... and rejuvenated
When his Nuggets lost in the first round last season for the fourth successive year -- having won three playoff games in that span -- Karl and his longtime assistant
"I remember the next two or three days [after the playoffs]. We said, 'We've got to go back to the old way,' '' Karl said. "There's too much freedom and openness to coaching offense. The discipline and the toughness and the soul of the game come from the defensive end of the court most of the time."
Karl understands why people say he didn't appear to be plugged in over the last couple of years: He was thinking his way through the game instead of reacting to it.
"So much of coaching is the trust and passion that the team feels from you, and if you're faking that over a 100 games a year, they find that out," Karl said. "I'm not sure I was faking it, but the last couple of years I was confused. When a problem came up, I didn't know how to address it based on my experiences. Now I think I'm back to feeling much more comfortable on how to attack a weakness that we've developed or a situation that has arisen."
"It should be said that [when we heard about] Stan and his edict that we've got to get under the tax and that we're not going to sign anybody except minimum contracts -- it pissed us off," Karl said. "But it also unified the organization: This is what we are, babe. This is what we are, and we can bitch about it or we can make it happen. We've always had the problem of not being unified. In a strange way, when we got under the tax this year, everybody was kind of like, Hey, we did it, and we're still kicking ass. So there was a unification of a business philosophy that rallied the troops."
So often in the NBA the best teams are those with financial discipline. As the Spurs and Pistons have shown, tight payrolls often result in championships. The Nuggets have succeeded by relying on minimum-salary signees
The demoralizing nature of the Camby trade forced Karl, Grgurich and the other coaches to reach out to the players.
"We were at Grg's camp [in Las Vegas] the first week in August and he said, 'Not only do we have to go back to the defense, but we've got to go back to touching our players and telling these guys that we can still win,' " Karl said. "Because the cloud in Denver was, We're done. No one thought we could win. Everybody predicted the doom."
Each of the assistant coaches reached out to players over the summer.
"I went to
"Grg went to Dallas -- I think twice in that time -- to talk with
Both Nenê and Martin have had resurgent seasons. Nenê is averaging career highs of 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 60.3 percent, and Martin is playing his most minutes since the 2004-05 season.
"I tell Pop [Spurs coach
Though he recently had to suspend Anthony for refusing to come out of a game, Karl says his relationship with his 24-year-old star is stronger than it has been in prior seasons.
"Melo and I are now at the stage where I can talk to him about everything," Karl said. "Sometimes I do it with [the help of]
Karl admits he isn't perfect, and that he needs as much help as his team can manage to give him.
"In my career I've won 60 percent of my games," he said. "In a game, if I'm coaching 70 percent right, I'm doing pretty good. But if you want to magnify the 30 percent that I'm doing wrong, you can make me out to be an awful coach -- if you want to. After a game I can sit down and tell you three or four [decisions] I would do differently, and then I watch the film and I'll get three or four more. But adjusting and still being able to win the game is the thing, and no one gives respect when you push the right buttons with momentum: 'Well, you're supposed to do that.'
"I try to tell the team, 'You've lost six or seven road games in the fourth quarter. Some of that's my fault.' And then that's where I blame them because of their ego problems, and I say, 'You piss me off because you take my time where I think I could be really good and you [mess] it up, and now I've got to worry about who likes who. This is madness. You think I'm happy about not coming up with a trick play or a cute substitution or a rotation that will help you win one of those games? Instead I've got to worry about Melo, you're not coming out of the game. You think that keeps my focus on being really good at the end of the game? It doesn't.
"I went to Chauncey and Melo in a couple of instances [this season] and said, 'You've got to take this off my plate. You've got to police this team. You've got to take responsibility.
"People don't comprehend, it's like having a family of 12 people. Your 5-year old might not be talking to your 8-year old, and your 9-year-old threw a punch at your 12-year-old. That's what you have in NBA basketball. And then you've got to talk about confidence. OK, L.K. [
"It has nothing to do with genius. It is experience, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't."
"I'm blessed, for the first time in a long time, of having [leadership from a player like Billups]," Karl said. "
"Chauncey does that. He makes your words be listened to. And when you're coaching five or six years with a team, that's important. Because they get tired of hearing my stories and my repeats and my desires and my demands. But Chauncey has kind of lifted that up."
Karl, Billups and Martin (who played in two NBA Finals with the Nets) are preaching to their teammates that they can put together an extended run in the playoffs.
