Denver Nuggets part ways with coach George Karl

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Last season the Denver Nuggets were everybody’s darlings — 57 wins, a revamped and good young roster, an entertaining team built on the foundation of the Carmelo Anthony trade pieces, a team cut short by injuries in the playoffs but with a bright future ahead.

Now all the architects of that are gone.

First GM Masai Ujiri bolted for Toronto and a big pay raise, now just-named NBA Coach of the Year George Karl is leaving the team. That was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and now has been officially confirmed by the team.

“George has been an instrumental part of our success over the past decade, and we appreciate everything he did to keep us among the top teams in the Western Conference,” Nuggets President Josh Kroenke said in a released statement. “He is a Hall of Fame coach whose legacy in Denver will last for years to come. George is a legend in the game of basketball and I could not have more respect for him as a person and coach.”

The issue was apparently money — Karl was going into the last year of his deal and with Ujiri gone he wanted an extension and some job security. The Nuggets were not willing to do that. So rather than have a lame duck coach and the issues that could entail they decided to let him go.

The Nuggets, with a good young roster, think they can attract an elite coach, Wojnarowski reports.

Maybe they can get a top coach, but one as good as Karl? One better suited to coaching this roster than Karl? The guy made the playoffs every year with Denver, and if you say “he didn’t win a title” I’d say nobody could with the rosters he had.

The Nuggets have lost both the NBA Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year in a matter of a week. Ouch.

The Denver opening becomes very attractive — a young coach like Brian Shaw would be a good fit. Shaw knows how to win, players love him (remember the Lakers players wanted him to take over for Phil Jackson) and Shaw has been around winning a lot as a player and coach. But they also could get guys like Lionel Hollins and, depending on what Nuggets’ ownership was willing to pay, maybe the Van Gundy brothers could be in the mix.

Karl also will have teams knocking on his door. He seems like a great fit with the Los Angeles Clippers, a team knocking on the door and that plays an up-tempo, entertaining style. Memphis is reportedly interested in bringing him in, there is even talk of a “trade” of Hollis for Karl. You can bet Brooklyn and just about every other team with a coaching vacancy will reach out to him. PBT has been told that Karl will not be a candidate in Toronto right now, that Dwane Casey will return there as coach next season.

Finally, Andre Iguodala can opt out and be an unrestricted free agent this summer (and he is expected too, seeking the security of a longer deal). Does this change his thinking? Does Denver management not being willing to spend on Ujiri and Karl foreshadow what could happen with his contract situation? The team also has Corey Brewer as a free agent this summer and he played key minutes for the team.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?