2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Nuggets: Training camp in March

    Mon, March 31, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    The Nuggets are finishing a seventh-month training camp.

    Need proof? On Monday, faced with a three-point deficit and 7 seconds on the clock, the Nuggets allowed Timofey Mozgov to be one of the options for a potential game-tying three-point attempt. It missed.

    Mozzy? For three?

    Yes, because these Nuggets were in tryout mode from the day they hit the court together in September. They wanted to learn which players would fit into Brian Shaw’s system. They wanted to learn which players had a willingness to defend. They wanted to learn which players could do what.

    (This goes with what I wrote back in February, when I felt the Nuggets had transitioned from competing this season to playing for the future.)

    In this case, they apparently wanted to learn if Mozgov was a viable option on a three-point shot with the game on the line. This isn’t to say I agree with their approach to this season. This is simply to explain how that happens.

    One day before, coincidentally, I watched Mozzy make a half-dozen three-pointers in practice at Pepsi Center (above, being interviewed by esteemed journalist/author Terry Frei). All came from the left corner. None came from the right wing. Maybe that’s just not his spot. 

    Maybe Monday, in their 74th game of the regular season, the Nuggets were simply extending their training camp by another day.

    Let’s hope that was the idea, at least. 

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Avs: New slogan: It’s all about Varly

    Mon, March 31, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    Whether it was P.A. Parenteau going down, Alex Tanguay going down, Matt Duchene going down, or a number of other injuries, the Avs are rivaling the Broncos as the most unlucky club in town.

    The Broncos overcame their misfortunes to win a conference title.

    So can the Avs.

    Here’s how: Semyon Varlamov must continue his outstanding play in goal. Duchene, the team’s points leader, is out for four weeks with a knee injury, Patrick Roy confirmed after their practice today (above). Duchene could return for a second-round playoff series.

    The unfortunate development doesn’t change what’s always been the case with these Avs.

    It’s all about Varly.

    “We’re not looking for excuse; we’re looking for solution,” Roy said with the resolve who’s been here before.

    And Roy has been here before. On their way to the 2001 Stanley Cup championship, Roy’s Avs lost Peter Forsberg. The greatest player I’ve seen in an Avalanche uniform sustained a ruptured spleen during the Western Conference semifinals. The Avs thumped the Blues in the conference finals and the Devils in the Stanley Cup finals, both without Foppa.

    “Our culture was: we have to work hard every time we were on the ice,” Roy said of the 2001 champs. “We have to find ways to win hockey games. That is what this team has been doing all year.”

    Much will be made of Duchene’s absence. It will be written, probably in long and colorful words, that his knee injury is a crushing setback for the Avs. Truth is, their playoff aspirations comes  down to four words.

    It’s all about Varly.

    It says here the Avs can win multiple playoff series, including one against the Blackhawks in the first round, without Duchene. The key is more brilliance from Varly, who leads NHL goaltenders with 37 wins. 

    The Avs say, “Why not us?”

    (Shameless column plug for the genesis of “Why not us?”)

    Here’s our catchy slogan for Colorado’s playoff push: It’s all about Varly.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Avs: Biggest day of the season? Monday

    Sun, March 30, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    Whenever there’s been an injury during this Avalanche season, coach Patrick Roy has been steadfast in his reaction. The Avs can’t use injuries as an alibi for slippage, he says. It’s about the team, he says.

    That was Roy’s message after injuries to Alex Tanguay and P.A. Parenteau, among others.

    This one is different. This one is to Matt Duchene, who leads the team in points, shots on goal and Olympic gold medals (above). I shy away from saying one guy is indispensable, but Duchene’s on the short list of the Avs who could be considered indispensable. Varly’s the other one. 

    The Avs can overcome an extended absence for Duchene, but it would put more pressure on Varly to be great, not just good, in the playoffs.

    That makes Monday a critical day for the Avs. That’s when we’ll learn the extent of Duchene’s knee injury sustained Saturday against the Sharks. Today was an off day; Roy meets with media Monday.

    It’s been a rare moment when Roy has publicly lamented an injury to one of his players. He usually plays the next-man-up card.

    But one of those moments came last week, when I asked him about Gabriel Landeskog’s development as a team captain in his third season. Roy quietly lamented the season-ending injury to Tanguay, who had been playing on a line with Landeskog and Paul Stastny.

    “That line was really starting to click,” Roy said.

    The Avs have been clicking for most of five months. Will they continue with Duchene? We’ll find out Monday morning. 

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Did Broncos make right choice with Knowshown Moreno?

    Thu, March 27, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    Yes. And yes.

    This column is from the final preseason game of the 2013 season. Despite fighting a knee injury and his limited carries in the preseason, I thought Knowshon Moreno should be the No. 1 tailback for the Broncos. Protecting Peyton Manning was the top priority, and Moreno had proven to be their best option in pass protection.

    The Broncos made the right choice then. 

    The Broncos made the right choice now, too. Moreno is gone to Miami, and he should do well there, especially if the reality-TV folks realize this fine opportunity to film Knowshon’s season on South Beach.