"As a coach I try to tell them, 'Don't throw it away,' " Karl said. "Because I think we're good enough to get that snowball momentum that we've had a couple of times in my career [in Seattle and Milwaukee], that if we win in the first round ...
"When we play the right way, we're pretty good. ... I'm not sure we're in that elite group; probably no one is. Except the Lakers, they know they are; Boston knows they are, and Cleveland probably thinks they are.
"There is going to be a surprise team. And what I don't want [my team] to do is throw away the opportunity because of not knowing what it takes. Because we don't have the mature toughness that a Utah might have. We do have a lot of talent that we can throw away five possessions or 10 possessions and make it up, but that's not how you win big. And too many times I say, 'OK, we won, and yeah, you didn't play those first five minutes -- but this is not how you beat L.A. This is not how you beat Houston in Houston. You don't do it this way.' "
Coby's career, in fact, has a lot to do with Karl's new vigor on the bench. The former Laker left the D-League in January to play for DKV Joventut of Spain.
"You could see me coaching five more years," Karl said. "I could see me coaching more than that. Or I could see, if my son said, 'Coach me in Europe, let's go to Europe,' I would do that.
"I want to coach my son. And that's got to happen probably in the next two or three years. Everybody says it would be bad, but Coby, to me, he's good enough to play [in the NBA]. And if I can't get it done in the NBA, I might do it in Europe."
I think Bosh needs to be paired with finishers. I've said this before, that the same complaints were made of
(Don't get me wrong: Garnett is in a different class than Bosh in his energy level and defensive commitment.)
If you pay Bosh a maximum salary as a free agent in 2010 and don't pair him with the right mix of talent, then you'll be accused of overpaying him because his presence won't result in a winning team. The Raptors should do anything they can this summer to fix the team around Bosh, but for another point of view see below.
This is going to be an interesting time for him in Miami. The Heat demand high effort in practice, which has been a complaint about O'Neal in recent years as he has struggled to recover from injuries. If he can contribute in a big way to Miami in the playoffs and next season (if they don't move his expiring contract this summer), then contending teams may view him as a valuable asset when he becomes a free agent in 2010. But this is a crucial make-a-stand time for him.
The referees in Europe share your complaint. They believe stars are favored far more often in the NBA than in Europe. (Overall, however, there is no doubting that the NBA has the best officials in world basketball.) There are a lot of complaints to be made about the officiating in any sport. I don't dismiss your criticisms, but on the other hand I see no simple way to address them either.
Each of the top free agents faces a different situation.
It turns out to be not so easy for an older player to find work in the D-League, even at the $13,000 salary Harrington will be making.
"We occasionally have some veteran players who will play in our league," Alpert said.
Harrington is one of those experienced players who will set a strong example for his young teammates
Will we someday see the NBA try a similar rule to create more interest in the opening round?
"I don't know how the NBA will respond," Alpert said. "It has been very well received by our teams and coaches."
Other D-League trials have yet to be picked up by the NBA, such as the international goaltending rule or a limitation on the three-point shot until the final two minutes of each quarter and all of overtime.
"We are the research and development element of the NBA," Alpert said.
I asked an outside-the-box executive from a rival team for his strategic thoughts on a couple of underachieving teams.
Kaman missed 48 games this year, and he is owed $34 million over the next three seasons.
"I think they still believe they can have a good team if they're healthy, but I don't agree," the executive said. "They have a lot of talent -- a lot of scoring, including [rookie]
"They probably have a better chance of winning with Camby, and there is going to be a lot of talk by teams hoping to get him [in a trade] this summer. I think the Clippers will go around the league and see what kind of interest there is for Camby or Kaman, and then move one or the other for an asset to go along with the high pick they'll get in the draft. Then they'll go into next year hoping their guys will be healthy. I don't see a lot else they can try to do without tearing the whole thing down."
"They could wait until next February, but there will be fewer participants in trades at the deadline. Going into the draft they need to look around and see what they can get for Bosh, but I'm not saying it's going to be easy. No team is going to give up two or three assets for Bosh unless they're convinced they can re-sign him."
If Toronto is in fact willing to investigate trades for Bosh this summer, will we see the Knicks pursue a bird-in-the-hand deal in June rather than wait for him to become free in 2010? They could persuade Bosh to sign an extension and use him to recruit LeBron James or another star the following summer, provided they could develop the necessary cap space.
"The other question is what they should do with
"Either way, they at least need to see what kind of a market there is for Bosh. If they can get a draft pick and two players for him, and then add another good player with their lottery pick, then they're moving forward."