2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • With Nuggets on the brink, Karl speaks

    Tue, April 30, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Really, there wasn’t much to gain by attending this morning’s media availability with the Nuggets.

    What would change between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., tipoff time of Game 5?

    But there’s more to tonight’s Game 5 than a lineup change here or a strategical adjustment there.

    The rest of this series is about neither. It’s about whether these Nuggets are gamers… or ghosts of their regular-season selves, simply playing for a paycheck. Oh, and it’s about George Karl’s future in Denver.

    That’s not a column I wanted to write. If Karl and his fantastic brand of basketball were associated with the Nuggets for another decade, I’d be cool with it. I watched less of this NCAA tournament than I ever remember. Why? If I wanted to watch clutching and grabbing and holding and flopping, I would turn on WWE. These Nuggets — Karl’s Nuggets — are an escape, an old-school-mixed-with-new-school blend of fundamentals and up-tempo and unselfish basketball. Simply, they are a blast to watch.

    But in the playoffs, it’s not working.

    So I wrote the column, because it’s honest.

    With the Nuggets facing an elimination game — three, actually — here are some of the words Karl used to describe the current state of his locker room.

    Angry.

    Swag.

    Great opportunity.

    “We’re not happy right now,” he said.

    One thing Karl didn’t do: Discuss strategy. I appreciate that, because the rest of this series, whether it ends tonight in Denver, Thursday in Stab City or Saturday in Denver, isn’t about strategy. It’s about the Nuggets fighting back.

    I don’t subscribe to theory this series changed with Golden State’s win in Denver in Game 2.

    I think this series shifted way back in Game 1, which the Nuggets actually won. There was a sequence in that game where Andre Iguodala was on a fast-break and was whistled for an offensive foul. (A shaky call, but a call nonetheless).

    Instead of pushing the Nuggets ahead by 10 points — with 4:19 left in the fourth quarter — the Nuggets turned it over. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson promptly hit a 3, and we had a five-point game.

    Like I wrote today, these Warriors remind me of a classic mid-major from the NCAA tournament. One thing you can’t let a mid-major do: Hang around. The Nuggets let the Warriors hang around in Game 1. Bad move.

    From there, the Warriors’ confidence ballooned, as if they said, ‘Hey, we can actually win this thing.’

    We’ll learn tonight if the Nuggets eschew all of the strategy, gamesmanship and overthinking and simply play the style that won 57 games during the regular season. Otherwise, it could summon a few major changes in their philosophy — and their staff.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • The Broncos and reality TV

    Tue, April 23, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Wrote this column today on the decision-making of John Elway. In shaping the Broncos into the Super Bowl favorite, he’s earned the right to be trusted.

    Now, the important stuff: What about Eric Decker’s decision to make a reality TV show? This was inevitable, pairing the Broncos wide receiver and his country-singer fiancee, Jessie James, with a camera crew.

    As The Gazette’s resident expert in reality TV — years of the Real World will do that — I’ll say this: The couple is perfect for the genre. The E! network has a hit on its hands, as much as E! can have a hit.

    Enough of that.

    What about the impact on the Broncos?

    None of the show will be filmed around Dove Valley. Elway’s given his “blessing” to have Decker appear on the show. And after the wide receiver stormed back from injury to enjoy a breakout year, I have zero concerns he’ll be distracted from his day job.

    “I know Eric Decker and how hard he works and what football means to him,” Elway said.

    The only concern, from where I sit: The history of wideouts and reality TV.

    Chad Johnson crashed and burned.

    Terrell Owens? No comment.

    Hank Baskett? Tough to watch.

    Eric Decker is a sharp guy. He’s from Minnesota and normal. He’s a heck of a player. I suspect this will be one of the better reality TV options, actually.

    Standby. The series is called  “Love and Other Contact Sports: Eric and Jessie.”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Officiating in Nuggets Game 1… fair or foul?

    Sun, April 21, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    This is the gray area, the part of the game we are not supposed to write about.

    But officiating is a wildly important factor in the NBA playoffs — so why pretend we can’t analyze it?

    As I type in the media room at Pepsi Center, an hour after the Nuggets escaped the Warriors 97-95, I can imagine the post-game buzz from Game. There will be two topics of interest on Monday’s airwaves: Andre Miller and the officiating.

    I don’t think the Nuggets got a raw deal. I think both teams got a raw deal. This wasn’t NCAA tournament-bad, but it was shaky.

    The baseline non-call on what would have been Steph Curry’s third foul. Klay Thompson getting slammed in the paint. The goal-tend whistle on Javale McGee.

    “That’s something they’re not used to seeing (a 7-footer leaping that high),” McGee reasoned after the game.

    On Wednesday here at Pepsi Center, I wondered aloud, to George Karl, on how this series would be officiated. The Nuggets don’t have a superstar, a topic that’s been dissected for the better part of six months. An overlooked byproduct of having a star-less roster is how the Nuggets would be treated in the playoffs. Marquee players get calls. The Nuggets don’t have that marquee guy.

    So I asked Karl if he feels the Nuggets have gotten a fair whistle this season.

