The NBA needs the Madness of King George back.
George Karl, that is.
After being let go as the Denver Nuggets head coach over a year ago - and within a month of winning the NBA's Coach of the Year Award no less (an award that all the pundits who write here at Denver Stiffs agreed with, by the way) - Karl probably tops the list of unemployed-yet-available head coaches alongside Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, Mike D'Antoni, Vinny Del Negro and Nate McMillan. In fact, ESPN.com Insider's Amin Elhassan recently ranked Karl as the #1 option among "free agent" coaches.
And I couldn't agree more.
Say what you want about Karl's nine-year run in Denver, complete with eight first round exits (although assistant coach Adrian Dantley's failure to get the Nuggets past the first round in 2010 during Karl's bout with cancer shouldn't count against Karl's coaching record), some maddening lineup changes, lots of "freelance" basketball, placing young players in the proverbial dog house, and so forth. But by just about any objective measure, Karl's tenure as the Nuggets' bench leader was a success: nine straight playoff appearances, five 50-plus win seasons, an NBA-franchise record 57 wins and one conference finals appearance.
Currently ranked sixth all-time among head coaches in NBA history, Karl's impressive 1,131 wins aren't just attributed to his longevity. Because among the top-10 wins leaders in NBA coaching history, Karl's winning percentage of 59.9% ranks better than that of Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, Rick Adelman and Bill Fitch. Moreover, you'd have to go all the way back to the 1987-88 season when Karl was overseeing the Golden State Warriors to find the last season a George Karl-coached team won less than 50% of its regular season games. And in that over two decade span of coaching, Karl's teams missed the post-season just once.
And yet with coaching vacancies still present with the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, Karl's name is rarely mentioned (other than some tepid rumors about "meeting with team officials" from the Lakers).
In looking at the four coaching vacancies that exist in the NBA at present, Karl would seem to be a great fit for either the Lakers or the Cavaliers. With Phil Jackson now running the Knicks, it's hard to imagine Karl a) working for a former coaching rival, b) taking on Carmelo Anthony's ego again and, c) being dictated to about what system might make sense. And a Karl-to-Utah situation would equally make little sense, given how far away the Jazz are from being a substantive NBA competitor anytime soon.
But both Los Angeles and Cleveland make sense for Karl for a whole host of reasons.
With the Lakers' aging star Kobe Bryant coming back from an assortment of devastating injuries, it's hard to imagine him responding to a head coach without Karl's level of experience. Additionally, Karl's "system" - or lack thereof - is predicated on trusting his players and I believe that's something Bryant would embrace. Karl's presence with the Lakers might also attract veteran free agents who have long yearned to finish out their careers as a Laker. And finally, Karl and Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak have the University of North Carolina alumni connection that has made them close friends over the years.
Potentially taking on the Cavaliers would certainly be a diametrically different situation than the Lakers, but Karl's legacy of getting the most out of his point guards should be taken seriously as new Cavs' GM David Griffin contemplates who Kyrie Irving's next head coach is going to be. It's perfectly reasonable to believe that Karl could do for Irving what he previously did for Sleepy Floyd, Gary Payton, Sam Cassell, Andre Miller and Ty Lawson - all of whom had their best years under the former ABA point guard Karl's tutelage.
So as NBA teams with coaching vacancies look to hire younger options like Mark Jackson, Derek Fisher or Nate McMillan, perhaps one should give a last chance to the fiery two-time cancer survivor who has won nearly 60% of all the games he has ever presided over.