George Karl led the Nuggets to the best home record in all of the NBA last season, and along with it a 57-win season that was the most in franchise history since the team joined the NBA in the 1976-77 season.
But all of that wasn’t enough to save Karl’s job.
He won the Coach of the Year award, but a first round playoff exit at the hands of the Warriors combined with some philosophical differences on how to use the players on the roster (and Karl pushing for a contract extension entering the final year of his deal) saw the tenured head coach who had spent the past eight-plus seasons in Denver unceremoniously relieved of his duties.
Karl’s had a little time to reflect on how it all went down, and while he’ll be joining ESPN as an analyst, he hopes to return to an NBA bench in the near future. Overall, he finds it difficult to understand the reasons that the team chose to go in another direction.
“I don’t have a lot of bitterness other than I don’t understand. But not understanding — when you are working in a world of millions, millions, and millions of dollars, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand.
“There’s a lot of contracts we give players that I don’t understand. There’s a lot of trades that I don’t understand. There are a lot of decisions I don’t understand.
“I can’t deny there’s an anger and frustration. But there’s much more celebration in my heart than anything else.”
The differences with management were understandable, at least from Karl’s perspective. They wanted him to develop players like JaVale McGee and Evan Fournier during the regular season, but Karl wanted to win, so he gave the minutes to the more experienced guys on his roster like Kosta Koufos and Andre Miller instead.
It’s tough to argue with the results, and remember, had Danilo Gallinari not suffered a torn ACL injury near the end of the regular season, the Nuggets might have had a stronger chance once they entered the postseason.
The power play by Karl to gain more security in the form of a contract extension ultimately backfired, and with GM Masai Ujiri gone to Toronto, he had no one in his corner to fight for him to stay. He’s a great basketball mind that should land another job at some point, although it will likely take a front office who wants to bring in all of that valuable experience to manage a veteran roster, instead of going with a bright young mind to lead a franchise into the future.