Deal to acquire defensive stopper backfired

Updated: August 2, 2003, 2:07 PM ET
Associated Press

WHITEFISH BAY, Wis. -- George Karl says he's still trying to figure out why he was fired as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks with one year and $7 million left on his contract.

But he thinks he can pinpoint where things started to go wrong: Oct. 25, 2001.

The Bucks were coming off a season in which they'd missed the NBA Finals by a jump shot, and Karl had signed a two-year, $14 million extension that made him the highest-paid coach in basketball.

Karl thought Anthony Mason would catapult the Bucks to the top of the Eastern Conference, so he persuaded owner Herb Kohl to trade away Scottie Williams and sign Mason to a four-year, $21 million deal.

It backfired, starting the Bucks on a slide that led to the departures of stars Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson along with general manager Ernie Grunfeld and Karl.

"Scottie Williams was probably better for this basketball team than Anthony Mason. Now, when we evaluated it, we never evaluated that," Karl said Tuesday during break at his youth basketball camp in suburban Milwaukee. "It changed our look, it changed the way to play us. And in a lot of ways, that was a mistake.

He added: "Mason's a great defender, and I thought we needed that at that point."

In his first comments to reporters since his firing July 20, Karl said he wants to coach in the NBA next year after catching up with friends across the country.

"I'm already going to hang out with some guys X'ing and O'ing before camp, then you've got the NBA, then you've got college and by then maybe I'll be lucky to have a job doing some type of broadcasting," Karl said.

Karl said he still doesn't understand all the reasons for his ouster, which came three weeks after Kohl suddenly took his team off the market after negotiating to sell it to Michael Jordan.

"The last couple of months for this organization has been very difficult, just a combination of the sale, Ernie leaving, I don't understand exactly what the decision was. I was ready to coach," Karl said. "I'm disappointed I'm not coaching."

Karl described his departure as amicable _ the Bucks are paying him his $7 million salary plus compensation for his 1 percent slice of the team, an estimated $1.7 million.

Karl said he wasn't blindsided by the move because he otherwise would have been entering a lame-duck season.

"I don't know if that's their reason or not, but it might have been," Karl said.

Bucks general manager Larry Harris wasn't available for comment Tuesday, a team spokeswoman said. Harris has said he won't speak publicly until he has hired a new coach.

Karl said he hoped one of his former assistants, Terry Stotts or Don Newman, gets the job. They are among eight known candidates.

Karl, who was 205-173 in five seasons in Milwaukee, said his biggest regret was not having a better relationship with Allen. But he said he never has regretted calling out his stars publicly, a tactic Robinson, Allen and Cassell all suggested backfired.

Karl said he has changed his stance over the years and only calls out players when they refuse to play hard.

"I can live with a guy maybe not practicing hard, but I can't live with a guy that cheats the game," he said. "And if that's how I've got to lose my profession, OK, I'm not going to change that."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press