    And the Broncos will be fine without him. Moreno last season exceeded 1,ooo rushing yards, the high-water mark for his five seasons in Denver.

    But with a passing game like the Broncos’ — when the defense often was forced into a six-man front — those numbers could’ve/should’ve/would’ve been better with a more explosive back. Maybe, once he can focus on dodging tacklers instead of smothering the ball like a loose diamond, Montee Ball develops into that guy. But it didn’t make sense to unload $3 million on a running back when a comparable running back is already is on the roster. 

    Make sense?

    The Knowshon Era is over. There will be fewer pregame tears (above), but the Broncos shouldn’t suffer.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Happy birthday, Peyton Manning

    Mon, March 24, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    (Hold on. I’m how old?) 

    You are 38, Mr. Quarterback. Today is your birthday.

    What to get the man who has everything? The Broncos gave him Emmanuel Sanders and a trio of big hitters to strengthen the defense. Oh, and a $15-million base salary for the 2014 season. So that’s nice. 

    What’s in a number — in this case, 38? 

    He’s had two seasons in which he threw at least 38 touchdown passes (49 in 2004, 55 in 2013). If he throws an incompletion on 38 percent of his pass attempts next season, a 62-percent completion rate would be a career low. His Papa John’s commercials air roughly 38 times during the average NFL game, according to our math. He had 38 rushing attempts in 2002 (and averaged 3.9 yards per carry).

    Alas, Peyton’s longest running play was a 33-yarder (in 2001, as a spry 25-year-old). There’s always next year to break off a 38-yard bootleg around the left end. Hey, it worked against the Cowboys.

    What would you get Peyton Manning for his birthday? Every man deserves a day on the river, casting to rising trout, on his birthday. I’m heading to the Colorado next week, Mr. Quarterback, if you need a guide.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NCAA tournament: Power of the underdog

    Sat, March 22, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    That’s how it’s usually portrayed: the little guy has a good day and surprises the big, bad power conference program.

    There’s another side to the rash of upsets ransacking this NCAA tournament. Power-conference teams are almost always overvalued. Overrated is another word, but I don’t love that word, so we’ll use overvalued.

    There was nothing to suggest Mercer got lucky in beating Duke, North Dakota State just had a good day in beating Oklahoma, or Dayton got hot to beat Ohio State. There was everything to suggest Mercer was Duke’s equal, North Dakota State was better than Oklahoma and Dayton was better than Ohio State.

    (That’s not to mention the alma mater, Gonzaga, taking Oklahoma State to the woodshed. This was the Zags’ sixth straight win against Oklahoma State and the sixth straight year the Zags won their first game in the NCAA tournament. Only Kansas and Syracuse have longer streaks. Yet the collective media penciled Oklahoma State into a matchup with Arizona. Oklahoma State over Gonzaga? Really? This is a just-OK Gonzaga team. But a just-OK Gonzaga team is still 8-10 points better than a middling BCS team.)

    It makes sense why we assume the Dukes and Oklahomas and Ohio States are the superior teams. They are the ones on Big Monday, highlighting SportsCenter and lining the lists of recruiting rankings.

    But I think that’s partly why the power-conference teams are overvalued in the NCAA tournament. If that’s true, here’s the next question: So why don’t we see more mid- and low-majors in the Final Four? Seeding, naturally. It’s much tougher to reach a Final Four from a 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14 seed. But if Mercer is seeded correctly, it would have an honest shot. Because, after watching Mercer actually play, I think we can all agree:

    If Mercer truly is a 14 seed, college basketball is better than it’s ever been. And it’s definitely not.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NCAA tournament: Picking the perfect bracket

    Thu, March 20, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    You ask the guy who won the bracket, right?

    Nuggets forward and former NCAA champion Darrell Arthur sat down with me to fill out his bracket (above). Yes, he has the Buffs beating Pittsburgh. Yes, he advises to roll with the favorites in the Thursday-Friday games. Yes, he has Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State and Arizona in the Final Four.

    Yes, he remembers every nanosecond of The Shot that carried Kansas over Memphis in the 2008 national championship game. These sort of things tend to stick with a man.

    “We ran a play that we ran throughout the year,” Arthur said.

    The play was set up before Derrick Rose went to the line for a pair of free throws. He missed the first and swished the second. (I always felt the whole Memphis-free-throws-thing was overblown; Rose’s first effort was halfway down and simply popcorned out.) So the Jayhawks ran a play called “Slice” — “If I remember right, that’s what it’s called,” Arthur said — and the rest is March Madness history.

    Here’s how The Shot was aligned, according to a player who was on the court: 

    “We were very familiar with it. I think we ran it twice against Texas that season,” Arthur said. “Sherron (Collins) has a dribble hand-off (to Mario Chalmers). He has options, too. I was setting a flash-screen for B-Rush. Darnell (Jackson) was setting a down-screen for Sherron.

    “We ran that play and it worked. He did the same thing against Texas. We were down 20 points to Texas. It was kind of the same scenario. Memphis had us down, too. D-Rose contested the three, but Mario got it off and he made it.”

