I'm pleasantly surprised to find good internet access where I'm spending New Year's. So while I wasn't able to watch the Nuggets beat the Toronto Raptors last night, thus giving head coach George Karl his 900th regular season victory, at least I can write about it.
Just like I won't kick a man while he's down (hence taking Mike Shanahan off the Stiff List after he got fired), I won't kick a man while he's up.
Karl's 900th victory puts him in some elite company. In the entire history of professional basketball, only nine other head coaches have reached the 900 regular season wins mark.
And Karl, with a career .590 regular season winning percentage, has done it respectably. Among the other 900+ winners, Karl ranks fifth in winning percentage behind Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan, and ahead of Don Nelson, (former Nuggets coach) Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens, (former Nuggets coach) Dick Motta and Bill Fitch. And of course Karl joins Sloan and Nelson as the only members of the 900 club to not have won a championship, with Nelson being the lone member never to have appeared in an NBA Finals as a head coach.
A lot of pundits will argue that these all-time coaching victory lists are more a tribute to longevity than good coaching. But good coaching, at least for the majority of one's career, begets longevity. With the exception of Motta and Fitch, every name in the 900 club had a winning record over the course of their career. And Motta and Fitch delivered championships and multiple NBA Finals appearances during their once respectable careers.
While 900 regular season victories and a .590 winning percentage is commendable, like any sport it comes down to what you do in the postseason. Karl might be in the top 10 of regular season victories, but he's thirteenth in playoff victories and having won just 42.8% of his playoff games, Karl doesn't even crack the top 20 (minimum of 25 playoff games coached) in all-time playoff winning percentage. Nevermind that he's presided over some epic playoff choke jobs, most notably in 1994 when our 8th-seeded Nuggets beat his 1st-seeded Supersonics even though the Sonics had won 21 more regular season games. And with the Nuggets his playoff record is a putrid, unacceptable 3-16.
How will NBA history judge George Karl as a head coach when all is said and done? I believe it will say he was a very good regular season coach and a below mediocre - but not awful - postseason coach.
So let's congratulate Karl on the rare and significant achievement of winning his 900th regular season game. And let's hope - for his sake and ours - that he ups that playoff winning percentage significantly before this Nuggets season comes to an end.