Nuggets’ Move On Karl A Major Gamble

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MIAMI – In the end, it was just the way the Nuggets do business.

Just as with their now former general manager Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets’ refusal to even contemplate a new contract for their now former coach, George Karl, led to their decision Thursday to fire Karl after nine seasons. And so, a team that was seeded third entering the Western Conference playoffs in late April, and which sported the reigning Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year, now has neither in the space of six weeks.

The ripple effects remain to be seen.

The Nuggets have to re-sign forward Andre Iguodala, for example, a free agent this summer. Asked Thursday how Karl’s ouster would affect his decision, Iguodala texted, “Good question. Need some time to let it sink in.”

The Nuggets’ 33-year-old president, Josh Kroenke, the son of team chairman Stan Kroenke, is taking a major gamble by firing Karl and his 1,131 career wins, which ranks six in the history of the league. Karl has gotten a lot of heat locally for the Nuggets’ inability to go very far in the postseason on his watch; though the team made the playoffs in each of his 10 seasons there, the Nuggets only advanced past the first round once, when Denver made the Western Conference finals in 2009.

But nationally, Karl remains highly respected, not only for his part in making the Nuggets a relevant NBA franchise again, but in how he has stoically dealt twice with bouts of cancer, the last of which caused him to miss most of the second half of the 2009-10 season and Denver’s first-round loss to Utah. It is hard to see, outside of somehow convincing Phil Jackson to come to the Mile High City, how Kroenke is going to find a better coach than Karl.

Karl kept winning while the Nuggets used the first half of the 2010-11 season working out a potential trade for Carmelo Anthony, the team’s superstar who wanted out. And after Denver moved Anthony to New York, the Nuggets kept winning—though, again, they did not get out of the first round that season.

This season, Karl won Coach of the Year honors after Denver posted a league-best 38-3 home record, and looked like a major contender in the west. The Nuggets had won a franchise-record 57 games this past season, but their first-round defeat at the hands of sixth-seeded Golden State shook the organization, and Karl never recovered.

Afterward, Denver simply would not discuss a new contract for Karl, who had a year remaining on his current contract and a series of one-year team options following that. The 62-year-old Karl, one of just one of eight coaches in NBA history with more than 1,000 victories, wanted the security of a new deal, especially with Ujiri, with whom he’d worked well the past two years and trusted, leaving last week for the Raptors’ GM job—and more than doubling his salary in the process.

The team had also been slow to reward Ujiri, viewed around the league as the driving force behind Denver getting such a huge haul for Anthony from the Knicks, skillfully pitting the Knicks and Nets against one another as their offers for Anthony increased.

Going forward, management was uncertain that Karl would accede to its increasingly urgent request to play some of the team’s younger players. Karl had opted to start rugged center Kosta Koufos this season instead of high-flying JaVale McGee, whom Karl did not believe was as consistent defensively as the less-regarded Koufos.

But the Nuggets had given McGee a four-year, $44 million extension last summer, and believed he was the team’s center of the future, having traded the veteran Nene to Washington in 2012 for McGee.

Karl was “pushing” for a new deal, a source said Thursday—“in his mind, not unreasonable. He felt he needed to have it. The uncertainty of Andre Iguodala, the uncertainty of when Gallo (forward Danilo Gallinari) would be back (from his ACL tear, suffered late last season). He felt like after 10 years of proving himself as a coach, he deserved it. They just didn’t feel that.”

Karl’s representatives and Nuggets management had been talking for weeks, including several discussions held during the Chicago pre-Draft camp in April. The more Karl pushed, the more “reluctant” the Nuggets became to discuss a new deal, the source said.

Josh Kroenke was up front with Karl. He told Karl he didn’t want to put him in the position of having to order him next season to play the young guys if management felt that was the way to go, knowing Karl would balk because going young would certainly impact his win-loss record. Yet management remained firm that it would not give Karl an extension.

“It came down to the point that they realized, if they couldn’t get anything done (with Karl), was there any point in going forward?,” the source said. “Josh was very direct, very honest. He was very, very clear every step of the way.”

But, in the end, Kroenke opted to clean house, leaving himself alone atop the team’s power structure—though he is not expected to take control of basketball operations, having just been named president of the NHL’s Avalanche as well; Stan Kroenke owns the Avalanche.

The Nuggets have already reached out to Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw, asking for permission to speak with him about their vacancy, according to CBSSports.com. Josh Kroenke is also a big supporter of his team’s assistant GM, Pete D’Alessandro, and may well elevate him to GM to replace Ujiri.

26 Comments

  1. Troglodyte says:

    Karl took the Sonics to the Championship round in 1996. Too bad it was against MJ and the Bulls.

  2. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Andre Igoudala.

    You need to let it sink in, with the unforunate firing of an all-time great coach in George Karl.

    However, July 1st is rapidly approaching.

    Igoudala, you’ve won in regular seasons and Olympics, etc.

    It’s time for you to join the OKC Thunder and win it all next season — to excel to the NBA Finals.

    Andre, you are one of the best all-around players in the entire NBA. We know you would already have chemistry and familiarity with the likes of KD and Westbrook (especially from Olympic runs).