    “I don’t think any coach thinks his team gets a fair whistle,” Karl said, diplomatically.

    Either way, it’s something to watch as the Nuggets move forward in these playoffs. Not that fans would ignore the officiating, anyway.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Few thoughts on George Karl, basketball man

    Wed, April 17, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Among the dozens of things I’ve learned about the Colorado pro sports scene, none has struck me more than George Karl.

    His human-ness. His basketball-ness. His perceptive… ness.

    Sure, that’s a play one of the many Karl-isms that line a Karl press conference: “Team-ness.”

    That team-ness is why the Nuggets are on the verge of the No. 3 seed in the West and why they’ve been the second- or third-best team in the NBA over the past two months — despite injuries to three of their top four contributors.

    After being around Karl often since I started this columnist position with The Gazette, my appreciation for the Nuggets coach has grown with each interaction. He is a basketball man, through and through. He’s also so very human.

    Again this morning at Pepsi Center, Karl’s human-ness came out. Days from the start of the playoffs, he talked about the team’s mental state (it’s very good) and how this roster seems to play sans ego (it’s very rare).

    When Karl analyzes these Nuggets, he talks about their individual personalities as much as their basketball abilities. He seems to look at players in a psychology sense as much as a basketball sense.

    We analyze shooting percentages and PER and tempo-free stats. Karl does, too, but he puts just as much value in a guy’s mental makeup.

    This is what I appreciate most: Each time I talk or listen to George Karl, I learn something about the game. Without fail. I’m a basketball guy first, it’s what I love and study, and it’s rare when you learn something in each interaction with a coach.

    Today was a good example, when I asked him if these Nuggets are easier to coach because of that team-ness.

    “I’m a big believer that ego and attitude adjustment and debate (have a negative impact). A lot of time players like to debate: ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that?’ What about commit (to the program)?” Karl said.

    “All coaches want that. I don’t care how we cover a pick-and-roll. If you want to commit to it, I’ll cover it the way you want to cover it. But I want commitment first. Then if it doesn’t work, fine.

    “But I love how players debate before it doesn’t happen. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m angry that this might happen.’ But nine out of 10 times it doesn’t happen.”

    To me, and I wrote about this a few weeks back, there’s one leading candidate for NBA Coach of the Year: George Karl. The other candidates — Erik Spoelstra, Mike Woodson, Frank Vogel, etc. — are deserving of a mention. But other than maybe Vogel, no coach has done more — without a quote-unquote superstar — than Karl.

    I wrote way back in February the Nuggets could earn the No. 3 seed. At the time, they were in the No. 5 spot and the Clippers seemed to be strong at No. 3. The No. 3 appeared to be a Denver pipe dream.

    But the Clippers are not built like these Nuggets, and their best players have a tendency to break down through the course of a season. In a sense, the Nuggets broke down, with injuries, but are built with depth, in a manner that can overcome injury.

    To me, these Nuggets are the manisfestation of Karl’s favorite word: Team-ness.

    Does Denver know how fortunate it is to have George Karl?

    I ask that question — and, just fyi, I probably will repeat that question and some of this blog content in a Nuggets column this weekend — only because there seem to be as many Karl detractors as there are supporters. It’s strange.

    Back to column writing.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • 34 degrees… snow removal… yep, baseball weather

    Tue, April 16, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    As I blog this, I’m looking over Coors Field. It’s 2:18 p.m. The temperature on the left-field scoreboard reads 36 degrees. With a northwest wind, it feels much colder. In right field, Rockies staff is traipsing from the foul line to center field with shovels full of snow. They’re getting a workout.

    The Denver Post’s Troy Renck proposed this idea, and it’s something I thought about before coming to the ballpark: Why not offer fans a free ticket to the game if they help shovel snow?

    First pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

    There’s a better chance Tulo sunbathes atop the dugout.

    Monday’s series opener between the Rockies and Mets was canceled due to the bigger-than-expected snowstorm. The teams are scheduled for a doubleheader today.

    About that, too, I have my doubts. There’s more snow coming tonight. First pitch of the second game is scheduled for 6:40.

    Anyway, it’s a different sort of scene here at the ballpark. You can count the fans — I see about 200-ish in the lower level right now — and a scalper on Blake Street offered a behind-the-dugout seat for $20.

    Bundle up, and you might be able shake CarGo’s hand in the on-deck circle.

    Or go down the way and catch Bon Jovi at Pepsi Center. That sounds warmer. But not nearly as much fun.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • The Spurs blueprint

    Wed, April 10, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Perhaps you can come up with a better example. But I’ve felt the best franchise comparison for the Spurs is the Patriots.

    Consistent winners, always in the conversation, one central piece (Brady/Duncan), strong drafts, surly head coach, etc.

    If there has been a blueprint in the NFL, it’s probably the Pats, and if there’s a blueprint in the NBA, it’s probably the Spurs.

    For Thursday’s Gazette I’ll attempt to write a column how the Nuggets can model themselves after the Spurs — in some ways, at least.

    San Antonio is at Denver tonight (8:30, ESPN), and I just finished with the Spurs shootaround at Pepsi Center.

