George Karl’s Legacy with the Denver Nuggets: What is it?
There’s no doubt that Denver Nugget’s head coach, George Karl is one of the best in history according to wins. He just passed the 1,100 win mark as an NBA coach and he seemingly passes another milestone with every win, but is he truly a great coach? It’s a complicated argument, here’s a look.
Those who believe that Karl is an elite coach would tell you he has never had a losing season, made the playoffs every year he’s coached and his teams are always competitive. Karl has also won in places where others often struggle including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. His most successful years have come with the Seattle Supersonics and Nuggets. Karl led the Sonics to the NBA Finals before losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. In Denver, Karl’s teams have made the playoffs every season highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
The Karl critics would argue that he is a great regular season coach, but an average playoff coach at best. With the exception of a few years, Karl’s teams are almost always bounced out in the first round of the playoffs. In his 6+ seasons with the Nuggets, Karl’s teams have only advanced out of the first round once and they have often been embarrassing losses. As for the regular season wins, Karl is about to pass Phil Jackson on that list. Does anyone believe Karl is a better coach than Jackson?
There is also the issue of Karl’s ability, of lack of ability, to coexist with his best players. There was the ongoing feud with Shawn Kemp in Seattle, and Karl often butted heads with Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Anthony was probably going to leave the Nuggets anyway, but his relationship with Karl certainly did not help.
So where does all of that leave us and, more importantly the Nuggets? The Nuggets are and have been a good to very good regular season team under Karl, but nothing more. In fairness, the Nuggets are winning without a superstar in a league driven by superstars and Karl does deserve credit for that. On the other hand, the lack of stars in Denver is partially due to Karl’s inability to coach them.
It is also difficult to overlook the pathetic playoff record of Karl in his time with the Nuggets. It is true that most of those playoff losses have come as the lower seed but that points to another issue throughout Karl’s tenure with the Nuggets. They consistently lose games, especially at home, to teams that they have no business losing to. As good of month as the Nuggets are having right now, it should be even better. They have lost home games to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards. It is those losses in January and February that ultimately cost the Nuggets higher seeds and more favorable playoff matchups. Its one thing if those losses are few and far between, but they have been a staple of the Karl regime in Denver. The players have changed over the years and those inexplicable losses keep happening. The common thread over the years is Karl.
The Nuggets are playing extremely well right now and maybe this season will be different, especially in the playoffs. In the end Karl is a great regular season coach, but if the Nuggets want to win a championship or even contend for one, then it’s time to make a change.
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