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KLEE: With Nuggets in trouble, it's now or never for Karl

By: Paul Klee
April 29, 2013

DENVER — In a perfect basketball world, more teams would play the game like George Karl believes it should be played.

Fast, fun, furious.

So it pains me to write this: If the Nuggets don't win the next three games and overcome a 3-1 series hole to the Warriors, they must make the tough move and remove Karl as coach.

Bring him back after third-seeded Denver is smoked by sixth-seeded Golden State, and the Nuggets would become the Rockies.

Skating by on entertainment value, unconcerned with winning championships.

This series was (and still is) Karl's big shot to prove his basketball philosophy. I still love the idea of his philosophy, that a huddle of unselfish players can win big in the star-driven NBA.

As basketball on all levels downshifts to a crawl, Karl wants to hit the sixth gear. He coaches with the crazy idea team trumps individual.

One problem: Reality stepped in and ruined the party. What we’ve seen, so far, is why the philosophy won't and can't work. Frankly, that stinks.

Think about it this way: If not for an Andre Miller layup in Game 1, this series already would be over with a Warriors sweep.

In the likelihood Denver loses this series, the Nuggets not only would need to replace their coach, they would have to start over, with a new idea on how to break the NBA mold.

In tune with Karl’s philosophy, these Nuggets were a great theory.

Then Steph Curry, the only superstar on either bench, disproved it.

Curry is the best shooter of my lifetime. Deep down in his heart, Karl believes Curry is the best shooter of his 25 years coaching the NBA game.

It brings a chuckle when media types sound shocked that Curry can do what he’s doing.

I know he plays way out west, where highlights don’t reach, and he played at small-time Davidson, but had you taken the time to watch him play before this? It's not a surprise.

Quick, name 10 players that impact an NBA game more than Curry. Can't do it.

Regardless where his pro career goes from here, Curry will always be etched in my basketball memories for his work in the college game at Davidson.

So let’s put this in NCAA tournament terms: Golden State is a really good mid-major. It has all the pieces to be a Davidson or Butler in their finest hours.

Deadeye shooters. Slow the tempo to even the playing field against a team with better athletes. A noisy home crowd waiting for its 15 minutes of fame.

Even a cheesy gimmick where fans wear the same-colored t-shirts at home games.

Riddle me this: Why is Golden State's crowd so loud? From September through December, sports fans in Oakland have nothing to cheer for.

Most important, the Warriors have a stern belief in their coach. Right now Mark Jackson is doing his best Brad Stevens. When Jackson says foul, they say, “How hard?”

When Karl speaks, the Nuggets appear to say, "How come this isn’t working?"

Karl hasn't been outcoached by Jackson. The Nuggets coach simply can’t reach his team.

That might be worse.

"I can't say we didn't play hard," Karl said after Game 2. "We didn't play playoff hard."

The Warriors look like a team racing to catch the final train of the day. The Nuggets look like they are OK with missing the train, because they’ll just pay for a cab.

When Wilson Chandler closed out on a shooter with all the urgency of a sunset, it dawned on me: The Nuggets are too cool for school, and the mid-major Warriors are taking them to school.

This has been the worst-possible scenario for Karl's future in Denver. It should take a pathetic performance, like this one, to even suggest a change would be necessary.

Too many critics take for granted the Nuggets' success in the Karl era. The Spurs are the other NBA franchise to reach the playoffs the past 10 years.

If that were easy, more teams would do it.

I don't see another coach who could have squeezed 57 wins from this unique roster. The Game 1 starting lineup had one player, Andre Iguodala, chosen among the top 18 picks in the NBA draft.

Credit Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri for executing their basketball vision.

But if Denver brings back Karl after another first-round exit, the crowds at Pepsi Center will save their ticket money for Peyton Manning’s next autograph signing.

And with most of the roster set to return, it's hard to imagine the locker room would be his again.

Prior to Game 1, I suggested this series would be the ultimate test of Karl’s basketball philosophy. Facing a telling deficit in the playoffs, so far it has been proven wrong.

It would pain me to push for a change. Win three straight, Coach. Don't force their hand.

One more loss, and the Nuggets need a new idea — and a new coach to teach it.

Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. Reach him through email ( or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).

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