After seeing how the team came out to play at the beginning of this series, I came to a bunch of quick conclusions. At the end of the series, those opinions haven't changed.
First, as much as I sincerely like the guy, it is time for George Karl to move on. We all know his track record with the Nuggets; good regular season leading to a first round playoff exit (the exception being the great run to the West Finals). In most of those, I think it is safe to say the team wasn't prepared well and Karl was out coached. His system, specifically this year, is designed around a fast-breaking offense that is prone to breakdowns when the pace of the game is slowed down in the playoffs and the defense ratcheted up. The defense resembles some mish-mosh of packing the paint, constant switching, turnover hunting, and ultimately a complete inability to cover anyone behind the three point line.
That inability, or unwillingness, to focus on stopping the 3-ball is what I believe downed us in this series. If there was one thing that should have been prioritized in a series against the Golden State Warriors, it would be making sure to pressure and challenge every 3 taken. We know, they know, everyone knows, that the Warriors have threats galore in long range shooters. Was there any adjustment made by the coach to attempt to take that threat away? I think that answer is clear.
Further, Karl allowed his team to get away from what made them so great at times during this regular season. A free-flowing and completely unselfish offensive game. The Nuggets stopped passing once they got to the playoffs. Our offense looked nothing like the one that won 57 games. It was bogged down by ball-stopping, turnovers, and bad shots. We all know George relies heavily on his "trust" guys. Watching him routinely play Andre Miller, who outside of Game 1, was a complete detriment to our chances of winning, was painful beyond words. How it was not obvious to Karl that Miller played like Melo-Lite (hogging the ball, refusing to pass, taking bad shots) and putting up one of the worst defensive efforts I have ever seen is flabbergasting. Allowing Miller to cover Stephen Curry, if even for one possession, is criminal. Again, guarding the best shooter in the league with our worst defender makes less sense than the game of Cricket.
Again, I appreciate what GK has brought to this organization and don't necessarily want to see him go; I just feel it is the thing that needs to happen at this point.
To finish, I'm going to put on my Masai-hat and list off the steps I hope he takes this off-season to continue to improve this excellent organization.
- As you well know, fire George Karl. His replacement? I haven't the foggiest. A new coach most likely means a change in philosophy. Our players are tailor-fit for our style of play right now, but that doesn't mean that style can't be tweaked to ultimately be more effective while still emphasizing the strengths of our talented roster. We can still play a fast-paced, aggressive offensive style and a high-pressure defense. Improvements need to be made in the half-court offense and more importantly in the defense. If your system leads to open 3's for your opponent any time they want them, that system is broken. I feel confident that there is a prospect out there that can provide some continuity in style, while minimizing the things that have failed over the years. Let me put it this way, we know Karl is a solid coach and one that can get us to the post-season and provide great entertainment for us as fans along the way. We also know that he has serious shortcomings as a game-planner and manager and has shown no willingness or propensity to change those problems. The solution? A change of leadership at the head coaching position.
- Release Andre Miller. His overriding selfishness in this playoff series was disgusting to watch. I hope I don't have to see it again. Again, I appreciate what he has brought to us in his different stints here, but the time is now to move on. Ty Lawson is ready to have the reigns completely passed over to him, and getting rid of Miller will make that transition complete. A cheapish veteran could be the move to replace Andre, or maybe that guy is already on the roster in Fournier or Stone. If a new player is acquired, I would hope his strengths would lie in passing and defense first, and scoring second.
- Release/trade JaVale McGee. We all know his stupendous talent. The fact that he is routinely unable to harness that talent and translate it into any semblance of consistent and effective performance on the court is the reason I wish to see him go. JaVale is now 25. This last season was his 6th in the league. He is no longer a spring chicken. He still has moments of brilliance, where he can put up 10 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocked shots in a span of what seems like 30 seconds. Those moments are far too seldom to make up for the predominant lack of overall awareness, ability to rebound the ball, ability to score on anything other than an open dunk, and ability to play sound defense. I like the guy, he seems to be a misunderstood gentle giant. A guy with a good wit and a good locker room presence. I can appreciate that, but it's no reason to keep him on the team. If he hasn't improved his game in the most basic of ways in 6 years in this league, it's never going to happen. Being a smart human being doesn't always translate to having a mind for playing a sport, and I believe that is the case with JaVale McGee. He also will never be able to log significant minutes because of his asthma, making the big money we pay him all the more ludicrous.
- Find a center. What this team needs is an athletic, long, consistent presence at the center position. I want a guy who is a big defensive presence with the ability to both cover good offensive centers in one-on-one situations and dominate the lane as a shot blocker. That's it. If he can pass the ball a little bit, fantastic. Then, if he has any game offensively, it's just a bonus. I know I know, it's asking a lot. To give you an idea of the type of player I want, think no further than Omer Asik. But, if anything, Masai Ujiri has proven that he is capable of delivering the things we need. This is our biggest need. MAKE IT HAPPEN BATMAN!
That's about all I have and I really need to get back to work. I still love the potential of this team. Ty Lawson is a legitimate star. I think Gallo is one of those too. I hope Iguodala stays, we need him. I love Faried, but recognize that he needs to improve. I can't wait to watch Evan Fournier next season. I hope to see a new coach and a new center next season. With a few tweaks, I believe the unique talent on this team is enough to result in the Good Guys raising the Championship trophy a few years down the line. Let's do this! Go Nuggets!