George Karl could always tell a story. When Nate Timmons, Andrew Feinstein and myself would have our annual offseason breakfast with him it was always a treat. There was no better NBA insider who could spin a yarn about a career in the the League with more panache and style. Even over a bowl of oatmeal. That is something I will miss about not having George around. It was a treat.
George was also honest, at least, from his perspective. That whole "shoot straight" cliche was definitely present and he would tell you exactly what he thought of a player, owner, situation or whatever you'd like to hear. It was always from his perspective, though, and if you gave it a little bit of time you'd think to yourself "yeah, there's definitely another side to this story". Though, once again, you would appreciate his honesty.
One curious aspect of George was his embrace of the analytics movement. While there is definitely some truth to that statement, it's more likely that George just exaggerated aspects of his existing philosophy and fit them in to an analytics friendly approach. Particularly this recent "layups and threes good - mid-range shots bad" that has swept through the league. George loved the threes and layups anyway, but didn't have anything particular against mid range twos until about 2011. If you want to put it another way, the Nuggets put the college dribble-drive offense inside an NBA system frame.
George "embraced" it, but to say that he was analytics friendly was an exaggeration. George knew well enough to see where the NBA was going, but was highly leery of stats-based analysis and would often say that once the NBA get's run by statistics and not "feel", he would be out. There was an interesting contradiction there, but from the outside looking in ... the Nuggets were on the leading edge of the NBA revolution.
It was a carefully crafted, and deliberate, illusion.
This seeming embrace of analytics generated this almost hipster-like cool that the Nuggets had. No "stars"? Yeah buddy! Layups and threes? Heck yeah! Crazy 'players standing out of bounds and should be against NBA rules zany offensive sets'? We got that in spades, doe! The twitter world, where analytics roam free like the once plentiful Bison, this made the Nuggets THE team to watch on NBA League Pass. Combine that with defensive "genius" Andre Iguodala and you have the makings of something hipster-special.
Let's be honest folks, the Nuggets house of cards collapsed the moment Danilo Gallinari clutched his knee in agony against the Dallas Mavericks 10 days before the season ended. The team, which didn't have many shooters to begin with, lost their best floor spacer. When the team entered the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors, all the Dubs had to do was pack the paint and dare the Nuggets to shoot. George's penchant of over-tinkering got the best of him, and despite a spirited and desperate effort in Game 5, the handwriting was on the wall ... and the thousands of empty seats in that game at Pepsi Center showed how weary the fanbase was of first round exits.
When the Nuggets lost that series back in April, it wasn't where the team lost it's "cool". No, and I'd wager to say that even when Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left for the Toronto Raptors shortly after the season ended the Nuggets didn't even lose their cool then. No, but when George Karl was fired, there was a part of various observers (specifically Zach Lowe of Bill Simmons' Grantland, whose distaste at what the Nuggets are doing is quite profound) that regarded the Nuggets as an organization that lost it's mind.
As soon as Josh Kroenke (Nuggets owner) uttered the word "traditional" in his press conference a week after Karl was fired, you would have thought the Nuggets were installing peach baskets at Pepsi Center and were going back to the days of short shorts and high socks. There may be many square peg, round hole aspects to this Nuggets roster and there's a definite work in progress aspect to the team. However, much of this venomous spite directed at the Nuggets seems to be out of losing a favorite coach more than anything else. The curious thing is, this all seems to be stemming from the National media.
There's many aspects I personally miss about George. As I have said over and over since his dismissal I did like him personally. Maybe, in a larger sense, the Nuggets have lost their hip vibe because George embraced things that analytics people do value. The team can certainly can be a chore to watch at times (as evidenced by last night's lackluster and no-energy performance in Houston) and there are times this year when I have found myself saying that a team coached by George Karl would have won that game.
Without placing a value judgment on the veracity of firing Karl, I do think you can judge this team on it's own merits. Brian Shaw as well. While I have quibbles with his approach at times (his substitution pattern is still to random for my taste) he seems to communicate well with the players and get the most out of what he can. This roster isn't set to his specifications and until Gallo get's back we won't see what this team is capable of. That being said, can we call the Shaw Nuggets cool on their own merits?
If Nate, Andy and I sit down at that breakfast cafe again and have a talk with George, it would be great. You miss the stories. You miss the honesty and the (at times) shoot from the hip approach he had. It's just different now at Pepsi Center and the vibe that has surrounded the team for lo these last 8 1/2 seasons is gone. I would be lying if I didn't say it's worrisome.
That being said. It's cool to change horses in mid stream. Like David Bowie or Paul Weller. Keeping people on their toes is the essence of being cool isn't it? Hip? Hipster? The Nuggets, in many ways, took an enormously bold risk.
If it eventually pays off, I have a feeling they will be the coolest kids on the block.
Now, to celebrate. Here is a video of Morrissey and Morrissey clones wearing hipster glasses. ENJOY!