Count me in the minority of Nuggets fans who have faith that Adrian Dantley can steer the ship admirably in George Karl's absence. Fortunately for all of us, we have a player-coach in Chauncey Billups.
Nuggets head coach George Karl will be missing his first game tonight as the result of undergoing treatment for throat and neck cancer. Taking over for Karl will be the Nuggets lead assistant, Adrian Dantley. Prior to joining the Nuggets as an assistant coach, Dantley was an exceptional, Hall of Fame caliber NBA player. He's been a loyal Nuggets assistant for four years now. And in the few games that he's taken over for George Karl since Karl's arrival in Denver, the Nuggets have a winning record.
So why is it that I'm not 100% sold on Adrian Dantley as an NBA head coach?
Even the casual Nuggets observer must admit that Dantley is the least active of the Nuggets 30 or so assistant coaches. While John Welch, Chad Iske, Jamahl Mosley and Tim Grgurich constantly work the sidelines, bark at the players and referees, take players aside during timeouts for additional instruction and so forth, Dantley...well...kind of just sits there doing nothing. Even when he took the head coaching reins from Karl previously in his assistant coaching career - which included a victory over the Lakers at Los Angeles if memory serves - I don't remember seeing Dantley actually talk. And when Karl goes out of his way to publicly praise his assistants, Dantley's name is hardly ever mentioned but instead the lion's share of the credit goes to Welch, Iske, Mosley and, most of all, Grgurich (whom Carmelo Anthony has referred to as "Yoda" in the past for his wisdom about the game).
Additionally, I have an unhealthy bias against former great players being good NBA head coaches. If you look historically at which former players make the best head coaches, it's typically the scrappy, role player, team-first type guys like Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, George Karl, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, Rick Adelman, Nate McMillan, Doc Rivers and so on. Often, former star players - like we've seen with the failures of Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Dan Issel and Byron Scott as head coaches - make the worst head coaches. And I'm not the only one, fair or not, who has this bias. Hence why NBA GMs aren't lining up to hire Patrick Ewing, Alex English or Dantley as head coaches right now.
Larry Bird's brief stint as head coach of the Indiana Pacers broke this pattern, but even Bird himself admitted that he was more of a CEO-type who delegated the day-to-day responsibilities to assistants Rick Carlisle (another former role player who has made one hell of a head coach) and Dick Harter. Bird was downright embarrassed when he won Coach of the Year in 1998 (an award that has eluded Sloan and Karl, and yet Rivers won in 1999-00 for winning 41 games), knowing he was more of an overseer than a day-to-day X's and O's guy
But while I might not be enamored with AD as head coach, my worries on the issue are tempered thanks to Chauncey Billups who - along with Steve Nash and Jason Kidd - might be the closest thing we have to a player-coach in the NBA right now. Due to current collective bargaining agreement rules, players can no longer be coaches, too, like we saw in the old days when Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens performed both duties. But since Karl's sad announcement, Billups has clearly taken a more proactive role as a coach on the floor, notably during the Cleveland game when he was reported to change a play during a timeout to get the ball to Melo and when he waved off Karl's request for an end-of-regulation timeout. And give Karl credit for being 100% ok with this, or the Nuggets would be in deep trouble in their head coach's absence.
I'm the last person who will make light of Karl's illness and how this could potentially affect the team. But if ever you're going to miss your head coach it might as well be against the Golden State Warriors; the Nuggets opponent for a nationally televised game tonight. Not only are the Warriors the third worst team in the entire NBA, but they lull opponents into playing an up-tempo, throw-out-the-playbook, shoot-em-up, streetball type game that they almost always lose. Kind of like Paul Westhead's 1990-91 Denver Nuggets, one of the great mockeries in NBA history.
The Warriors give up a league high 110.7 points per game and in their three previous meetings, the Nuggets haven't scored less than 123 points. The Nuggets average 107.4 points per game. I have a hunch that the Nuggets will get in the 130-point range tonight as the players on both teams run amok for 48 minutes.
Don Nelson, the Warriors head coach and pseudo-GM after undermining his former player and good friend Chris Mullin who had the position until 2009, continues to be the NBA's version of a mad scientist. But like all old people (Nellie will be 70 years old this May), Nellie is just getting crazier and crazier with age. The Warriors roster is comprised of virtually all undersized, shoot-first, never-ask-questions-later swingmen and they play with no discipline or semblance of order whatsoever. Now you know why Stephen Curry looked like a family member had been shot when he was drafted by the Warriors one spot ahead of the Knicks in the 2009 NBA Draft. When you'd prefer to go to the lowly Knicks over the Warriors, you know this Bay Area franchise is destitute.
SCOUTING THE WARRIORS...
-Anthony Randolph: Proof that the great Bill Simmons doesn't always know what he's talking about is Randolph's piss-poor performance in 2009-10. Whether it's the result of injury, being in Nellie's doghouse, being a head case or all of the above, Simmons' anointed "Shawn Kemp 2.0" has been out with a sprained ankle since January 11th and wasn't playing well before that. I can't help but think of all the guys who drafted Randolph early on their fantasy teams because of Simmons' advocacy for him.
-Vladimir Radmanovic: I have a sneaky suspicion that Vlad Rad will be exercising his $6.8 million player option for next season. How the Warriors got duped into taking this guy's salary - and his 38.5% field goal shooting - on boggles the mind.
-Devean George: I remember when George was getting a lot of press for playing great on the 2003-04 Lakers alongside Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. At the time, TNT's Charles Barkley aptly said: "They could put George of the Jungle on that team and he'd play well." So true.
-Stephen Curry: Stud. When I watched Curry play in the Las Vegas Summer League, I was worried he'd be the second coming of Juan Dixon - another undersized shooting guard with a sweet jumper. Instead, Curry may be the second coming of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (sans the radical political views). Generously listed at 6'3", Curry might barely be 6'0" but he's lighting it up lately and his put himself in the Rookie of the Year race. And like Abdul-Rauf, he's automatic from the free throw line.
-Monta Ellis: When he's not being called for phony fouls on J.R. Smith to closeout games (I had to, sorry), Ellis is a premier player who's game goes largely unnoticed by being banished to Oakland. I heard a rumor that Ellis is former Nugget Dale Ellis' nephew, but I haven't been able to confirm that.
-C.J. Watson: Oh, look! Another undersized shoot-first guard on the Warriors! Watson - a recent addition to my fantasy team because I need some more steals - has been tearing it up lately since being given more minutes by Nellie.
Photo courtesy of AP
For more information on the Nuggets assistant coaches, I recommend reading Anthony Cotton's detailed article in today's Denver Post.