    Does it matter that Tim Duncan was the final player on the court, shooting free throws while others headed to the locker room? In the short term, probably not. In the longer team, certainly. The greatest power forward in league history just goes and goes and goes, and his longevity and professionalism and attention to detail remains the cornerstone of the Spurs dynasty.

    “I’ve learned what I need and what I don’t need,” Duncan said after shooting free throws. “If I want to play at the level I’ve played at and remain competitive — even at my age and towards the end of my career — I have to work hard.”

    For what it’s worth, Ty Lawson won’t play for the Nuggets tonight, George Karl said. And Gregg Popovich hinted that Tony Parker won’t play for the Spurs, although Parker is pestering the coach to play.

    In the short term, there’s another similarity: Injury trouble. Gallo (knee) and Lawson (foot/heel) are out for the Nuggets; Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and Parker (neck) are probably out for the Spurs.

    “I go to the conservative side (with injuries) whenever I can,” Popovich said.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • What Louisville’s title means for… Kentucky

    Tue, April 9, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    What surprised me most about Kentucky’s failure this season was how disinterested and disorganized and discombobulated the Wildcats often appeared.

    It didn’t look anything like a John Calipari-coached team.

    That changes in 2013-14. And after Kentucky’s arch-rival — Louisville — won tonight’s NCAA title, that only adds another layer of motivation for Kentucky next season.

    As this college basketball season wrapped up tonight in Atlanta, we took a look ahead at next season in college basketball.

    There’s one team, Kentucky, and everybody else. The roster will include, at least, eight high school All-Americans. That includes a record six McDonald’s All-Americans in UK’s 2013 recruiting class. I’ve found that McDonald’s All-Americans often are chosen, in part, by whether they’ve committed to a high-profile program. Kentucky’s six are legitimate McDonald’s guys.

    That number (eight) could balloon to nine if Andrew Wiggins commits to Kentucky, and I expect he will.

    But all of those details are in this column in Tuesday’s Gazette.

    The idea of a 40-0 season originated with, yes, John Calipari. Here’s what he told a group of reporters, including my good friend Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated, less than an hour after Kentucky won last year’s NCAA title.

    “Before I leave coaching I want to coach a team that goes 40-0,” Calipari said. “Before I’m out of here, before I’m done. And the reason is, they say it can’t be done.”

    Since we’re talking hoops, I’ve probably written more than enough about the shoddy style of play that has taken over college basketball. The holding, clutching, grabbing, fouling. Bothers me. That’s in Tuesday’s column, too.

    Hopefully we can move forward to a better, cleaner caliber of basketball in 2013-14. To do that, we’ll need fouls to be considered fouls. Tonight’s title game was excellent, but I tend to think that will be exaggerated because the games that preceded it were so tough to watch.

    One thing’s certain: The best team in college basketball won the title. Barring major injury or other jarring development, that team in 2013-14 will be Kentucky.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Who is Dick Monfort? Here’s what I learned

    Fri, April 5, 2013 by Paul Klee with no comments

    As part of this job, I am obligated to answer two questions almost daily:

    So do you go to all the games?

    What is (insert famous athlete) really like?

    You know the answer to the first one. For the second one, let’s plug in Dick Monfort, the Rockies CEO.

    Thursday was my introduction to Monfort. Chances are, some of you might know the Rockies owner better than I do. But here’s a first-hand perspective, in blog form.

    I found Monfort quite interesting, quite engaging, quite different than expected and, yes, quite funny. Apparently, he has no filter, either. At least in this case, he spoke his mind as though he was with people he’s known forever.

    “I’m the tour guide today,” Monfort said at the Blake-and-20th entrance to Coors Field.

    At this point, it’s fair game to question whether Rockies management has a clue about A) an organizational philosophy B) winning baseball. But Monfort’s tour guiding abilities are not up for debate. He was, yes, quite good as a ballpark tour guide.

    Well, good if you’re in the media, not so good if you are with Rockies PR, and half of what Monfort blurts out makes you cringe. I watched a PR guy cringe a half-dozen times.

    “So when they passed the marijuana law….” Monfort joked at one point.

    Before renovating Coors Field, ownership toured other ballparks to take away pieces and apply it to their own. Monfort told stories about a faulty beer sink at Kansas City.

    “They forgot to put in a drain,” he said.

    He wanted wider aisles than the Astros have. He noticed how the White Sox moved the media to a new spot at U.S. Cellular.

    “We love the media,” he said sarcastically. “We looooove the media.”

    Either way, it figures that the Monfort brothers would be the primary owners of the Rockies. Dick Monfort seems to be a lot like the team: Never with a problem having fun.

    It’s the winning part that continues to be elusive.

    I am in the minority, but I expect these Rockies to be better than preseason projectsions suggest. And that’s relative. Las Vegas predicts somewhere around 71-72 wins. I’ll go with 81.

    Not surprising, the owner took a positive approach to the Coors Field season that begins today.

    “I told the staff at a meeting at noon that we had a great spring training and I saw a lot of really good players — players that I know could play somewhere else — that are in Colorado Springs,” Monfort said. “So we’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve just got to keep working it.”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette