George Karl Reflects on the ‘MeloDrama, Says His Team This Year Has Been a Blessing

After the Nuggets had to go through what they went through with Carmelo Anthony, they decided on a new path. Denver has assembled their roster without a true superstar. No more headaches. No more distractions. That is not the norm in today’s NBA. The Nuggets have a deep team. A talented team. A balanced team (six players in double figures scoring). They have a great coach. But no true superstar. It worked in the regular season this year. The Nuggets finished with the third best record in the Western Conference and were nearly unbeatable on their own homecourt (just three losses). However, it remains to be seen whether their plan for building a team will work in the playoffs. We will soon find out together. The Nuggets will get the upstart and dangerous Golden State Warriors in round one when the playoffs tip off this weekend. George Karl joined 790 the Ticket with 790 the Ticket in Miami with Dan LeBatard, Stugotz and Stan Van Gundy to talk about whether he thinks he is the Coach of the Year, why he likes his team so much this year, if he thinks coaching is healthy for him and what made the final year with Carmelo Anthony so difficult.

Are you the Coach of the Year?

“I want to finish second. (Host: Who are you second to?) There are a lot of good ones this year. I think Frank Vogel has done a great job. I think Pop (Greg Popovich) has done a great job fighting through. Mark Jackson. I think Erik (Spoelstra) has got to get some consideration. I don’t study the East as much as I study the West but I’m kind of shy about the situation because a lot of times those guys get fired within a year or two.”

Why he likes this team he has so much:

“The things that come to mind immediately is that they listen and they are coachable. The second thing is they are getting better. As a coach you feel like you are doing a good job and you feel appreciated when the progress of a Kenneth Faried, a Kosta Koufos or even a Ty Lawson and then Evan Fournier getting an opportunity to come in and play and he’s ready to go, you see those extra hours, those minutes of practice with your assistant coaches working their tails off come to fruition in a positive way. I’ve said it out here in Denver a lot. A lot of coaching in the NBA is managing. It doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s. I talk to Pop all the time about it, he probably coaches 85 percent of the time and about 10 or 15 percent he’s worried about attitudes and egos.

A lot of coaches in the NBA have to worry about attitude and egos probably about 30 or 40 percent of the time. They only get to coach basketball 50 or 60 percent of the time. This team, it’s just been a blessing to me in this part of my career because I know they’re young and I was worried about that, worried about that inexperience, and we had the early schedule which was difficult and we hung in there. We didn’t play great basketball in December and November, but we hung in there and we kept fighting and we figured things out. We got better at defense and we were pretty demanding on them in practice and they stayed with some of the stuff. Our offense has always been good but I think our offense is good this year basically because we play a lot of defense. Our defense creates a lot of our offense for us.”

Is coaching healthy for you?

“I think it is. I think I had to get back to coaching and the year I come back I was excited about maybe challenging ‘Melo a little bit more and that was in August when I started to kind of think what I was going to do with every player the upcoming season. You get excited and then ‘Melo comes in and tells everyone he wants to be traded. That blew that year up. That was a crazy year. Stan and I could probably write a book about how to handle a malcontent superstar throughout the season. That’s probably the worst assignment I have ever been given as a head coach. Then the next year was a lockout season which is confusing too. But we fought through both of them and at the end of the season our team is in a good place. Then we make the (Andre) Iguodala trade this past summer and we’re excited. We were excited about our chances because we wanted to be a better defensive team and I think we can be a really good team in the playoffs because we have the ability to be a good defensive team.”

On the difficulty of the season with Carmelo Anthony:

“Every day as head coach we have to meet with the press. Every day. And on day games we meet three times per day. I think it’s way, way overkill. With ‘Melo, every city you came in you got the same questions. You got the same dialogue. You got the same gossip. You got the same rumors. It was such a big story that you had to address it and you became basically the spokesperson for your organization. You know how it is. You can’t say or answer the questions that make your owner, your general manager, your players, the agents of the players and your coaching staff happy. There is no way you can answer a question that makes all of those people happy. It seemed like someone was disappointed. Disappointed with what I said, how I said it or when I said it and it just got so tedious and so heavy. I think it’s the hardest year I’ve ever had in coaching.

We weren’t coaching. I was a media relations guy. Then the locker room and how you could see certain guys drifting away from you because they didn’t like how I was covering up for ‘Melo or I was protecting ‘Melo too much and not protecting them enough. There is so much of the triangle between player and coach, player and player and then player, player and coach and I’m sensitive to that stuff. I just wish once or twice during that time, and ‘Melo has been good since it happened, but actually through the time of  going through it, I just wish ‘Melo would have walked in and said, ‘hey coach I know it’s hard on you and I appreciate what you are doing for me.’ It just seemed as it dragged on further and further he got more aloof and animosity was towards what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. Why weren’t we trading him? Why are we dragging it on? Stuff like that.”

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