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.