Friday , Jan , 28 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Can Karl turn the Nuggets around?

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – The Denver Nuggets hired 53-year-old George Karl as their
19th head coach in team history. Karl takes over for interim head coach
Michael Cooper, who recorded a 4-10 record after taking over for Jeff Bzdelik
in December.

Karl, who joins the Nuggets straight from ESPN where he was working as a
studio analyst since the Milwaukee Bucks dismissed him in July 2003, has a
solid coaching resume. He guided Milwaukee to four playoff berths and compiled
a 205-173 mark in five seasons with the Bucks. Before taking over in
Milwaukee, Karl coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and the
Seattle SuperSonics.

In the 1995-96 season, Karl guided the SuperSonics to 64 victories in the
regular season. Seattle advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since
1978-79 and was defeated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.

“This is another step and another way for the Nuggets organization to exhibit
to their fans that commitment to excellence,” said Denver general manager Kiki
Vandeweghe at the press conference to introduce Karl. “We’ve always said that
great organizations need two things. First off is great fans and Denver has
always had tremendous basketball fans, I think some of the greatest in the
NBA. And second, is a great owner who’s committed to do what it takes, and has
the passion to do what it takes, to provide for his community a great team.
And we’re going to add one more to that, and that is a great coach.

Led by forward Carmelo Anthony, Denver, which won just 17 games two years ago,
finished 43-39 in 2003-04 and earned its first postseason berth since 1995.
The Nuggets were eliminated in five games by the Minnesota Timberwolves in
the first round.

Expectations for the 2004-05 were high for the Nuggets, who were the most-
improved team in the NBA last season. In the offseason, Denver made one
addition to its roster and it was a big one, as it sent three future first-
round draft picks to the New Jersey Nets for All-Star forward Kenyon Martin.

With Martin, the Nuggets were ready to compete with the elite in the Western
Conference in 2004-05. However, things did not work out as Denver started the
season by losing four of its first five games. On December 28th, Denver fired
Bzdelik after two-plus seasons at the helm. The Nuggets were 13-15 when the
move was made.

Karl takes over a team that has a lot of talent. Anthony, Martin and center
Marcus Camby are an athletic and talented frontcourt, while Andre Miller is a
solid point guard. With that kind of talent, Vandeweghe did not expect his
club to be just 17-25 after 42 games.

“Losing in the NBA is miserable,” said Karl. “I’ve said it a hundred times,
winning is the best coach and losing is the worst coach. As soon as we get
winning on my staff, I will be a hell of a lot better of a coach than I am
right now, and I think that can happen pretty quickly.”

Denver’s new general needs to get Anthony and Martin to take it upon
themselves to get the Nuggets back on track. If Karl can get his two stars to
buy into his philosophy everything else should fall into place.

“My desire is to play free, play aggressive, but play together,” said Karl.
“If we can get that done, I think we have enough talent and skills to win a
lot of basketball games.”

Karl had success with Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson in Milwaukee.
He was able to get the three players to form one of the most lethal offensive
forces in the league at the time. Could he see the same for Anthony, Martin
and Miller?

Anthony had an excellent rookie season in 2003-04 and has played well so far
in the new campaign, while Miller has struggled at times but has been decent
at the point. Karl knows what he is getting in Martin, who played a big role
in the Nets getting to two NBA Finals. The 27-year-old Martin is an energetic
player who can run the court and plays an intense, intimidating style of
defense.

“Kenyon Martin can play in big time games, in big time playoff series, now our
job is to get there,” said Karl. “And give him that opportunity to do that
again. Not many people want to be great in this league by being a defender,
and that’s what he tries to do.”

Karl should be able to be successful with Denver. The Nuggets are a young team
with some very talented players. Bzdelik led the Nuggets to the playoffs last
season, but it was time for the team to hear a new voice. Vandeweghe hired a
coach who has won before in the NBA. Karl may see the Nuggets as a team that
is very similar to the one he coached in Milwaukee. Basketball could get
exciting once again in the Mile High City.