Courtesy of our friend Chris Tomasson, Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley’s eight-year run as a Nuggets assistant coach appears to be over.
By Chris Tomasson
Adrian Dantley on Sunday confirmed a New York Post report that he has been let go. His contract, expiring at the end of this month, won’t be renewed for next season.
"Oh, yeah, I’m done,’’ Dantley said. "(Nuggets coach George Karl) fired me Friday.’’
Messages left Sunday for Karl and Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri were not immediately returned.
"I got fired because I didn’t rotate on the bench,’’ said Dantley, who was regarded as Karl’s lead assistant and filled in for Karl for the final 1 ½ months of the 2009-10 season when the head man was battling a form of throat cancer.
NBA teams are allowed to have three assistants sit on the bench, with others having to sit behind it. Dantley, who always had sat on the bench, said Karl approached him early last season and requested he rotate along with other assistants either sitting on or behind the bench.
Dantley said he sat behind the bench for the final 67 games of the regular season and during the playoffs and wouldn’t rotate to the front of the bench. Nuggets assistants Chad Iske, John Welch and Melvin Hunt sat on the bench for those games.
"I didn’t rotate,’’ said Dantley, an NBA star forward from 1976-2001 who was named in 2008 to the Hall of Fame. "I wasn’t going to rotate. If they (other assistants) want the publicity to sit up front, I don’t need the publicity… I got no problem not being seen on TV and sitting at the back of the bench.’’
Dantley would not single out any specific assistants. The New York Post reported "one or lower-level assistants’’ suggested the rotation to Karl.
"This had to do with a whole lot of backstabbing,’’ Dantley said. "I got fired because I wouldn’t rotate. And people felt uncomfortable (about that).’’
Dantley went 11-8 in games Karl missed late in the 2009-10 season due to cancer. With Dantley at the helm, the Nuggets were upset 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs to Utah.
The Jazz won despite not having injured starters Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. Dantley said he didn’t believe his ouster had anything to do with the job he did in then leading the Nuggets. Dantley is in the process of packing and leaving Denver.
He was asked if he was disappointed about the timing of Karl’s decision, which came the day after the draft (Dantley had been helping work out prospects) and a week before the NBA is expected to go on what could be a long lockout.
"What upset me is the loyalty you show to someone and you get screwed,’’ Dantley said.
George Karl "inherited" Adrian Dantley from the Kiki Vandeweghe Era, and Dantley never seemed like the right fit on the Nuggets bench alongside younger (read: cheaper) and hungrier assistants like John Welch, Chad Iske, Jamahl Mosley and now Melvin Hunt.
Given Dantley's seniority, by default Dantley was the "lead assistant" after Scott Brooks left. But Dantley was clearly in over his head when taking over the head coaching reigns for a cancer-stricken Karl for the remainder of the 2010 regular season and the playoffs that came thereafter. For the Nuggets to lose to an injury-depleted Jazz team while their head coach was battling cancer was inexcusable. Just read any of the comments left by the readers of this site during that series to see how much confidence the fans had in Dantley.
That being said, Dantley was loyal and did the best job he was capable of doing, and was rewarded as such by remaining with the Nuggets last season. But to suggest that Dantley should have remained on board for the 2011-12 season is a bit of a stretch from my vantage point.
I don't know if any of our readers caught Peter Vecsey's New York Post story on the Dantley issue earlier today, but Vecsey insists that no coach could have handled that 2010 Nuggets playoff team and I fundamentally disagree with that premise. Lest we forget that before Karl got sick and Kenyon Martin got hurt, the Nuggets were within a few games of the conference-leading Lakers and were still just one season removed from a Western Conference Finals run.
Knowing the NBA and the Nuggets as I do, I'm sure Vandeweghe gave his friend and fellow player Dantley a juicy contract to be an assistant for Jeff Bzdelik back when owner Stan Kroenke would spend, spend, spend to make the Nuggets better. But in this era of financial austerity among NBA teams (especially including the Nuggets) where every nickel now has to be better accounted for, Dantley is hardly a surprising casualty.
We should all collectively thank Dantley for his years of loyal service on the Nuggets bench. But Dantley was probably expensive as far as assistant coaches go, the Nuggets have way too many assistant coaches to begin with and when given the opportunity to showcase his head coaching abilities, Dantley was unable to deliver.