The Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team, the three seed in the West (that might well have done better in the playoffs if healthy). This was a roster overhauled from the Allen Iverson/Carmelo Anthony days into an exciting, fast-paced team that runs the floor and attacks the rim. They were the up-and-coming team on everybody’s radar.
Now it all could change.
First general manager Masai Ujiri left for Toronto, now the Nuggets have let go of coach George Karl. Those would be the just named NBA Executive and Coach of the Year award winners — they are the architects of this team.
It’s bold. It’s risky. It could blow up this team of the future. Or it could be the next step in its evolution (it is going to go over with some Nuggets fans better than you think).
How it happened is not a huge surprise to those close to the team. Denver, under own Stan Kroenke and with son Josh running the show, have never been a team that is known for big spending on the front office. So when Toronto called and offered Ujiri more power and six times the money he made last year, well, what would you expect him to say?
With the GM gone, Karl began to push harder for a contract extension — he had one year left on his deal, he didn’t want to be a lame duck under a new GM. Hard to blame him, but from the other side ownership didn’t want to saddle a new GM with an expensive old coach that may not like a new direction. And if you let Karl stick around as a lame duck, well, he has a history of that being a distraction.
There also were questions about how Karl’s teams performed in the playoffs, having been eliminated in the first round again this season.
So Kroenke let him go. It gives the new GM, whoever he may be, a tabula rasa — he can hire his own coach, chart his own course.
That GM also might decide to radically change the roster, something that likely would not have sat well with Karl.
“But this roster won 57 games” you say, why would he blow it up? Well, first off he might have some changes forced upon him — Andre Iguodala, who can opt out of his contract for next season and is expected to, said he needed to think about this and what it means for his future in Denver when asked by David Aldridge of NBA.com.
If Iguodala leaves there would need to be other roster changes. Could a new GM look to move JaVale McGee? More likely he would demand the new coach start McGee. The new GM could decide the kind of team being built was really built for the regular season and couldn’t win a title, so it is time for another direction?
Depends on who is hired. Depends on what the Kroenke family wants. We don’t know what their vision, what their plan is long term. They have taken a big risk by losing one of the most coveted GMs in the league and then letting go a top-flight coach. Those are not easy things to replace.
And if they don’t replace them well it will show up on the court and be a big setback for a team that had taken big steps forward.