An NBA record was set Thursday for the Coach of the Year jinx.
George Karl was out the door in Denver 29 days after being handed the Red Auerbach Trophy.
The jinx gained plenty of steam between 2006-09 when Dallas’ Avery Johnson, Toronto’s Sam Mitchell, New Orleans’ Byron Scott and Cleveland’s Mike Brown won the award and were gone within two years.
After Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finished second in the Coach of Year voting announced May 8, he referred to the jinx and quipped, “I congratulate George Karl. I know he didn’t want it either.’’
The Nuggets fired Karl with one year left on his contract after he had sought an extension. He didn’t want to go into next season as a lame duck.
Karl, 62, had signed a most interesting contract extension in 2011. Following a guaranteed three years, the Nuggets had team options for 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. Even if Karl had returned next season, there didn’t appear to be a good chance he would be brought back after that.
Even though the Nuggets were coming off a season in which they set a team record for wins by going 57-25, Karl was falling out of favor after nine seasons in Denver. Sources Thursday offered some of the reasons for that.
The Nuggets, seeded third in the West, flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, losing 4-2 to No. 6 Golden State. Management blamed Karl for the loss, believing he panicked by trying to match up with the Warriors’ small-ball approach after they had lost David Lee due to injury in Game 1. The Nuggets all season had been able to beat up teams in the paint, and they moved away from that style.
It marked the eighth time in nine seasons Karl’s Nuggets had lost in the first round. However, Karl didn’t coach in the playoffs in 2010 when he was battling a form of neck cancer. The Nuggets had home-court advantage against Utah and very well might have won that series had Karl, rather than assistant Adrian Dantley, been in charge.
Even before the Golden State series, management had some friction with Karl. The Nuggets had signed center JaVale McGee to a four-year, $44 million contract last summer. Team brass wanted Karl to use McGee, 25, more so he would develop.
However, Karl insisted on starting center Kosta Koufos, whom management regarded as a backup. McGee got only an average of 18.1 minutes per game to 22.4 for Koufos.
Management wanted Karl to develop players more for the future than Karl wanted to do. Team brass would have been willing for the Nuggets to sacrifice some regular-season games for development.
Along those lines, management also believed Karl used Andre Miller, 37, at point guard more than it was believed he should. Miller averaged 26.2 minutes, taking time away from promising rookie Evan Fournier, who averaged 11.3. Then Fournier surprisingly started four games in the playoffs when he wasn’t ready.
It’s understandable, though, that Karl was less worried about development than management would have liked. He’s getting older and desperate to win his first NBA title. He’s battled cancer twice in the past eight years, also having had prostate cancer in 2005.
Jobs open that could be intriguing landing spots for Karl are Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis. USA Today reported the Grizzlies, who might not bring back Lionel Hollins, already have talked with Karl.
Memphis looks to be the best fit. It’s a team that figures to compete for the West title after having just made the conference finals. And Karl really likes the Grizzlies’ post tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
As for the Clippers, can you imagine the outspoken Karl coaching them? He might rip owner Donald Sterling in his first press conference.
Karl does figure to land somewhere. At least that’s one good part about the Coach of the Year jinx. Among the four winners between 2005-09, Johnson, Scott and Brown all were back as head coaches within two years of being fired.