I had lunch with Nuggets head coach George Karl today who took the time to answer an assortment of questions submitted by Denver Stiffs readers. Karl talked about playing younger players versus trusted veterans, what the loss of Kenyon Martin has meant defensively and who the biggest Stiff he ever coached was …

You can always tell how a Nuggets practice went based on George Karl’s mood.

Despite losing to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night (and almost losing to the even lowlier Sacramento Kings on Monday night), the Nuggets head coach was in a great mood over lunch at Jake’s Food & Spirits today because he said the Nuggets “had a kickass practice.” Coach Karl was amped up and ready to talk hoops, so we got right into it with your questions.

Many thanks to our fellow Stiffs for coming up with so many great topics to tackle. I tried to choose questions that seemed to represent what a lot of you wanted to know about and very much appreciated Karl taking the time to answer them all …

Q: Coach, you’ve coached a few top/quality point guards in the league with Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Gary Payton, Sam Cassell, Chauncey Billups and Andre Miller. Where would you rank Ty Lawson amongst them and his potential? by Caseyboo

Ty is different because of his speed with the ball. He is by far the fastest player I’ve ever coached with the ball. The inconsistency of his wing players (Gallo, AAA, Rudy – due to injuries and conditioning) means we haven’t developed Ty completely. If everybody is healthy tomorrow, do you know how we’re going to play yet? No. The rotations have been so inconsistent. I left practice 10 minutes ago and I have no idea who’s playing tonight!

Q: Gotta ask him this! All things being equal (health wise), what do you think this current roster's biggest weakness is and can it be addressed THIS season? by Larry Cunningham

GK: The biggest weakness for me is making the three ball. Our philosophy depends on spacing and keeping the ball free, more so than an execution-type team. We’re shooting the three ball very inefficiently. And our free throw shooting needs work. We're routinely missing four or five free throws in the fourth quarter and it's cost us some games. And we need to work on controlling the ball on the defensive end of the court.

One of the biggest criticisms of myself is not realizing what a good free throw shooting team we were. We’ve been very average since the [Carmelo Anthony] trade. We thought we’d be okay and instead it has been a struggle. And we had Raymond Felton last year who went down to like 75% after the trade [from over 80%] and even Nene’s [free throw shooting] went down after the trade. I think when you shoot more of them and you’re more responsible for the outcome of the game, the percentage goes down.

[Regarding the Kings game] Other than Chauncey Billups, what Arron Afflalo did the other night is the only time I’ve seen it. And this might sound crazy, but I think fouling on a three [at the very end of a game] might be a good play because there are very few guys in the league that can make three straight free throws. J.R. Smith had the opportunity to do it twice here and couldn’t get it done. Obviously, you want to try fouling before a guy shoots and get two free throws, but fouling on a three can work.

Q: Why have we been unable to defend our home court so often this season? That has been one strength of the Nuggets in past seasons. by skithebert

GK: I don’t know. I wish I did. With a younger team, there is more camaraderie on the road than at home where there are more distractions. Our maturity is somewhat youthful and loose right now. But those things change quickly and I have confidence in what we’re going through. We feel the pain [when we lose at home]. That loss to Cleveland was very painful and we know we’ve lost three or four games to sub-.500 teams. But let me ask you this: is there any celebration for having the sixth or seventh best road record in the NBA?

I think there’s been a degree to being spoiled having one of the two best home records in basketball the last few years.

Q: Why are Andre Miller and Al Harrington playing so many minutes? Would he consider a closing lineup of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nene Hilario? Especially when Dre and Al are not playing well. by jhamr158

QK: Yes – that’d be my starting lineup. Faried would have to earn that closing time. On any given night, I don’t think I know how I’ll close [the game]. And because we’ve been in so many close games, I’ve chosen to go with the experience instead of the experiment. I would like to experiment, but a lot of our close games have been on the road. I am definitely more conservative on the road than I am at home.

[Regarding the fatigue question with the veteran players] In the 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, there is an average of six timeouts. How in the hell are you going to be tired when I’m basically coaching in three minute stints? I don’t deny that when Al and Dre are conserving their steps they look worn and torn – but they are also smart and good players and win games. A conceptional breakdown, a rookie mistake, a cheap call are always on the ledger of bad things against the enthusiasm and youthful energy [of playing with younger players down the stretch]. I don’t see many good teams closing games with their young players.

