Fired Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl thought it was all about winning. Now, he says, he knows better.
In one of his first interviews since being fired last week, Karl told The Seattle Times his personality clash with Wally Walker, team president for the past four years, made it impossible for him to stay.
"I personally don't think I'm that difficult of a guy to get along with," said Karl, who was stepping out Tuesday night as host for a sports-bar party for fans. "A breakdown of communication is a 50-50 proposition. It's both parties' fault.
"I'll sit here and admit that I don't know how to talk to Wally Walker. But I never refused to talk to him. They say I wasn't a team player on the communcation side. Well, I never knew what the rules were," he said.
"I knew winning games was a big part of it. I think we've done that."
Walker was out of town for six to eight days and unavailable for comment, the Sonics said.
The Times reported Tuesday that the club had given Karl permission to talk with the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, who are looking for coaches, but that other interested teams still would have to get permission to talk to him since he remains under contract until July 1.
"If Wally's free to talk about other coaches, I should be free to talk to anybody about anything," Karl told The Times.
"I don't understand that control. That kind of power game. Why can't it be a respectful thing on both sides of the fence?"
Late Tuesday, the Sonics issued a statement saying, "The SuperSonics have, at this time, granted George Karl permission to speak with any organization."
Karl said he remains excited about coaching.
"I still think I've got a great feel for how the NBA game is. And the Sonics are throwing that away. But I know there's going to be another challenge, and change can be very positive," Karl said.
"The Sonics aren't going to get another coach that wants a ring more than I do. ... I don't care who they get here. There aren't many out there who are possessed by this game like I am."
Karl said he was shocked by the timing of team owner Barry Ackerley's pre-playoff crack: "Where are my rings?"
"The comment hurt, but the timing of it was even more hurtful," Karl said. "To come right out before the playoffs. Wow. ... I think subconsciously it closed the lid on my coffin. I kind of knew I was dead."
That followed the Sonics' refusal last summer to give him a contract extension the beginning of the end, he said.
When the team announced that Karl was out, Walker blamed Karl for news leaks about possible trades and other inside information.
And he said players had come to him with criticism of Karl's coaching strategy during the Sonics' five-game playoff loss to thLos Angeles Lakers.
"I was sad when he tried to divide the team and me," Karl said. "This was a great run with this team. It's probably the most respectful team I've had in coaching. Wally saying that bothered me. Using words to assassinate me is the sign of a very weak person."
As for the Lakers' series, "I wish we would have played them a little bit more straight up than we did, but I don't think it would have mattered," he said. "I think it's kind of foolish to think we could have beaten them the way they were playing."
Karl did not sound bitter and seemed confident he'll be coaching in the NBA next season.
"Money has never been a part of my philosophy in looking for a job," Karl said. "I would stay in Seattle for a lot less money if Wally wasn't here. I would go someplace where we have a chance to win a championship for a lot less money."
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