If the rumors are even remotely true about the Los Angeles Clippers possibly pursuing Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl for their coaching vacancy, the Nuggets should let Karl talk to the Clippers. I'm not suggesting for a second that the Nuggets should let or want Karl to go. But I am suggesting that IF the Nuggets aren't going to sign Karl to an extension now, they should let Karl talk to the Clippers (or any other team for that matter).
Here's why ...
Karl has been a terrific coach during his nine-year run in Denver. Absolutely terrific. Despite who has been on the roster, Karl's Nuggets have been among the Western Conference's most competitive teams - during an era in which the Western Conference is far superior to its Eastern Conference counterparts. On Karl's watch, the Nuggets have won 50 games five times (plus had a 49-win season), have competed in the franchise's third Western Conference Finals and just last season, produced a franchise best 15-game winning streak and an NBA franchise best 57 regular season wins, despite enduring a brutal early season schedule.
Moreover, Karl has been a terrific steward for the Nuggets organization in Denver and throughout Colorado. A two-time cancer survivor, Karl has provided inspiration to all who interact with him and has proactively engaged with multiple non-profits here in Colorado whose mission is to combat cancer and educate those befallen by that terrible disease. Karl's passion to fight cancer is equal to his love of basketball, and we're fortune and privileged to have Coach Karl around. He's a fighter who commands respect and admiration from us all.
But unfortunately, and like his Denver coaching predecessors in Larry Brown and Doug Moe before him, Karl's regular season success has proved to be fool's gold come playoff time. Like Brown and Moe - two exceptional coaches themselves and close friends of Karl's - Karl hasn't been able to translate regular season wins into post-season success.
Some of this is out of Karl's control as (again, using Brown and Moe as preceding examples) I believe simply playing in Denver gives the Nuggets an unfair regular season home court advantage that gives the team a false sense of confidence entering the playoffs each year. Come playoff time, you don't get to feast on an East Coast team playing the second of a back-to-back or a fourth game in five nights while arriving from Portland or Los Angeles at four o'clock in the morning. Does Denver's combination of high altitude and being a flyover destination equal five false wins a season? More? Regardless, despite the talent that has overseen the Nuggets bench since joining the NBA in 1976, not one coach has been able to get the Nuggets past the Western Conference Finals as the post-season allows opposing teams and coaches the ample rest and preparation time to handle the Nuggets.
And thus, every off-season Karl's exceptional regular season record and disappointing playoff record leaves the Nuggets organization in a conundrum: should Karl be re-upped or should the Nuggets wait-and-see what happens next April come playoff time? This has been an endless debate since Karl's arrival in 2005 when he guided the Nuggets to an NBA best 32-8 record to finish out his first season and then crumbled to the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in five games.
I haven't had a chance to weigh in on Karl's fate entering the 2013-14 campaign, but I believe his 57 wins earned him the right to finish out his contract while his playoff disappointment at the hands of an inexperienced, undermanned Golden State Warriors squad negates a contract extension at this juncture. And while at this stage of his career Karl shouldn't have to "earn" another contract, the harsh reality is that his Nuggets have gotten past the first round of the playoffs just once on his watch in nine tries (well, eight if you subtract the Adrian Dantley-coached team in 2010).
Which brings us to a potential inquiry from the Los Angeles Clippers about hiring Karl to fill the void left by the now departed Vinny Del Negro.
For starters, Karl would be a great coach for the Clippers. Whether it be Gary Payton, Sam Cassell, Andre Miller or Ty Lawson, Karl has a knack for bringing out the best in his point guards - and the Clippers Chris Paul would benefit greatly from having Karl as his mentor. Secondly, Karl's "dunks, layups or shoot the three" philosophy would be a great fit for the Clippers lineup. Even though the Clippers have received the "Lob City" nickname, it was actually Karl's Nuggets who led the NBA in dunks last season. And finally, like Karl's Nuggets the Clippers are crummy free throw shooters - so Karl is used to that (sorry, had to bring that up).
Perhaps most importantly, one has to assume that the Clippers are prepared to make Karl a multi-year offer, whereas the Nuggets probably aren't - despite those 57 regular season wins. At some point, losing in the playoffs' first round year after year cannot be rewarded with another contract extension.
Now, I understand the timing of all this couldn't be worse for Josh Kroenke and the Nuggets organization. Already dealing with the up-in-the-air Masai Ujiri situation, the last thing the Nuggets need right now is their coach - who has been symbol of stability and consistency since his arrival - potentially leaving, too.
But given that the Nuggets aren't in a position to extend Karl now, they should do the right thing and let Karl talk to other organizations. For all that Karl has done for the Nuggets, it's the least they could do.