    Chalmers’ game-tying three-pointer is remembered and earned him Most Outstanding Player honors in the Final Four. But Arthur arguably was the best Jayhawk in that game, going for 20 and 10 in the final.

    Chances are, there will be a moment like that in this NCAA tournament. There usually is.

    Along with his bracket picks, this is what I wanted learn: what’s a player feeling in the final moments of a Ziplock-tight NCAA tournament game, their season and a potential championship on the line?

    “When we’re in that huddle (earlier), you know what was going through my head? We’ve got to make a play,” Arthur said. “We did all the things that led up to that point. That play doesn’t happen without all the practice and knowing what you’re supposed to do. We knew what we had to do.

    “But at the end of the game — a game like that — you’ve got to be perfect. I remember what Coach (Bill Self) told us: Believe in yourself.”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Nuggets: George Karl, unplugged

    Tue, March 18, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments


    George Karl wants to coach again.

    “We’d like to go on one more rodeo,” he said during an interview on ESPN 102.3′s The Locker Room on Monday. 

    George Karl (above, a few days before he was fired) can’t figure out why he’s still not coaching the Nuggets.

    “I’ve been looking for that reason all year long,” he said.

    Here’s a possibility, Karl speculated in jest: The Nuggets hosted a reunion for the 1993-94 squad that upset the top-seeded Sonics in the NBA playoffs. Karl, of course, coached the Sonics. It might’ve made for an awkward moment… or something.

    “Oh, that’s why they fired me?” he joked.

    Karl’s interview with Nate Kreckman, Gary Miller and Tom Nalen is worth a listen. (You can find the podcast here.) Nothing’s changed; George Karl remains unfiltered, one of his many endearing qualities.

    On a related note, shoutout to the Nuggets for hosting an excellent party Monday. Whether it’s in college or at the pro level, reunions are awfully difficult to coordinate. Families, jobs, obligations often get in the way. But the Nuggets pulled off a memorable one by bringing back the Nuggets of 20 years ago.

    Fans had a banner of a time celebrating the Nuggets squad that upset the top-seeded Sonics in the NBA playoffs. I attended Games 3 and 4 and will never forget those times with my dad. 

    As for Game 5, “I think that’s the day that haunts me the most,” Karl said.

    Even more than the day he was fired by the Nuggets.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NCAA: The basketball situation at UCCS

    Tue, March 18, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    It’s a very good one. It’s an excellent one, actually, as I portrayed in this column from Metro State’s 76-72 win against UCCS in the NCAA Division II tournament Saturday. 

    UCCS basketball is on the way up: most wins in school history, first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, a roster that returns for the 2014-15 season largely intact. But here’s another reason the Mountain Lions should feel good about themselves — now and into the future.

    Its star player, Derrick White, is playing at the correct level. Most of its roster seems content where it is. I think White is good enough — no, will be good enough, as a junior and senior — to play at the Division I level. He would certainly be good enough to contribute at Air Force and, I believe, at CSU. He wouldn’t average 20-plus points per game in the Mountain West Conference, as he did this season at UCCS, but he would play for those programs. After seeing him play Saturday, I believe that.

    But he’s playing at the right level. I saw it in the Mountain West, the Missouri Valley and, especially, in the Big Ten, and it remains a pet peeve that gives me a sad. High school players — and their parents — want to compete at the top level of college basketball. They overestimate their potential by choosing a program, and a conference, that is better than they are.

    And then they sit. They sit for two, three, even four years, stewing and venting and wasting a college athletics career that could have flourished at a lower-level program. It’s an unfortunate thing to watch a kid with high hopes languish at the end of the bench, because they — or, more often, their families and coaches and mentors — believed they were better than they actually are. 

    So I appreciated when UCCS coach Jeff Culver said this: “When we’re recruiting a kid, I always tell him you can go to another level and ride the bench for a couple years. Or you can come here and be the conference Player of the Year.”

    That’s what White will be. The Parker product, as a junior, will be the Preseason Player of the Year in the RMAC. But he chose the right level. It’s a wise lesson for high school athletes who are borderline Division I, or borderline Division III, or even borderline NAIA prospects. 

    Choose the right level, not the biggest name, and four years of happiness (and playing time) often follows.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • NCAA tournament: Times and TV

    Sun, March 16, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    This is just one man’s opinion. But after taking a long look over the NCAA tournament bracket, there’s only one explanation for the incompetence of the 10-member selection committee.

    The committee put the bracket together while being timed, as if taking the ACT, and it ran short of time. So it checked all the ‘D’ boxes and made UMass a 6 seed.

    Every year, I wonder how the NCAA selection committee possibly can screw this up worse than the year before. Every year, I go on a rant, or write a column, or a news story, to explain how ridiculous this process is. And every year, the NCAA selection committee shows it isn’t fit for this process.

    Fix it. Please.

    Until that happens, we will still have the tournament, as convoluted and indefensible as the selection and seeding process is. So, to save some time and move forward from the selection committee’s inadequacies, here’s a handy guide to the tipoff times and TV channel alignments for the NCAA tournament.

    Click here.

    Adjust your work schedules accordingly.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette