I'm completely perplexed by Nuggets head coach George Karl.
At the halfway point through the fourth quarter of the Nuggets/Knicks game, I was convinced the Nuggets were going to lose and I was going to pin the loss on Karl. The basis for my argument was that Karl can't have it both ways: if he wants to sit there for three-and-a-half quarters doing nothing and the team consistently wins, fine. But if the team loses, he can't lay the blame onto the players.
Up to and until that point in the game, Karl literally didn't move the entire game (at least from what I could tell on TV). He didn't work the refs, didn't call a timeout when the Nuggets allowed an 11-point lead to get erased soon after halftime, clearly didn't call any plays, and didn't even stand up once, except to walk to the locker room at halftime. From my vantage point, Karl just got paid to get a cozy front row seat at Madison Square Garden.
And yet, the Nuggets still won handily down the stretch, continued their undefeated streak against sub-par teams, are sitting at 20-11 and are on pace for 53 wins. Can I really complain about this?
A lot of this blog's readers would say yes. Even when the Nuggets could do no wrong a few weeks ago, this blog and my email box got inundated with comments about how the Nuggets are winning in spite of Karl and all the credit is really due to Chauncey Billups' leadership. And as soon as the Nuggets started dropping games to real teams last week, the comments and emails have only intensified.
For now, I have to stand by my case that we - as fans - can't call for a coach to be fired when the team has a +.600 winning percentage. We may not like a lot of things he does from game-to-game (like today's Madison Square Garden "sit in" by the entire coaching staff), but the results are speaking for themselves. Regular season only, of course.
But your comments - along with the slew of coach firings in the NBA this season - had me thinking throughout the Christmas holiday: how do you define a good coaching job?
I watched all five NBA games on Christmas Day (yes, I'm officially an NBA degenerate) with that question in mind, and during the Lakers/Celtics game in particular. I think most of us would agree that Doc Rivers has done one hell of a coaching job the past two seasons. But would any of us have called him a good coach three seasons before? Hell no. That's because the NBA is a players' league and whether your coach is Rivers, Karl or even Phil Jackson, without great players you'll never have a great team.
On display Thursday were a lot of good coaches: Byron Scott, Stan Van Gundy (my personal favorite along with Jerry Sloan), Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Rivers and Nate McMillan. Did you see Van Gundy working his team over even though they were blowing out their opponent? And did you see Popovich draw up yet another masterful end-of-game play to sink the Suns? It was exceptional coaching.
So what makes these guys good coaches? Since the NBA is a players' league, I define good or bad coaching based on this premise: did he do a lot with a lot (of talent), a lot with a little, about what was expected, or a little with a lot? I know that sounds obvious and overly simplistic, but I think it's a good measure of a coach's performance.
Consider the 2007-08 Nuggets under Karl. I'd argue that Karl did a little with a lot of talent. Yeah, the Nuggets won 50 games. But so what? They dropped numerous games to god awful teams in the regular season, rewarded themselves with an eighth seed and were rolled over by the Lakers in the first round. That's doing the least with the most. Get it? Conversely, Doc Rivers did a lot with a lot of talent, steamrolled the NBA during the regular season and won the NBA Championship.
This season, Rivers is at it again (losing to the Warriors on Saturday notwithstanding), as are Jackson and Popovich. Scott is doing about what was expected of him, as are Sloan, McMillan and the Rockets' Rick Adelman. Other coaches may have teams that aren't quite as stacked as the Celtics or Lakers, but they're doing a lot more than what was expected. That would include Van Gundy, the Cavaliers' Mike Brown and Karl. Yes, Karl - unarguably - is guiding the Nuggets to a better record than any of us expected.
The most remarkable coaching job this season? That would go to the Nets' Lawrence Frank who's doing a lot with very little. Try naming five Nets players not including Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Mike D'Antoni was on that list for a while, but the Knicks have imploded since gutting their team to make cap room for 2010.
And who's doing the littlest with what they've got? That'd be the Pistons' Michael Curry, the Suns' Terry Porter, and whoever is coaching the Sixers, Wizards and Raptors these days.
I like this "lot with a little or little with a lot" measure for coaching performance, and I wish General Managers gave it consideration before axing the guys they hired in the first place. I'm no Reggie Theus fan, but he got completely screwed in Sacramento this season. GM Geoff Petrie gave Theus nothing - nothing - to work with player-wise, and yet Theus had them playing competitively last season and much of this season. Same goes for the situation Kevin McHale put Randy Wittman into in Minneapolis (and we see how well McHale is doing coaching the same roster).
Back to Karl. When Karl starts doing the littlest with a lot on a consistent basis again like last season, I'll be the first to call for his firing. But for now, I don't see why the Nuggets need to be the seventh team to make a coaching change this season.
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