Join Date: Jun 2008
Karl: Nuggets playoff wins or purge
George Karl says if you want to call the Nuggets a "playoff flop," he won't argue. If they flop again, there's no certainty he'll still be around.
The Nuggets coach won't go so far as to say it's win in the playoffs or bust this season. Still, he recently quipped that if the Nuggets, who have lost five straight first-round series (four under Karl) don't finally break though, he doesn't know if "any of us" will remain.
"If the edict is changing the face or changing the coach, we can live with that," Karl said about his job security entering Tuesday's start of training camp. "We all know that that happens. There are very few lifetime coaches in the NBA."
Karl heard rumors in the spring his job could be in jeopardy. While there might be pressure this season on Karl, who has two years and $6 million left on his contract, he said it's not coming from the front office.
"I feel that pressure (of job security) from the basketball world of rationalization," he said. "I don't feel that from my organization. Last year, when all that stuff came up, I never felt that.
"(Nuggets owner) Stan (Kroenke) was highly complimentary of our coaching. Amazed at times. He thought last year was a great year. Disappointing in losing in the playoffs, no question. But from the standpoint of what we were dealt and what we delivered, it was a big-time year."
Despite center Nene missing 2 1/2 months because of testicular cancer and other injuries, the Nuggets went 50-32, their best record in 20 years. But they were swept 4-0 in the first round by the Lakers, that coming on the heels of four straight 4-1 exits.
"If the evaluation is success in the playoffs, we haven't done that," Karl said. "And I can live with that. I agree 100 percent. I hate losing in the playoffs. I hate being on this losing streak."
Something else Karl hated was the loss in July of two of his favorite players. With the Nuggets well over the luxury tax and Kroenke seeking to cut costs, center Marcus Camby - and his $10 million salary - was dealt to the Clippers for the right to swap second-round picks in 2010, and the Nuggets made no effort to match the four-year, $13 million contract that forward Eduardo Najera got from New Jersey as a free agent.
"My disappointment and depression was in about a five-day period," Karl said. "We lose Eddie Najera and Marcus Camby and get nothing. I'm paranoid and scared. But you recover. The (Renaldo) Balkman trade . . . we give (New York) basically nothing (two players with nonguaranteed contracts who were waived). We get another guy, Chris Andersen, a pretty good basketball player, for nothing (the minimum salary as a free agent)."
Karl said Kroenke was honest in offseason discussions.
"I think he rolled the dice a little bit on the (Allen Iverson) situation," Karl said of the December 2006 trade for the high-salaried player. "He's a businessman. . . . He doesn't like losing money. . . . His (goal) is probably making money, and I respect that.
"We had a tough year from that standpoint and financially, I think he wants to change that. . . . He's been very honest on how he wanted to build in the summer, being financially limited."
Karl might have lost two key players, but you'd better believe there's still pressure to win. There's talk in the NBA that Karl is being set up as the scapegoat if that doesn't happen.
"I don't deny that's out there (in the NBA)," Karl said.
Still, Karl is "excited about our team," saying it is "faster and quicker."
Players seem committed to making up for the loss of Camby, who was the top defender on a team that sometimes offered little resistance.
"We've got to definitely pay attention to detail when it comes to the defensive end of the floor even more now," Iverson said.
"Guys have to step up," forward Kenyon Martin said.
If the Nuggets are indeed more focused, that could be half the battle. Their talent rarely has been questioned.
They have two All-Stars, Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, and two steady big men, Martin and Nene. J.R. Smith, who signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal in the only big offseason expenditure Kroenke allowed, is a rising star.
"We've been a team that's had enough talent to win a championship, but there's probably 12 of them in the league a year," Karl said. "It's the chemistry and the talent that wins championships. And we haven't done a very good job of figuring out the right chemistry."
There's time for that to happen. Karl said he recently had meetings with his coaching staff, and "we're juiced" and "ready to go."
Still, Karl, 57, admits it's not as easy getting revved up for seasons as it used to be. He has overcome a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2005 and hip-replacement surgery in May, has a 4-year-old daughter and spends plenty of time keeping an eye on son Coby, who is entering his second season with the Lakers.
"I've said the window I thought of not coaching has grown," Karl said. "Every summer, you wish the summer was a month longer. You wish you had another month of freedom before you go back into the rat race."
Now that Karl is back at it, he'd like to prove the critics wrong. With Camby gone, preseason NBA predictions have been less than flattering for the Nuggets.
"I love people saying that, 'They're awful. They're going to be bad,' " Karl said. "I don't see us as bad. My belief is we have enough talent to be ultrasuccessful."
If there were an NBA dictionary, ultrasuccessful would mean advancing in the playoffs.