After another loss to an an opponent the Nuggets should have defeated, with two tangible lineup blunders that contributed directly to the loss, it’s clear this is not George Karl’s best coaching season. The question going forward is how will Karl’s coaching style gel with a young team that needs development, and a coach who wants to win now?

A couple weeks ago my father, a veteran of the Newspaper business for 34 years, was talking to me about his job … and I could see that his "head" was no longer in the game. The decay of daily newspapers as a form of news has hit my dad in many, many ways and the passion for his job wasn't and isn't what it once was (my dad has also been president, vice president and sat on the executive board of his union … thus his influence over me). Although, he he still fights for what he firmly believes in at the workplace. He seemed to mentally acknowledge he was fighting a losing battle against new media and instant access (of which his own son is a part of). It made me think…

There must have been a time this year that George Karl realized that the type of team he was coaching wasn’t one he was comfortable with. A type of team with players that are young, needing development and a team that will make mistakes that directly lead to losses. A type of team that has more similarities to the Utah Jazz than it does the Oklahoma City Thunder. Truth be told, the Nuggets are a rebuilding team that is trying to win now. That has got to adversely affect the coach.

This season we have seen lineups on the court that have been head scratching. Such as last night against the Toronto Raptors when Karl pulled JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried off the court and fielded a lineup that included Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo. It is the smallest lineup the Nuggets had, but another way you can look at it is that is the most “veteran” lineup that Karl can field (outside of playing Chris Andersen) without Danilo Gallinari available.

It was another “trust” lineup. One that Karl fell back on as a crutch in adversity, rather than playing a lineup that would have exploited Toronto’s relative lack of size with JaVale McGee. Or inserting the unused Kosta Koufos last night. In fact, there was a quote from George Karl after the game that was very telling. One that is guarantee to inflame the passions of Nuggets fans who read it. Talking about not using Birdman or K2 last night but continuing to play an increasingly ineffective Timofey Mozgov:

“It wasn’t his best game,” Karl said, “but playing another player there is difficult to find any continuity. Will we think about playing Bird or Kosta? We’ll evaluate that.”

It is a quote that seems to indicate that Karl is reluctant to use size depth at all. Does this jibe with how this team is constructed? Does this interfere with this team and its development with the players “as is”. Let’s face it, George Karl’s system has never been big-man friendly. He has never had much use for bigs. Is this team, as constructed by Masia Ujiri, able to be developed by a coach that seems to run counter to what they are built for? Depth and athletic size.
More than that, however, maybe the opposite is true. Maybe Karl is railing against a team that doesn’t fit HIM. Truth be told, I’ve never seen Karl so lost coaching this team. This includes the famously chaotic 2007-08 team that featured Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony (where Karl admited he “didn’t coach”). He wants to play a certain way, but the pieces on the team (outside of favorites Big Al and ‘Dre) don’t particularly mesh with his approach with their relative youth and their “style”. Size is a great thing in the NBA if you have a coach that knows how to use it. Does Karl have this knowledge?
Outside of encouraging Lawson, appropriately, to continue to stay aggressive (check out this article talking about how Ty’s aggressiveness directly influences the Nuggets fortunes) Karl seems, at times, to wildly fumble around looking for combinations. Struggling to fit his personality on a team that is increasingly drifting away from “his” type of player. How long will this work? How long will this struggle produce both development and winning basketball?
It’s up to the players to listen to the coach and motivate themselves. They are professionals and are paid as such. This isn’t college where the coach is both head cheerleader and disciplinarian. The NBA just doesn’t work that way. However, it is up to the coach in the NBA to put your players in the best position to win. Has Karl done that this season? I’m not sure he has. Make no mistake, last night’s lineup down the stretch did not give the Nuggets the best chance to win. It became clear, however, that any particularly lineup featuring Al and Dre is Karl’s security blanket.
Just like what I’ve seen in my dad’s eyes, I’ve seen it in Karl’s as well. Railing against something he no longer has control over. After Nene was traded this became the second youngest team in the NBA. This is something George has always struggled with, and it’s up to him to make it work right.
The question is … will George Karl be that coach who makes it work right?