When the Nuggets informed George Karl that they would be parting ways with the tenured head coach on Thursday, it was definitely surprising, but it wasn’t necessarily a complete shock.
Karl earned the Coach of the Year award for guiding Denver to 57 regular season wins and the best home record in the league, but was going to be entering the final year of his contract, and it was believed that the Nuggets, fielding a strong young team full of promise, wouldn’t be eager to offer Karl the extension he’d no doubt be lobbying for throughout the upcoming season.
But in addition to the lingering contract issue, there were apparently fundamental differences between Karl and management in terms of both strategy and philosophy, and that may have had just as much to do with his being let go as did anything else.
The Nuggets, seeded third in the West, flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, losing 4-2 to No. 6 Golden State. Management blamed Karl for the loss, believing he panicked by trying to match up with the Warriors’ small-ball approach after they had lost David Lee due to injury in Game 1. The Nuggets all season had been able to beat up teams in the paint, and they moved away from that style.
Even before the Golden State series, management had some friction with Karl. The Nuggets had signed center JaVale McGee to a four-year, $44 million contract last summer. Team brass wanted Karl to use McGee, 25, more so he would develop.
However, Karl insisted on starting center Kosta Koufos, whom management regarded as a backup. McGee got only an average of 18.1 minutes per game to 22.4 for Koufos.
If Karl wanted to win — which he clearly does, at this late stage of his coaching carer — it’s hard to argue with the results.
The playoff loss to the Warriors was due to the ridiculously hot shooting of a surging Golden State team perfectly constructed to match Denver’s style, especially once Danilo Gallinari went down with an ACL injury late in the season. As for playing Kosta Koufos more than JaVale McGee … that decision speaks for itself.
The report goes on to mention Andre Miller’s relatively heavy usage compared to that of rookie Evan Fournier, but Karl has always been Miller’s biggest fan, and again, the results when Miller played were there for the most part.
With Karl and the Nuggets’ star GM Masai Ujiri both now gone, management will have plenty to say about how the team is constructed, and how a new coach uses those pieces. It’s doubtful that the team could have done any better than it did in finishing the 2013 season, but if those in the executive offices have a master plan that they believe in, it is possible to get different people in place who may execute it exactly as instructed.