In one of the stranger post-firing interviews we've ever read, former Denver Nuggets assistant coach and one-time Nuggets acting head coach Adrian Dantley is claiming that Nuggets head man George Karl fired him last week because he refused to take part in a bench carousel that shuffled assistant coaches to and from various seats on or behind the bench.
Even stranger, Dantley (who took over for Karl when George was sidelined by cancer treatments late in the 2009-10 season) claims that he was canned for not wanting to sit on the bench, instead preferring to do his work behind it. The opposite of what you'd expect from a lead assistant. Usually, you'd expect them to take offense at being asked to work the odd game from behind the bench.
It's a tricky situation with assistants, now that teams have given the green light for head coaches to fill their staffs with all manner of helpers. Only three are allowed on the bench, but teams often carry four or five or even more assistants once the specialized assistant coaches are counted. Karl's policy of having every coach move down one seat so as to not only keep things fresh but discourage the possible resentment that potentially comes from having to work behind the boss seems like a good thing to encourage.
But firing a guy because he wouldn't take part? That seems awfully rash. That is, of course, if Dantley is on the level when it comes to talking about his dismissal.
Chris Tomasson, writing for Denver Stiffs, has the lowdown:
"I got fired because I didn't rotate on the bench,'' said Dantley, who was regarded as Karl's lead assistant and filled in for Karl for the final 1 ½ months of the 2009-10 season when the head man was battling a form of throat cancer.
"I didn't rotate,'' said Dantley, an NBA star forward from 1976-2001 who was named in 2008 to the Hall of Fame." I wasn't going to rotate. If they (other assistants) want the publicity to sit up front, I don't need the publicity… I got no problem not being seen on TV and sitting at the back of the bench."
Yeah, that doesn't sound like a man who was happy with his job.
The New York Post's Peter Vecsey, in a very pro-Dantley column from Sunday, spoke further of his frustration:
In late May, Karl told Dantley he was thinking about making a change. "You didn't look happy this season," he told him, raising the back-of-the-bus, er, in-back-of-the-bench situation.
"I'm fine. It didn't bother me to sit there," Dantley said. "I like being here. I want to stay."
And as Tomasson goes on to point out, Dantley was a holdover from Kiki Vandweghe's turn at running the Nuggets, back when money was no object for Nugs owner Stan Kroenke. His price tag was probably awfully high, his attitude wasn't much to behold, and though his turn as Nuggets head man late in 2009-10 was a thankless task, he was way, way out of his league with that team. Right down to rotations, when to call a timeout versus the upcoming TV timeouts, and all the other little things that we take for granted when criticizing the league's 30 head coaches.
Karl wasn't trying to get you "publicity," Adrian. He was mixing up the staff's movement, partially as a way to maybe keep you engaged following the disastrous 2009-10 run (13-12 record, counting the playoffs) that you helmed. Nobody likes going from the head man to behind the bench, and while the rotation idea wasn't Karl's to begin with (it came from another assistant, perhaps one of the "publicity"-hungry ones Dantley is leering at), it's not a bad call. Provided everyone was on board.
Clearly, Dantley wasn't, and that sort of sticks out. And in a team game that extends to the bench and then front office, those who aren't on board tend to stick out, and then ship out. For better or worse.
With this parting? It seems like the best thing for all involved.
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