When a head coach wins NBA coach of the year, you’d expect some lavish rewards to be provided. A raise? A bonus? A contract extension? Sure. If the team in question does surprisingly well, earns a third seed in the conference playoffs despite having one of the youngest rosters in the league and lacking much star power at all, you might even expect him to get his own private jet or an all expenses paid vacation to a tropical island or something. But in Denver, they have different ideas, like, say, fire that coach.
Yep, it appears that not even winning top honors could save George Karl’s job. The Nuggets awarded his achievement by showing him the door. And just like that, the best coach in the NBA is on the market.
With this, I’m reminded of the film Office Space, when the Tom character invents his idea for a “jump to conclusions” mat. Apparently, the Nuggets put on their mat, “George Karl is never going to amount to anything for our franchise” and just started hopping away without consideration of anything he’s done for them.
Never mind that Karl took a team whom few expected to amount to much playing with the big boys, and keep quite nicely, barely falling short of the benchmarks set by Oklahoma City and San Antonio. But, really, you’d be hard pressed to find someone outside of Denver that could name its starting lineup this season.
Never mind that the team went an NBA-best 38-3 at home this season, or that they won their final 23 regular season games in the mile-high city. Never mind that the team, lacking headline stealing “elite” players, like Dwight Howard or nary a story to follow at all, followed up the all star break by going 24-4. Nope, not even a 57-win season— for a team expected to barely succeed half of that mark— was enough to save poor George his job.
Forget that Karl has stuck with his team through and through, taken them to new heights, kept them relevant, and far exceeded expectations year after year. Forget that he battled cancer, twice even, while remaining head coach and remaining loyal to his duties in Denver. No, the Nuggets abolished any good nature precedence and went on and fired Karl, who still had a year left on his contract.
Now sure, any coach lives and dies by his playoff success. In that regard, it probably is the reason Karl was dismissed. In the nine times he’s taken his Nuggets to the playoffs, Karl has only gotten his team out of the first round once, including this season when it was upended by an underdog Golden State team which, relatively speaking, dismantled them with mismatches. It’s understandable that a team might want to go a different direction after so much playoff disappointment.
But not after he wins a gosh-darn coach of the year award. Give me a break. I vehemently disagree with the decision. While playoff advancement is part of any franchise’s priority, it shouldn’t make brash decisions with a team that was a project still in the works. Now, rather than building on last season’s success—with the coach who was no doubt the producer of that success— the team must start over with a whole new coaching style and perhaps even a completely different system all together. Now instead of a coach proven to use roster youth to an advantage instead of a crutch, it will now need to adjust to a coach who may not have that distinguishing characteristic, one in which they will definitely need as time progresses.
This, all in all, is a bad decision, one made on a whim and a situation seen through a murky lens of “win now” mentality. I will never understand the tendency for professional organizations to relieve successful coaches before they had their chance to finish what they’ve started. Denver was in the middle of a successful campaign that will only be improved upon by a team of players that will be better than they it was previously.
At least let the guy finish out his contract, he won coach of the year. What else do you want him to do juggle torches at center court during timeouts? Sorry, Denver but this is dumb. Maybe it’s the altitude affecting decision-making, I don’t know. But I guess one team’s loss is another’s gain. Karl will no doubt be pursued heavily and used to make another team better. Next time, Denver, take this little “nugget” of advice. Don’t jump on the mat.