Looks like I picked the wrong time of the year to depart on a business trip and have no access to writing for Denver Stiffs.
Phew ... what a week(s) of events!
First, Masai Ujiri leaves Denver to sign with Toronto for a multi-million dollar deal. Second, George Karl gets dismissed as head coach by owner Josh Kroenke. Third, in the wake of the Ujiri and Karl departures, the Denver Post performs a suck up job to Nuggets ownership previously unforeseen in this market. Fourth, Karl finally goes on the record about his departure with some biting commentary (Ujiri has been largely silent, other than his Toronto presser). Fifth, Andre Iguodala announces - to no surprise - that he'll opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. Sixth, Danilo Gallinari reveals that his knee injury may not be as bad as previously thought and may be back by December. Seventh, it appears as though the Nuggets haven't scheduled any coaching interviews yet (they may or may not have talked to Brian Shaw (depending on who you believe) and they intended on interviewing Lionel Hollins but Hollins' flight didn't get here in time). And finally, the would-be heir apparent to Ujiri - Pete D'Alessandro - also leaves Denver, taking the Sacramento Kings general manager position.
Did I miss anything?
Now that we've recapped everything, let's tackle each topic one-by-one ...
The Masai Ujiri / George Karl departures
Before leaving for my trip, I was able to opine on Ujiri's departure and address the myths and rumors that came out in the wake of it. I also served up a detailed commentary on Coach Karl's legacy in Denver - a legacy he and we should be proud of, I might add.
I have, however, been biting my tongue while seething with anger over one aspect of Karl's departure, and that's the nastiness seen in the writing of the Post's Mark Kiszla since Karl was fired by Kroenke. If we at Denver Stiffs are to be your online home for all-things-Nuggets, then we must start addressing the press that covers the team, too. Basically, Kiszla (who's had it in for Karl for years) gave Karl the "don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out" treatment in several recent columns after Karl's firing. To write vitriolic screed like ...
Sure, he would take responsibility for defeat, as the driver of the bus, but not until he ran the bus over everybody else along for the ride.
... and ...
Hey, it was Karl's pity party and he would cry if he wanted. Karl guided the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff berths and 423 regular-season victories. But his real genius was selling reasons why Denver couldn't win in the playoffs ...
... is blatantly disrespectful at best and sheer meanness at worst. Regardless of where you come down on the Karl dismissal, Karl is a supremely decent man who deserves our respect and admiration. And yet Kiszla couldn't help himself and went after Karl two times more throughout the week with these cheap shots:
For too long, the Nuggets lived with a guy on the bench who wanted to be the team's star. And how did that work out for George Karl, who has 1,131 regular-season victories on his résumé but has won exactly two games in the NBA Finals?
Yes, the Nuggets can win an NBA championship. But it was never going to happen with George Karl as coach.
And then Kiz adds insult to injury by suggesting Alvin Gentry and his 335-370 career coaching record get serious consideration for the head coaching position here in Denver. Really, Kiz?! Can't the man get a respite from criticism even after he's fired? Shame on you.
The Denver Post's suck-up job
Doubling down on those examples of poor penmanship, Kiszla was joined by his Post colleagues in performing one of all the time great suck-up jobs last Sunday as three articles (read them here: 1, 2 and 3) were published as if they were written by the Nuggets organization itself. I guess I'm just not buying into the panic surrounding the Nuggets and don't understand why the Post feels obligated to perform damage control for an ownership regime that has presided over 10-straight playoff appearances ... the second-best streak in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs.
And again, Kiz's stuff last Sunday was particularly comical given that he himself alluded to the Kroenke's alleged "cheapness" within the last year and now vigilantly defends their business practices (as if he's ever been an employer himself and knows what it's like to cover payroll every week). I guess all Josh Kroenke had to do was pick up the tab at lunch to turn Kiz on his side. Maybe Karl should have taken Kiz to lunch or twice himself.
I have news for the Post: I know Josh Kroenke. As a fellow young entrepreneur here in Denver, I really like Josh Kroenke. And I can assure you, Josh Kroenke doesn't need his ass kissed or need all of the credit for the team's prior success assigned solely to him by local scribes.
(On a side note, it pains me to write this because all of the Post's sports columnists and NBA writers have been nothing but supremely nice to me and the Denver Stiffs crew since we launched this site. But I cannot stand idly by when NBA people I very much respect and admire are unnecessarily trashed in the press or the truth is reworked for some agenda that doesn't need to exist. But when Denver Stiffs provides more balance than the Denver Post, the zombie apocalypse may very well be upon us.)
When a basketball team succeeds - as the Nuggets have under the Kroenkes' stewardship - it's because the general manager assembles/builds/develops a solid roster approved by and signed off on by the owner (and in Josh Kroenke's case, he has been more hands-on than most owners given his passion and know-how of basketball), which is then coached/supervised/led/developed by a bench master who gets the players to buy into his program and turns that program into victories.
All three parties deserve credit when the team succeeds and all three parties deserve blame when it falls apart. But since you can't fire players and you can't fire owners and general managers rarely get fired, when the team falls short of expectations coaches end up getting the ax. It's a cruel side of the business, but I guess that's why these coaches get paid $3-plus million per year to put up with the likes of Mark Kiszla and asshole sports bloggers like me.
