When the Denver Nuggets shockingly fired George Karl soon after their first-round exit from the playoffs, many around the league questioned the hasty decision. How can you fire a coach that just won Coach of the Year?
It was reported by various reporters that some of the reasons for letting him go after winning 57 games in the regular season included the following: Karl’s demand for a new long-term contract became unbearable, they blamed him for losing to the Golden State Warriors in the first round, thought young talent like Evan Fournier was being held back, and didn’t appreciate his negligence of their offseason-prize JaVale McGee. What we never got to hear was what Karl thought of all this.
Until now, that is. Karl spoke with the Denver Post and explained why he felt what Josh Kroenke did was stupid and disrespectful to everything he did for the team, from Benjamin Hochman:
Q: Can you explain the emotions of finishing third in the Western Conference and then being fired?
A: “We won 57 games and are in a great place. Continuity, consistency, togetherness all are so much more valuable than what they have on their priority list of playing JaVale McGee or the young players. And first of all, it shouldn’t be that I didn’t play young players. It’s I didn’t play young players enough, because we played a lot of young players — Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Evan Fournier at the end of the year, Ty Lawson. And, I never had a meeting where there was disappointment, in that part of it, voiced to me. I heard through whispers. I’m sorry that 57 wins doesn’t make you happy. I think it was a special season because of the connection this team has with each other and with the coaching staff and with the city. The fans like this team. The staff likes each other. And to blow up that connection is, in my opinion, extremely disrespectful to coaching.”
Q: Can you describe your desire for a contract extension, heading into the last year of your contract?
A: “I didn’t demand an extension. I said to Josh, ‘I will coach this team next year, I’m excited about coaching this team next year, but in the last year of a contract, there are things that could happen.’ I didn’t say they would happen, I said they could happen. I said I didn’t think I deserved a three-year extension, but it’s a signed contract (with an option), so let’s compromise. I don’t think I deserved to get my option picked up, even if we won in the first round (of the playoffs), but there’s a middle ground. The thing that annoys me every day still is the fun connection we have with this team. They think they can unplug us and plug somebody else in, and I’m going, ‘Wow, that is not respectful of the coaching profession.’ ”
Q: Looking back, is there any way to have regrets about not playing McGee major minutes, knowing that they paid him big money?
A: “I’m sorry, I’ve never had management tell me that money’s important (for playing time). Every team I’ve ever coached, it was, ‘It’s your job to distribute minutes.’ I think JaVale built a foundation that next year is going to be very good with him. I don’t think our relationship was in a bad place. It wasn’t in a great place, but it wasn’t in a bad place. … I felt pretty good that JaVale, with a good summer with us, probably would have been the starter next year. But, in the same sense, I don’t think JaVale and Kenneth fit. They have similar limitations. I still think having a passing point guard for JaVale, like Andre Miller, is an asset.”
Karl is right about a variety of things mentioned in his interview. Not every coach is capable of developing great chemistry for a team, which the Nuggets had. You never heard about individual players causing issues and friction in the locker room because of playing time or any other matter. It’s also not his fault that management decided to throw big money at a player that is widely recognized for the things he does wrong on the court as opposed to the things he does right. Truth be told, Kosta Koufos has developed into a much more reliable player (save for his piss-poor performance against Andrew The Giant Bogut) than McGee this season, and that credit should also go to Karl. To be upset at a coach for not playing a player that lacks fundamental focus just because he gets paid a lot isn’t and shouldn’t be the way a team operates.
Karl appears to be a likely candidate to be coaching elsewhere when next season starts, so you can’t feel too bad for the guy. At the same time, the reasons for his dismissal appear to be mostly for the wrong reasons, so it’s not hard to understand why he’s lashing out. The whole thing is a shame, really.
Onto other news from around the league:
- The NBA is looking to make a big leap in calls made by considering the idea of reviewing judgement calls from the refs, from The AP: “This is significant,” Jackson said at an NBA Cares event to celebrate a new learn and play center at Wheatley Middle School. “It’s our first foray into utilizing instant replay for a judgment call. It at least cracks the door open.” When Commissioner David Stern addressed the media before the start the finals, he said that expanding replay and using the technology that was available was a priority. ”We’ve always taken the stance that we want to look at ways to expand instant replay review, just because it makes sense,” Jackson said. “The referees themselves have supported it because they just want to get the plays right. We’re constantly looking for ways to utilize review.”