George Karl has been in the news a lot this week for comments about the state of the NBA, as part of a promotional effort for his new book. The former coach drew particular ire in Portland for his comments on the team’s recent struggles, when he singled out Damian Lillard as the main reason for the disappointing season. This especially did not sit well with Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who served as an assistant coach for Karl with the CBA’s Albany Patroons, and the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks. On Wednesday, Stotts said that Karl “needs to stay in his own lane.”
Karl spoke with the Portland Tribune’s Kerry Eggers on Thursday afternoon, to expand on his comments and, if anything, may have made things worse. While he did offer an apology to Stotts, he reiterated that he believes the problem lies with Lillard.
But what did Karl mean when he said that Lillard is getting too much attention?
"The question my friends and I were discussing was, why (are the Blazers) not playing with the pizazz and mojo they had last year?" he said. "Last year, I saw a team that had a lot of cohesiveness, would win the 'hustle' game, would win the 'together' game. I'm not seeing that this year.
"Why? I don't have the answer. My guess was what I said, that the attention and status Lillard is getting as an MVP candidate is bothering other people."
Karl didn't want to expound on that, but he meant Lillard's teammates — that Lillard's pre-eminence as a player is affecting the players around him and their camaraderie as a unit.
This is certainly a unique take, and one that will most certainly not sit well with the Trail Blazers organization. It is also pure speculation, with no real evidence to back it up. The team’s chemistry at the moment still appears to be intact, and it seems unlikely that there is any sort of extreme jealousy of Lillard, at least to the point that it would affect the Trail Blazers on the court.
Karl has been the head man for six NBA teams, most recently the Sacramento Kings. He is one of only nine coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 games and was the 2013 Coach of the Year. Karl said that he hasn’t ruled out a comeback to coaching, but at 65 years old and with a laundry list of controversial statements to explain, the decision might not be his to make.