Former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has never been shy about going on record to discuss, well, anything. His last few separations from former NBA teams have resulted in a series of interviews about how daft the administration above him was, including fallouts with general managers Wally Walker in Seattle, and newly-appointed GM Larry Harris in Milwaukee.
The Denver Nuggets, who fired Karl last week, don’t have a GM. They don’t even have a newly-appointed GM. What they do have is Josh Kroenke, the team president, former University of Missouri men’s basketball player, and son of owner Stan Kroenke. Even before former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri left the team to run the same position in Toronto, Josh and Stan were calling the shots – refusing to approximate the respectable contract offer made by the Raptors to the 2012-13 Executive of the Year, and the man who ran their bloody basketball team.
Stuck in a weird state, the Nuggets fired Karl soon after Ujiri split. And Karl thinks this is, well, stupid. Or “stupid,” as he said in quotes to both Kroenke and the Denver Post’s very un-stupid Benjamin Hochman:
Upon being fired last week, Nuggets coach George Karl told team president Josh Kroenke, "I think I should tell you, I think it's very stupid."
I felt like Masai (Ujiri, the general manager) and Josh were over here, and I didn't feel very equal."
Q: What does "feel equal" mean?
A: "In the past, Stan (Kroenke, the team owner) would listen to all of us. I know I can be fired and the voices behind closed doors can be against me. But this year, I just felt that at the end, for a team that had so much success, unity and karma, I felt that Masai and Josh drifted into a direction that was difficult to understand."
Q: What's an example of that?
A: "It's hard to say. It's just communication, them getting mad about what I said in the paper more often than makes sense. Snippy texts about things. The whole thing it comes down to — you've got a great coaching staff, a coach who loves coaching the team, a city that loves the team." (Karl gently pounds the table.)
Hochman went on to quote Karl as saying that he wasn’t given a minutes’ expectation for younger players like JaVale McGee, as has been rumored, and that while he didn’t outright demand a contract extension, he warned the Nuggets that nasty “things could happen” if he had to go into 2013-14 working with one year left on his deal.
Karl didn’t elaborate from there, he didn’t say if the “things” could constitute a coaching staff revolt, or the players negatively reacting to a lame duck situation with their coach, or a bloodied horse’s head left in a Denver-area Wal-Mart’s bedding section. Whatever the guesswork, Karl will be paid by the Nuggets during that lame duck year, but he won’t be coaching a team he led to 57 wins this year. At this point, we don’t know who will be coaching that team, much less leading its personnel department.
The interview also confirms from Karl what Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears reported on Thursday – he’ll interview with the Memphis Grizzlies for their open coaching gig, while the Los Angeles Clippers have had preliminary discussions with the coach, who doesn’t “want to coach a rebuilding team.”
As I wrote last week, in a vacuum, dumping the Executive of the Year and alienating the Coach of the Year before firing the Coach of the Year is “very stupid.” Josh Kroenke, despite his basketball past, is already up for quite a bit of scrutiny because of his age, position with the team, and ties with his father. It’s not fair to Josh in the slightest, for all we know he could develop into one of the top basketball minds of his generation, but it’s just fine for NBA observers to be watching this situation more carefully than others.
Kroenke’s side is understandable, though. We don’t agree with the Ujiri release, but if he was instructed by ownership not to make a competitive bid, his hands were tied. And with Danilo Gallinari only undergoing torn ACL surgery this week on an injury that he suffered over two months ago, there’s a good chance the Nuggets would have to punt their chances at 50 wins again during 2013-14. You don’t want a cranky Karl around for that, limiting minutes for developing players (even if they don’t really ever “get it”) and talking up contract extensions.
Stupid or not, it was probably for the best if all sides moved on, at this point. All seem to be heading in that direction, thankfully.