    Andre, we know you’d love to play with the best scorer in the league. You respect KD and the Thunder a lot. They have mutual respect for your talents.

    Join the Thunder and build a DREAM TEAM that will dominate the NBA for years!!!!!!!!!

  3. stanfunky says:

    Karl is a good coach, but not great at getting his teams far in the playoffs. Maybe a new voice would be beneficial for this group of overachieving guys. Bring in Byron Scott or Jeff Van Gundy and you will see results, but not nearly the fun offense that Karl’s teams ran.

  4. Big Al says:

    Wow, four blogs just for Karl. This is a great way to steal the limelight from the Heat-Spurs finals – not!

    Let’s face it, Nuggets decision-makers are stupid. They should have let go of this guy while they still had their superstars and find a better coach to make the most out of a powerhouse lineup, Now that they only have average players at best, it doesn’t make sense to fire the mentor. George is enough for a mediocre squad. For 2014, it’s likely to be bye-bye playoffs for Denver. That’s what you get for booing Kobe all the time, hahaha!

  5. Damn, too bad-def denver’s loss. Karl is one of the best coaches, i’m sure he’ll be signed quickly somewhere-like within the next few weeks.

  6. timboe says:

    #firegeorgekarl #sucessful

  7. Authenticc says:

    And Fans Wonder Why Lebron wasn’t “Loyal” To Cleveland. Yes Coach Karl May not have been to the Big One but other than POP, and Phil Who has In 15 Years Consistently. At Least The Nuggets Made Playoff Runs. And Also Its Time That The Nuggets Spend Money On Get It Done Players and not Just Ones Who Play to Have A Good Season.

  8. Unkle Daddy says:

    This is just a bad idea, they lost because they have no closers. Coach Karl is the second best coach in the NBA behind only Pop. I can’t wait to see who they bring in to replace him. They are the best team in the NBA who doesn’t have a “star” player. That’s all they needed. But, good job for sending Melo away. They need a Melo sans the “attitude of greatness”.

  9. DonB says:

    George Karl deserves better, true!

    But if he goes to Clips it won’t be for much….. cause C-Paul is on his way to SAC-Town!

    Chris will finally get to play with a talented big who can do anything, include make free throws, play pick and roll, and shoot from anywhere on the floor.

    The Sac-Attack is back!!

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Neato idea.

      However, Chris Paul has to join the OKC Thunder, if he wants to win NBA World Championships over the next 10-15 years.

  10. Gillsy says:

    An interesting thought in weather he will follow Ujiri to Toronto.

  11. BoogieBomb says:

    You think about the teams Coach Karl has had to face in the last 10 years, there’s very little anyone can say in the negative about him. He’s a great coach and the Nuggets should have kept him. After Melo went to NY, everyone thought the Nuggets were done. To watch them do what they did without Melo, you know, like play better and more like a team and be more of a contender, says a lot about Coach Karl and the Nuggets. Hopefully, someone will be smart enough to hire him, he may get his ring and silence those who obviously don’t know how to look at things in their proper perspective.

  12. josey says:

    Coach karl is s great coach! Losing dannilari blew the nugget s chances like the thunder losing westbrook and the lakers. Losing kobi! Byron scott shouldn’t have been fired! Karl is a winner and I gaurantee and I know a lot of u agree tyat he will b in the olayoffs

    • Heron says:

      Completley agree, no team can lose their highest scorer and sucessfullly compete in the playoffs

      • fred says:

        No team can keep a coach who’s been to the playoffs 10 years in a row and only gone past the first round once! GK has NEVER been a good playoff coach. Remember when Denver (8 seed) beat Seattle (1 seed) Guess who Seattle’s coach was? ;-)

  13. bobby says:

    The nuggets screw themselves! I don’t see them performing like they did under Karl.

  14. Kimmy says:

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  15. Game Time says:

    Clippers could really use Karl.

  16. Brandon says:

    10 years of proving himself? What a joke. If you mean by proving himself, making it past the 1st round in the playoffs 1 time, then yes…I guess he has proved himself very reliable in not being able to win in the playoffs. His 1,000+ wins don’t mean anything if he can never lead any of the teams he has coached to playoff success.

    • Average Joe says:

      He did a good job with a disgruntled superstar and a team without any superstars. I don’t see you badmouthing Lenny WIlkens.

  17. Richard says:

    THE NUGGETS ARE ONE MESSED UP ORGANIZATION !!!! THANKS JOSH KROENKE !!!! HELLO LOTTERY !!!!!

  18. Dante says:

    Do you think Karl is headed to the Raptors ?

    • Hmmm says:

      Just another Raptors fan that barely understands basketball. Move along, nothing to see here. I am Canadian too, for the record. Just sick of Raptors fans making us look like the special kid who blurts random things out of their mouth. Rant over.

  19. Max says:

    Bad deal for the Nuggets. Josh (young buck) will see that a coach has to know which players are the right ones to win. Why not let Josh have the coaching job?. Hope to see Karl go with the Clippers. Nugget’s will NOT be a championship team in the near future. Hope when Danellio heals, and contract is out he will become a Laker!