2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Few thoughts on George Karl, basketball man

Published: April 17, 2013, 7:45 pm, by Paul Klee

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