A recent column by a local Denver mainstream media member has sparked me to ask a question. One that has been bugging me for quite some time.
Why is the media in Denver so reluctant to be critical of Nuggets coach George Karl?
I like George Karl.
Seriously, I do. I had the chance to sit down with him at breakfast during the lockout. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable conversation I was able to have along with Nate Timmons and Andrew Feinstein. It wasn't the first time I had met George, nor was it the first time I spoke to him. Yet, I'd classify it as a highlight of my blogging career (such as it is) and I thoroughly enjoyed it ... yet ... it won't stop me from being critical of him when the situation calls for it.
However, I wonder what's stopping the majority of the sports media members in Denver?
Truth be told, aside from the constructive criticism he gets here on Denver Stiffs from Nate, Andy and I (and at times on Roundball Mining Company), the very first instance of media outside of us to be critical of Karl was James Merilatt's column on February 10th entitled Beyond Reproach for Mile High Sports Magazine. While this was the first, Mile High Sports is not "mainstream". Merilatt's points were, generally, what I am making here today and I would be remiss if I didn't point out his column.
Then came Mark Kiszla's column critical of Karl which appeared in Saturday morning's edition of the Denver Post. This was remarkable because it was the first time in the last several years that a member of the mainstream media in Denver was semi-critical of Karl. In fact, even during a time when Karl was (in his words) "not coaching much" - 2007-2008 - the criticism was muted at best. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw Kiszla's headline. A column about Karl that was less than deferential? I was shocked.
Of course, when I read the actual column I came away with a feeling that Kiz didn't really want to write it. It was borderline milquetoast (for a Kiszla column that is saying something). Almost like Kiz wanted to be critical, but either didn't want to hurt Karl's feelings or couldn't bring himself to go all the way in. Which left me a bit disappointed overall. It led you to the brink of one conclusion with the title (Nuggets' Swoon? Put the blame on George Karl), but stopped short of where it was going.
I am not and will never call for Karl to be fired. I think it would be irresponsible and quite frankly I don't believe that it's needed. Yet, I believe that legitimate criticism of Karl needs to be contemplated and even debated on talk radio or discussed on message boards. Things have been needed to be asked for years, and most specifically, this season. Where I believe that Karl has lost his way a bit.
The excuses are all there. Lockout. Short training camp. New players. Injuries. Lack of practice time. All legitimate in their own way, yet I come away this season believing that Karl is more lost than he has ever been. Questionable end-of-game lineups (rare offense-for-defense substitutions in key rebounding situations ... the Oklahoma City game and the most recent loss to the Clippers are prime examples). Inexplicably benching his best player (Danilo Gallinari) a couple times at the end of games when Gallo was having off-nights, yet sticking with Al Harrington on a clear off-night. Inconsistent rotations before all the injuries. Questionable plays drawn up in end of game situations, resulting often in confused offensive possessions and desperation shots. Yet, the most confusing, of late, has been playing Al Harrington and Andre Miller (two of your three oldest players) midway through the third quarter until the end of the game, leaving both players dead legged and unable to help the team in those contests.
Injuries can cause lineup confusion, no doubt. However, this problem started while the Nuggets had a full roster. Several instances (first Memphis Grizzlies game, first loss to the Clippers, the loss at home to the Lakers) where it just looked like Karl was confused, didn't know what to do, and wouldn't trust his best player (Gallo). Shots were given to Rudy Fernandez, Big Al, even Andre Miller (who came through in Philadelphia in January) but not to your best player. Does that mean that Karl doesn't trust Gallo? Or is there another approach that he's following? These questions have not been asked or answered.
Now, lack of practice time is a very legitimate excuse. One would hope that the All-Star break helped the team work on it's end-of-game situations and, you know, learn an appropriate in-bounds play (you may need to contact Chauncey Billups for that though). These things can, and I hope will be worked out. Yet, unless we have the mainstream media asking these questions, will we ever know the answers?
I don't believe people are afraid. I don't believe my fellow media brethren are deliberately protecting Karl. In fact, I think there are some who legitimately hold an opposing view to the problems that I just laid out. This is great. Yet, I know for sure there are those who don't. The only person who has felt Karl's wrath recently was Benjamin Hochman, who after a recent close loss asked if the Nuggets would have benefited from having some "shooters" in crunch time, and was swiftly dismissed by Karl in a curt, and some would say, mildly unprofessional manner. Where are the others who will step up? My hope is that we get a nice FULL discussion of the Nuggets that includes both criticism of Karl and the players, not just the players.
If the Nuggets want a "team" then everyone, including the coach are accountable for public scrutiny and criticism, and we can only hope that it makes Karl a better coach. If Karl succeeds then the team will succeed. I just don't believe that absolving him from blame is beneficial to him or the team he is trying to coach.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78