SPORTS WATCH I Still Can’t Understand the George Karl Firing
by Gus Jarvis
Oct 28, 2013 | 1458 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I still have heartburn over the George Karl firing, following last year’s energetic and high-tempo season in which he led the team to 57 wins and an NBA Coach of the Year award. With the new NBA season about to begin, I was excited to hear that Karl will be working as an ESPN analyst. So we’ll get to see plenty of Karl anyway, even if he’s not on the Denver bench.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am hoping Brian Shaw will be the right guy for the Nuggets. While I have no idea what to expect from the guy, I have heard good things. I wish him all the best this year, and I plan to tune in just as long as the Nuggets are that same, exciting team they were last year. Somehow, though, it’s just not going to be the same without Karl.

I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but without Karl coaching the Nuggets, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for NBA basketball. Or is it because we’re right in the middle of an NFL season, and I am blinded by the light surrounding Peyton Manning’s head?

Anyway, I’m still not over the George Karl firing. It doesn’t make any sense. I was interested to read a story and interview in the Boston Globe recently that shed some light on it and on the direction the NBA is taking. According to writer Gary Washburn, Karl was a victim of the NBA trend in which veteran coaches are dropped and replaced with “analytics gurus,” or “hot assistants” like Brian Shaw.

In fact, 13 NBA teams made coaching changes in the offseason, with the Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins, who led his team to the Western Conference finals last year, finding himself unemployed as well. That’s two well-respected coaches who were canned after not leading their teams to an NBA Championship. But even if Hollins or Karl had won the NBA Finals, they still might have been fired. For whatever reason, the trend in the NBA right now is to have youth in the coaching position.

“There are a lot of truths that change,” Karl told The Globe. “You win 57 games and win Coach of the Year; the truth was it probably did once create security, but the truth now is, it doesn’t.…Lionel Hollins did a great job. The truth is when you do a great job, you should be able to be kept. In today’s world, it’s different. The truth to that is if you don’t adjust to that, you’re probably not going to survive.”

What I never quite understood in the story is what is the driving motivation for head office people like Nuggets President Josh Kroenke choosing a youthful coach over a tenured, brilliant and proven coach like Karl. Does Kroenke want a new youthful style of basketball? Or is Kroenke just eyeing NBA Championships, and convinced that the way to NBA Championships is to hire a young coach with new ideas?

I hope it’s all about the championships. Because if it’s about bringing a new youthful feel, or bringing leadership to the team to make it more popular for moneymaking reasons, I think Kroenke is going to fail. Karl, despite his long run as an NBA coach, had one of the most youthful and exciting teams in the NBA last year. They don’t get much more youthful and fun to watch than that.

Like I said, I don’t yet understand the reasoning for firing a legendary coach like Karl for hot assistant coaches. I hope Kroenke knows something more than I do. As the Nuggets march forward into this season, I’ll be watching with a skeptical eye. I will consider the Shaw hiring a failure if the Nuggets don’t make it to the first round of the postseason. We all know Karl would have gotten the team there. The pressure’s now on Shaw. Probably unfair for Shaw, but he’s stepping into some big shoes there.

“There’s all types of trends that happen in sports,” Karl told The Globe. “They go hire college coaches. They go hire assistant coaches. In football, they go hire offensive coordinators and then they go hire defensive coordinators…What I think is good about the game of basketball is the real guys who know how to do it survive, and hopefully I’m one of those guys who continue to survive and get another opportunity.”

That next coaching opportunity might not come so fast, if Karl decides he likes the TV spotlight. Karl recently signed a multiyear deal with ESPN to be an NBA analyst on SportsCenter, NBA Coast to Coast and NBA Tonight. According to the Denver Post, Karl, who debuted Oct. 20, will be spending at least three days every other week at ESPN’s famed Bristol, Conn. campus.

“ESPN contacted me in August,” Karl told The Post. “Obviously, I was intrigued. I’ve spent my life in basketball. I auditioned in Bristol, and we signed a deal.”

Karl said he’s still looking for the next coaching challenge, because that’s what he knows. I have a feeling, however, that once Karl gets comfortable in front of the camera, he’ll be there to stay. Why does he need the stress of coaching another team? Well, he’d probably like to win an NBA Championship, but honestly, he’s not getting any younger. Like most ex-coaches and players, once you go in front of the camera, you rarely go back. I would be very, very surprised to see Karl coaching again. Not that it couldn’t happen, or that he doesn’t deserve a job, but he’s made it to TV now. The good life.

It will be interesting this year to see how Kroenke’s experiment with Shaw works in Denver. It will be even more interesting to hear what ESPN analyst George Karl’s take on the Nuggets will be this year. I’m sure he’ll have some insights that are worth hearing.
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