The atmosphere inside the Kings locker room, one source with knowledge of the team said, can be best described as “poisonous.”

It is under that cloud that coach George Karl is surviving, if barely. ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon that Karl has staved off firing once again, but another go at this tenuous relationship is not really going to change that dynamic, which has been present in one form or another through the long line of coaches — eight in total — the Kings have gone through in the last decade.

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It’s no secret that however the problems in the Kings locker room are described, the epicenter is All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins, and no matter what happens with Karl in the coming days, the Kings apparently still have no answers to their Cousins conundrum. He is among the most talented players in the league (averaging 26.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game), but he’s struggled to rein in his attitude, emotions and inclination toward insubordination.

Despite those issues, he would have plenty of trade value based on his talent. But sources told Sporting News that a trade of Cousins has not been seriously considered by general manager Vlade Divac or owner Vivek Ranadive and that it would take a mega-offer for that to change before next week’s deadline. Even then, it’s a tremendous longshot.

Coming out of the All-Star break and into March, though, the team is expected to make a determination on whether to use the coming months to lay the groundwork for a trade of Cousins. If it happens, it could take a while, the way the Timberwolves extended the negotiating period for Kevin Love in 2014. 

All of this is not to say that Karl bears no burden for the fracture of his relationship with Cousins, whose reputation for a short fuse and anti-coaching tendencies goes back to his high school days and was confirmed by his rotten relationship with his first NBA coach, Paul Westphal, who lasted only seven games into his second season coaching Cousins. Over the previous two years, Cousins got on well with new coach Mike Malone, who gave Cousins a certain amount of leeway but reeled him in when necessary.

“What Mike understood is that DeMarcus is a smart guy who lets his emotions get away from him but then cools off and is OK after that,” one source told SN. “So he would let him vent and not come back at him when that was happening, but would talk to him once things settled down and everything would be fine.”

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Alas, Malone was fired after starting 11-13 last season because Ranadive — a former minority owner of the Warriors — wanted to see his team play up-tempo, like Golden State. That eventually led to the hiring of Karl. Unlike Malone, Karl has not been one for giving Cousins leeway or cool-down time, and that set the relationship on a bad path from the get-go.

In the offseason, of course, word got out that Karl had been personally calling other teams to gauge possible Cousins trades. Cousins tweeted out emoji images of a snake in the grass, and it was clear his target was Karl. If there was a chance to get the Karl-Cousins combo on a good footing, it ended then. In November, Karl and Cousins had it out in the locker room, with Cousins reportedly “cussing out” Karl. An uneasy détente followed.

Such is the state of the Kings that it has been new point guard Rajon Rondo who has done the most to hold the bunch together. As a formerly hard-headed young player from Kentucky himself, Rondo has befriended Cousins and offered guidance. Rondo likes playing in Karl’s up-tempo system and has not been a headache for the coach, but the two have no special bond. Karl (without naming names) has been critical of his perimeter defenders, of which Rondo is the most visible.

That’s a symptom of a bigger problem. Karl has been unable to get his team to make very basic adjustments. The Kings have now lost seven of their last eight games, and in that span, opponents have shot an incredible 45.9 percent from the 3-point line against them. They allowed a season-high 54.2 percent on 3s to the Celtics in their loss on Sunday, after allowing a season-high to Brooklyn (64.3) in the previous game and the second-highest percentage of the year to Chicago (52.4).


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When he was asked about the way teams have been making 3-pointers against the Kings, Karl was vague, pointing out that the way the NBA is going these days is to shoot 3s in transition, and protecting the paint means you can’t guard the 3-point line.

Karl was asked Sunday whether his team had become, over the years, too comfortable with losing. He responded by explaining that teams are running off transition opportunities too often.

“I think the process in the NBA is that teams study each other at a high, high level,” Karl said. “I think teams are figuring out that we might over-penetrate. We turn the ball over on the short pass in the lane. I definitely think teams are hyped to run on our turnovers. Ten years ago, you could turn the ball over and teams didn’t even run on you. Now, the way the game is going, everybody is running on everybody. The fast game, the open-court game, the 3-ball game is becoming a huge personality and we just have got to learn and get better.”

That should be Karl’s domain. The Kings are getting beaten not only with their sour attitude, which falls to the players, but with plain old with Xs and Os, which falls to the coach. Cousins is not going anywhere, at least not in the short term, and Karl probably will be gone at some point. But the problems in Sacramento are not going away.