George Karl was 2013 Coach of the Year after Denver won 57 games. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)
More than six months after one of the most emotionally-charged first-round playoff series in recent memory, Nuggets coach George Karl has re-opened Pandora's box by ripping Warriors coach Mark Jackson and accusing ex-Nugget Andre Iguodala of breaking ranks by going to Jackson to distance himself from Denver's allegedly dirty play during the series.
Karl, the 2013 Coach of the Year, is free to speak his mind after parting ways with the Nuggets during the offseason. Now a commentator for ESPN, Karl made the statements to Denver sportswriter Dave Krieger in an interview posted to BlitzKrieg13.com.
Q: Do you think Andre Iguodala was Mark Jackson’s “mole”?
A: No question.
Q: Does that bug you?
A: I just think that’s media hype. I mean, that series was not a physical series. Everybody wants to be more aggressive with the guy kicking your ass, so . . . .
Q: The media didn’t say it. Jackson said it.
A: I thought Mark had a lot of tricks in that series that were bush- . . . I don’t know. I don’t know what they were. Almost high-schoolish. They were beneath the NBA level. And they might have worked. They might have motivated his young team in a good way. You know, he’d announce a starting lineup and start another guy. C’mon, man. You think we’re not ready for that?
Let's run back exactly what happened as a memory refresher.
Following Denver's 107-105 victory in Game 5, Jackson accused the Nuggets of intentionally targeting Curry with rough play while citing unnamed sources within the Nuggets who approached him to distance themselves from the physicality.
"They tried to send hit men on Steph," Jackson said. “There were some dirty plays early. It’s playoff basketball, that’s alright. We own it. Make no mistake about it, we went up 3-1 playing hard, physical, clean basketball, not trying to hurt anybody.”
Curry, who was one of the league's breakout starts during the 2013 playoffs, had suffered a sprained left ankle and an ugly poke to the eye during the series. Asked specifically what bothered him, Jackson pointed to a screen set on Curry, which he felt was delivered with intent to injure.
“The screen on Curry by the foul line is a shot at his ankle, clearly,” he said. “That can’t be debated. I’ve got inside information that some people don’t like that brand of basketball and they clearly didn’t co-sign it, so they wanted to let me know they had no parts in what was taking place. ... That’s not good basketball."
Jackson also specifically called out Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried.
"He set some great screens and some great illegal ones too," Jackson said. "He did his job. I played with guys like that, get paid to do that. Dale Davis, Anthony Davis, Charles Oakley. They get paid to do it, give them credit. As an opposing coach, I see it. I’m trying to protect my guys.”
Following his coach's lead, Curry took issue with Denver's approach.
"There was a couple [that were cheap]," Curry said. "I’m going through the paint minding mind my own business and they’re coming out of nowhere trying to throw elbows. They’ve got a hit out on me, I don’t know what it is.”
Jackson was later fined $5,000 by the NBA for "attempting to influence the officiating" with his comments.
In addition to his unusually explosive comments and the alleged starting lineup shenanigans, Jackson also played injured forward David Lee for 1:27 in Game 6, setting up a "Willis Reed" style moment in front of the home crowd.
Does Jackson need to reply to these accusations? Probably not. Golden State went on to win Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals, and that sends its own message. Jackson is well-known and polarizing enough that he's unlikely to sway opinion one way or another by offering a rebuttal.
Iguodala's role in this, though, is another matter entirely, as the plot thickened when he spurned the Nuggets for the Warriors during free agency. Did a philosophical difference between Karl's Nuggets and Iguodala influence the latter's decision-making process more than two months later? Did Jackson's approach and personality have a magnetic impact, both during the series and during the offseason? Or were those events of lesser importance than Golden State offering him $48 million over four years plus the chance to potentially compete for a title while playing on one of the most entertaining rosters in the league?
Those questions will likely remain unanswered unless Iguodala decides to tell all. At this point, he should offer his full account. Iguodala's alleged actions suggest that he believed Karl (or his coaching staff) broke the league's unwritten code of conduct and now Karl has clearly breached the privacy that usually governs such situations by fingering him publicly as a Benedict Arnold. What did Iguodala say, if anything, to Jackson? What did Iguodala say to his own coaches before, during and after Game 5? What did Iguodala think of how things played out once he had a month or so to reflect on everything? Why, exactly, did he choose the Warriors in free agency?
Karl's statements amount to a wide open door for Iguodala to offer his version of events. Let's hope he steps through and airs things out.
Hat tip: @SteveKerrTNT