George Karl is following general manager Masai Ujiri out of Denver.
Less than a month after winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, Karl’s tenure with the Nuggets is over after 8 1/2 seasons. His departure comes shortly after Ujiri, the league’s executive of the year, left to become GM of the Toronto Raptors.
”So, we lost a GM now and a coach, what’s next?” tweeted Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried.
Karl had a year left on his contract. Calls and emails to Karl’s representatives were not returned Thursday.
The Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers also have head coaching vacancies and the Memphis Grizzlies have given coach Lionel Hollins permission to speak with other teams.
”George has been an instrumental part of our success over the past decade, and we appreciate everything he did to keep us among the top teams in the Western Conference,” team President Josh Kroenke said in a statement released Thursday. ”He is a Hall of Fame coach whose legacy in Denver will last for years to come. George is a legend in the game of basketball and I could not have more respect for him as a person and coach.”
His players shared that feeling.
”I had a great relationship with him and I was honored to be coached by him,” forward Danilo Gallinari told The Associated Press in an email. ”Hopefully the management now will do smart choices.”
Karl guided the third-youngest team in the NBA to the third-best record in the Western Conference with a franchise-record 57 wins, but the Nuggets were bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
The 62-year-old Karl kidded down the stretch that he’d rather not be Coach of the Year, only because of the track record of those coaches getting let go. He led the Nuggets to nine straight playoff appearances and a 423-257 mark in the regular season. Those 423 wins rank second in team history behind Doug Moe (432).
The news of Karl parting ways was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
Recently, reports have surfaced that the Clippers might be interested in talking to Karl about their vacancy. All this week, Karl was evasive when he showed up at the team’s facilities to watch potential draft picks work out for the Nuggets. Karl declined interview request after interview request as he made his way from the gym to his car.
Karl has drawn plenty of heat since losing to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. It was another early exit under his watch.
The only time Denver advanced past the first round under Karl was when the team reached the Western Conference finals in 2009.
Karl did a masterful job this season with a lineup that had no bona fide star, was riddled by injuries to several starters and wound its way through a grueling early-season schedule in which 22 of the team’s first 32 games were on the road.
He relied on a high octane offense and a deep bench to simply wear out opponents, especially in the thin air of the Mile High City, where his team went an NBA-best 38-3 at home. The Nuggets won their last 23 games at the Pepsi Center in the regular season and went 24-4 overall after the All-Star break.
That’s why the Nuggets were a big favorite heading into the Golden State series to open the playoffs. But Denver sorely missed Gallinari (knee) and fell in six games to a Warriors squad that was led by the sharp-shooting Stephen Curry.
A two-time cancer survivor, Karl changed his coaching style after returning from throat cancer in 2010. He delegated more duties at practice, relying on his assistant coaches to do much of the teaching.
In addition to Denver, he’s also had coaching stops in Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle and Milwaukee during his 25-year career. His 1,131 regular season wins are among the most in NBA history for a coach.