Q: Coach, we are 136-70 (.660) after the All-Star break under your rule. Is there any special talk, lecture, workout, dinner, etc. you serve the team that makes them play extra hard? by Caseyboo

GK: My belief in the NBA season is that you start good and finish better … and in the middle doesn’t matter a lot. Most everyone in the middle beats each other up. Your first 20 and last 20 games are momentum pieces that I can think can catapult a good year into a great year. And I want everyone to know that I think we’re having a damn good year right now.

Q: Here’s my question: Any chance you’ll give the old guys (Al and Dre) a game off here and there like Gregg Popovich does with his vets near the end of the season to get them ready for the playoffs? I’ve noticed those two are the only ones who have played in every game this year. by JBnuggs

GK: There’s no question that Al and I have talked about that already. Dre will not take a day off and would be angry if I did it. The other guy on that list would be Nene. Once we get the rust off of Nene and have him playing in a consistent mode, certain back to backs or scheduling situations may have us rest him for a game.

Q: Why do you believe the defensive performance of the team has fallen off so dramatically this year? From #1 (I believe) in defensive efficiency after the trade last year, to 18th currently. Was last year just a short-term aberration? Is the effort not the same this year? Are the schemes any different? Injuries may be a part of the story, but defensive efficiency was not very good before all the injuries either. by Rainbow Skyline

GK: I think we’re closer to being a good defensive team than how we’re playing. I still have strong hope that by the end of the season we’ll be a balanced team with good offense and good defense. The question is seemingly asking for excuses rather than reasons. There’s not one specific reason why we’re failing. There’re numerous ones. I think one of the reasons is that we had a confidence with Kenyon Martin and Nene last season that we don’t have this season. Our team’s personality hasn’t had a consistency – although I think Timo [Timofey Mozgov] and Kosta [Kosta Koufos] will be very good in a period of time. Young players don’t become confident and consistent in one season. But we have pieces that can work and will work.

My nervousness right now is with the guard position and going up against the great point guards. How do we cover up the freedom of the ball – with zone? Different players on the point guard? Switching more? We need to be finding a disruption mentality on defense [with our guards].

Q: The team obviously lacks a closer since the Melo departure. Who can you see as stepping up to this role? by Rage McTurpentine

GK: The player that fits the philosophy of how we play and talent is Ty. We rely so much on penetration and pick and roll, and he always has space to take a jump shot. Right now with the team we have, I’d say he’s the closer but I’d put Gallo in there, too. I’ll ask the reader back – how long does it take to develop a closer? How long did it take for Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul and Tony Parker to become big shot players? Is Tim Duncan a closer? Is Kevin Garnett a closer? There are a lot of great players who won’t take that shot today, and I think it’s a highly overrated thing because it’s on SportsCenter. We had a lot of closers against Cleveland – we just didn’t cover anybody.

Q: What’s his vision for how Wilson Chandler fits into the team? by chantech

GK: I think he’s a tremendously versatile player. Can cover the one, two, three or the four, and he might be the one thing defensively that we’re missing. He was by far a top-two defender for us last year.

Q: What kind of player do you think Faried will develop into? by Alaskan4Fat

GK: He reminds me of Dennis Rodman – hopefully with a little more sense. My hope is he becomes an energy player with skill. I hope he never loses his enthusiasm to play like he plays – and I don’t think he will. But I have seen players earn their reputation with that energy and then three or four years from now rely on another skill and go away from it. But he has the talent to be a good offensive player. He understands who is he and where he fits, and every rookie doesn’t always get that.

Q: Why doesn’t the team play with the same fire against the not-so-good teams as they do against the title contending teams? by Buffalo Bills Forever!

GK: My normal answer is that NBA players are human beings and 82 games [is a long season]. When your mind is tired you might actually be more human. I know we get paid to not let that happen. And I’ll agree that it has happened way too often this year.

Q: Does Dre slowing down the pace bother you at all? by nugznazty
GK: Andre Miller is amazing. He's one of the few guys I've ever coached who can will you to victory. Just look at that Philadelphia game and what he did. He just took over. It may not always look pretty, but Andre Miller wins you basketball games.

Q: This site is Denver Stiffs. While you arrived in Denver after the days of Joe Wolf and Priest Lauderdale, who is the biggest stiff you’ve ever coached? by 10DayContract

GK: The most enjoyable Stiff was Steve Scheffler. He was our 13th man, a wonderful person and a great bench player.

[Coach Karl pauses and then blurts out …]

Jim McIlvaine!