If acting coach Adrian Dantley wants to make a sacrifice to help the Nuggets win Game 5, he should do the honorable thing: get himself ejected.
With each passing game, the gray stripes that hover above Nuggets acting coach Adrian Dantley's ears are getting higher and higher to the point that he's starting to look like Jim Brown's Fireball character from "The Running Man." AD is understandably stressed out, having to take over the coaching reins from a man on the verge of winning 1,000 NBA games and most unfortunately, the soft-spoken AD is not doing a particularly good job.
If I've learned anything since entering the sports blogosphere, blaming one man for a team's demise is neither fair nor accurate (unless that man is Bernie Bickerstaff or Dan Issel, of course). And while AD certainly deserves a lot of blame for the way the Nuggets have played since he took over - after all, we measure success in sports by wins and losses and nothing else - his veteran "leadership" of Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin must shoulder much of this blame themselves (at least Melo is putting up points, without which the Nuggets would be in even bigger trouble right now).
But it must be said that having AD manning this operation from the bench is hurting more than it's helping, and there are several theories going around as to why.
There's the substitute teacher theory; i.e. no matter what AD does these players will never respond. This theory states that the likes of Melo, K-Mart and J.R. Smith barely listen to their general, George Karl, so how can they be expected to listen to one of the sergeants? There's probably some truth to this theory.
There's the great-players-make-shitty-coaches theory. How many times have we seen this theory prove itself out in NBA history? Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Kiki Vandeweghe, Kevin McHale, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens and Bob Cousy were all failures as head coaches. Only Larry Bird bucked this trend, but even he acknowledged that much of his success was attributed to delegating responsibility to sharp assistants Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter. Typically great coaches - be it Karl, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley and so on - were scrappy, tough role players before becoming bench men. I've always believed in this theory, too.
Then there's a new theory a friend of mine brought up about AD: known to be jerk as a player, maybe the referees don't respect and/or like him from his playing days and that's why the Nuggets aren't getting any calls. Thinking this to be an interesting angle on the AD situation, I've asked several people who currently work and recently worked within the NBA and asked if there's any truth to it. While no one would go on the record, the consensus I'm hearing is that AD was indeed "aloof" as a player and he's getting no respect from the referees whatsoever. As much crap as we've given Karl over the years for not working the refs more, I'm hearing from good sources that Karl knows how to sway calls in the Nuggets favor while Dantley doesn't even get the opportunity because the refs don't listen to him.
UPDATED: ESPN.com's Chris Broussard points out that the Nuggets have attempted four less free throws per game under Dantley than under Karl. Interesting.
Fair or not, this is the situation we're in with AD. The players have likely tuned him out. Like the great players that have failed as coaches before him, he's probably not meant to be the head guy. And making matters worse, the refs are giving him no respect.
When Karl announced his battle with throat and neck cancer, we were sold on the basketball wizardry of young Nuggets assistants John Welch, Chad Iske and Jamahl Mosley and, of course, the brilliance of Tim "my sweaters never match my sports coats" Grgrich. We were sold on these guys crafting the game plans and AD, in a figurehead role akin to Larry Bird with the Pacers, simply having to execute them after the balls are tipped-off.
I feel awful for AD. The media guys who cover the team universally tell me that he couldn't be a nicer guy. I've also heard from others that he's working hard, he's earnest, has been doggedly loyal to Karl (who inherited AD from Jeff Bzdelik and Kiki Vandeweghe) and is trying to do everything possible to win these games. But sometimes working hard and working earnestly doesn't mean you're working right.
And thus, if the refs don't respect him and the players don't listen to him, AD should do the honorable thing in Game 5 and get himself ejected and do so early. After the first bullshit, ticky-tacky foul call laid on Carmelo Anthony in Game 5, AD should erupt a la Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers". He should bark, scream, stomp and grandstand in support of his players. This will get the crowd riled up and put the playbook in the hands of Welch, allegedly the Nuggets true top assistant.
It's sad to say, but getting himself ejected might be the best possible way for Adrian Dantley to deliver a Game 5 victory for Nuggets fans. Take one for the team, AD!
Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Andy Lyons