March 30, 1998 in Sports

Wait Until Dark Karl Isn’t Sure If The Sonics Want Him

Jim Cour Associated Press
 

Barry Ackerley and Wally Walker are keeping George Karl in the dark.

If they intend to bring him back to coach the SuperSonics next season, they haven’t told him. Karl’s future in Seattle might depend strictly on how his team does in the right-around-the-corner playoffs.

Karl, who is in the final year of his contract, doesn’t know.

“He’s never told me anything,” Karl said of Walker, the Sonics general manager.

It’s a bizarre situation in Seattle, where Karl has compiled the highest winning percentage (.719) as a coach in the Sonics’ history with a six-year regular-season mark of 376-147.

The Sonics haven’t won an NBA championship, but they might have if Michael Jordan would have stayed retired. Under Karl, they’ve won 50-plus games for six straight years and will be one of the favorites in the playoffs again this year.

Now, why wouldn’t Ackerley, the Sonics’ owner, and Walker want Karl back?

“We’ve done it going on seven years,” Karl said. “When I first got here, someone told me you couldn’t build a tradition in pro basketball. With the loyalty and the contracts.

“So the record speaks for itself.”

On Saturday night, the Sonics beat the New York Knicks 104-78 at home to improve their record to 53-18, second best in the West behind Utah’s 53-17. The Jazz will be in Seattle Tuesday night.

Common sense says Ackerley and Walker will bring Karl back. Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t have any inside information, but that’s what he expects.

“George is a great, great basketball coach,” Van Gundy said. “I’d be shocked if he was not in Seattle next year.”

If Karl becomes a free-agent coach, it’s likely that he will be snapped up quickly by another franchise. He was fired as the coach at Cleveland and Golden State in the 1980s.

Seattle gave Karl what was seen as a last chance in the NBA when it signed him away from Spain’s Real Madrid in January 1992.

The Sonics have said they’ll make a decision on Karl’s coaching future after the season.

“I don’t know about the inner workings here, but George has had a tremendous amount of success in Seattle,” Van Gundy said.

Maybe Karl isn’t corporate enough for the Sonics. Maybe ownership and the front office don’t like him because he sometimes talks first and thinks later. Maybe he’s too controversial.

The bottom line, though, is that KeyArena is full every night and the Sonics are a winning, entertaining team that is going after its fourth Pacific Division title under Karl in a division that includes the Los Angeles Lakers.

Karl, 46, won’t have to even compile a resume to get another job. The telephone is already ringing off the hook.

“All I know is that I’ve had more friends this year than ever before,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people call me up and talk to me. I guess they like me. I’m not a big ‘friend’ guy in the NBA. I’ve never felt that many people liked me. Now, a lot of people like me.”

The Sonics have 11 regular-season games left, six at home, before starting the playoffs. All-Stars Gary Payton and Vin Baker will get a lot of help in the playoffs from veterans like Detlef Schrempf and Hersey Hawkins, and a rebuilt bench that includes Jerome Kersey, Dale Ellis and Greg Anthony.

It’s a Sonics team that has the best 3-point shooting in the league. If it has a fault, it’s a lack of rebounding. The Sonics are last in the NBA in that category.

In the East, the Bulls are older, but they’ve still got Jordan and they’re still the champions. In the West, Utah is playing the best of any team in the league now.

The obstacles are standing in front of the Sonics - and perhaps Karl’s future in Seattle. He’s trying not to feel the pressure.

“I think we’re really hungry to try to win a championship,” Karl said.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

Coming up

Utah plays at Seattle Tuesday at 7 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Northwest

This sidebar appeared with the story: Coming up Utah plays at Seattle Tuesday at 7 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Northwest

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