoia and mistrust getting in the way, and the answer for the organization was no."

Said Walker of the developments: "Things were positive. You're weighing the pros and the cons, and all of a sudden, kind of some old raw wounds on the con side are brought to the forefront. It hurt him [Karl]. I think that's the best way to put it."

Help wanted

So, where will Karl end up? One city being mentioned is Los Angeles, where the Clippers need a high-profile coach and where the Lakers might replace Del Harris.

After the Lakers dominated the Sonics in five games, many expected the team to advance past the Utah Jazz. Instead, the Lakers were swept in four games in a series that had many -- including the front office -- questioning the team's desire.

"There is something missing from this team. There is no sense of urgency," said vice president Magic Johnson.

"We played four games exactly the same. We made no adjustments. You can't play like that. This is something we have to address. Dr. Buss [owner Jerry Buss] is upset. I'm upset. This is not the way we are supposed to go out."

Added team executive vice president Jerry West: "We had a couple of players that should be embarrassed."

Still, the feeling is that Harris will return for the final year of his contract.

"Our players will be reviewed, our trainer, our strength and conditioning coaches, people in the front office, as well as our coaching staff," said general manager Mitch Kupchak. "Having said that, I think Del had a great year. With the exception of the last eight days, I don't think anybody can question the job he did."

And though the team is young and should have a bright future, expect changes.

One could be at point guard, where Nick Van Exel shot 23.8 percent and was outplayed by John Stockton and Howard Eisley.

Also possibly leaving is forward Rick Fox, who took less money ($1 million) to sign with the Lakers because he figured it was his best shot to win a championship. When the players cleaned out their lockers last Monday, Fox broke down and cried.

"I'm just sad, that's all," Fox said. "I'm not retiring, so I'll get another chance, somewhere."

Asked whether that would be with the Lakers, Fox replied: "I don't know. I just hope somewhere someday to win a championship, and I think this team is going to do it eventually. Whether I'm a part of it or not, I just don't know."

The only Laker to show up in the playoffs was Shaquille O'Neal, who averaged 30.5 points and 10.2 rebounds and shot 61.2 percent in 13 games.

Quotable

"If I see David Falk [Michael Jordan's agent] reffing, I know we're in trouble."

-- Indiana coach Larry Bird, asked about Game 7 referees after the Bulls complained about Scottie Pippen nemesis Hue Hollins, who made two calls against Chicago at the end of Game 6.

"Hey, Pip. Give me $5 and I'll step on the gas right now."

-- Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan, sitting behind the wheel of the team bus, to Scottie Pippen as team general manager Jerry Krause walked in front of the bus. The episode was caught on tape by a Chicago television station.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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