George Karl goes on the record
The Post's Benjamin Hochman got back on track later in the week by getting Karl on the record about his dismissal by Kroenke and asking several poignant questions about it, as did KOA Radio's Dave Krieger and 104.3 The Fan's Sandy Clough. Karl basically delivered the same key notes to them all: that he, ownership and management used to make decisions collectively and that seemed to change, that he was willing to coach out his contract, that he never wanted to leave Denver, that he wanted a compromise between a three-year extension and getting fired, that he wanted was security for his assistant coaches (who don't get the millions in salary Karl gets), and so forth.
And while I don't blame Karl in the least for feeling saddened and confused by the firing (especially after delivering 423 wins in Denver), I see both sides on this one. I thought the Nuggets would do with Karl as they had done previously when the coach's every-three-years extensions came up: see how the regular season goes, and then grant an extension around the All-Star break (this being the "compromise" Karl mentions several times in his interviews this past week).
But in the wake of Ujiri's departure, Kroenke took the opportunity to wipe the entire slate clean from management on down through the coaching staff, and bring in a fresh regime in the front office and the bench (even more evident now with the news of D'Alessando not being retained either).
It's a giant gamble that will or won't pay off, and we'll know soon enough.
Andre Iguodala opts out
To the surprise of no one, Nuggets shooting guard Andre Iguodala exercised his right to opt-out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, thus giving the Nuggets the right to pay him more (and for more years) than any other team. But will they?
At 29 years old, Iguodala is at the perfect age to get a juicy contract that will make us fans cringe over it three years from now. As I've written many times before here, free agents are worth whatever the dumbest of 30 NBA owners is willing to pay them. In previous examples, the Nuggets stuck their necks out big time to re-sign Arron Afflalo and Nene Hilario soon after the NBA lockout. Both players responded poorly to those contract renewals, but the lockout certainly didn't help. Having both been traded since, Afflalo had a decent year in Orlando last season while Nene has continued to be Nene in Washington: when he plays he's solid ... but there's that whole when he plays part of it.
So, what are the Nuggets to do? There are essentially two options. One, get out ahead of the situation by offering Iguodala a number that dissuades all other suitors. Or, two, see what Iguodala attracts on the open market and match/exceed that contract at a number that could be potentially ruinous to the entire franchise down the road (in the NBA, all it takes is one bad contract to ruin a roster). Either way, it's a very tough place to be for an NBA franchise when a tier-two player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Danilo Gallinari could be back sooner?
In an otherwise confusing period for Nuggets fans, we received some good news recently with Danilo Gallinari's (and his doctor's) announcement that he didn't experience a full ACL tear and might be back as early as December. (Somewhere, Jeff Morton is smiling from ear to ear.) This news should be inspiring for whomever takes over the Nuggets bench at head coach knowing that an 11th straight playoff appearance is all but a certainty if Gallo comes back earlier than originally anticipated.
Lionel Hollins interview gets postponed ... and the Nuggets coaching search continues
The alleged top candidate to replace Karl - Lionel Hollins, formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies - had his interview with Josh Kroenke postponed until Wednesday and there's been no confirmation on whether or not Pacers assistant Brian Shaw will be interviewed. If it's true that the choice may be between Hollins and Shaw, I have to throw my hat into the ring with Hollins.
I had the pleasure of hanging out with Hollins when I joined Ujiri on the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Africa trip in 2011 and found him to be serious yet engaging, introspective, worldly and a great basketball mind. It took many conversations with Hollins to finally get him to crack a smile, but once I did he was a pleasure to hang out with and it was fun watching him coach up the collection of young African stars there. I'm confident Hollins would be a good fit anywhere and will welcome him to Denver should he get the job.
Shaw, conversely, makes me nervous. Simply put, Phil Jackson's coaching tree hasn't born any fruit. All of Coach Jackson's assistant-coaches-turned-head-coaches have been various forms of disasters after coaching under Jackson, including Jim Cleamons (28-70), Kurt Rambis (32-133) and Frank Hamblen (10-29). Only Bill Belichick rivals Jackson on the "most inept coaching proteges" list.
So if the choice is indeed between Hollins and Shaw, I vote strongly for Hollins. But I'm curious as to why Stan Van Gundy isn't even being considered to date as I think he's another available option worth serious consideration.
Pete D'Alessandro leaves for Sacramento
Having gotten to know D'Alessandro a bit while he was here in Denver, I was secretly (well, maybe not so secretly) rooting for him to get the general manager position and am disappointed that he won't be the man for the job in Denver. I thought D'Alessandro represented what little continuity might be available after both Ujiri and Karl departed from the organization and would have been a worthy success to Ujiri. Instead, D'Alessandro is taking his talents to Sacramento, leaving Kroenke with an NBA Draft to plan right around the corner sans a general manager and head coach. And while I trust Kroenke's basketball smarts (evident by the deals he worked on and/or approved with Ujiri), I urge him to assemble a management and coaching team soon.
Until I see or hear otherwise, I don't buy into the rumors that Kroenke wants to be the general manager himself. I just don't buy it. As he has done to date, I trust that he'll delegate the basketball duties to those whose full time job is basketball, will be hands on and integrally involved as we was with Ujiri, and in doing so will guide the Nuggets to consecutive playoff appearance number 11.
And that's nothing to panic about.