Postseason failures meant Karl had to go


George “The Animal” Steele was a professional wrestler and a bald-headed maniac.

He had these crazy, unorthodox ring antics that would confuse the heck out of his opponents — especially during his fits of rage where he would use his mouth to rip the stuffing out of a turnbuckle.

Steele’s bizarre behavior endeared him to a generation of wrestling fans. And I thought of him while I was watching another George — Karl, that is — coach his Denver Nuggets against the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this year.

When Nuggets guard Ty Lawson got called for a ridiculous foul, George “The Coach” Karl when ballistic in a way that would have made George “The Animal” blush. Arms flailing, his balding head turning beet red, Karl shoved his own players and assistant coaches out of his way during an epic, obscenity-laced tirade aimed at one of the referees.

The whole thing really should have been played out in a steel cage instead of on a basketball court.

It was a sight to see. And no one throws a fit quite like Karl.

We won’t see Furious George on the Nuggets sideline any more. He was fired earlier this month.

And while I’ll miss Karl’s theatrics, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke was right to put the sleeper hold on George’s tenure in Denver.

Yes, Karl has won a whole lot of games in his 25-year NBA head coaching career. He’s amassed more than 1,100 regular-season wins and has gone 21 straight years without having a losing record.

Under Karl, the Nuggets won 423 games and made the playoffs in each of his nine seasons.

That success included this season’s 57 regular-season-win team, a feat that earned Karl Coach of the Year honors.

The Nuggets were a high-octane machine under Karl and were one of the youngest and most exciting teams in the NBA. They may not have had a superstar, but they had incredible depth at every position.

So, Karl did some very good things in Denver.

But a funny thing happens to Karl’s Nuggets every postseason. They lose — a lot.

When the Nuggets lost to Golden State last month, it became the eighth time in nine seasons that Denver exited the first round of the playoffs under Karl’s leadership.

And, according to ESPN Stats and Information, 41 teams in the history of the NBA won at least 31 of their final 40 regular-season games in an 82-game season. Of those teams, only six of them lost in the first round of the playoffs. Karl coached three of those squads.

Oh, sure. Nuggets ball is a blast in the regular season. They score a whole lot of points and all their fans get tacos.

But trying to play Taco Tempo in the postseason only leads to a heck of a lot of heartburn.

Good teams pack the paint against Denver, forcing the Nuggets to play a half-court game. Without quality shooters, Denver — already The Team That Couldn’t Shoot Straight — becomes a clueless gang of Sixth Men.

And the Nuggets didn’t just lose to Golden State, they got lit up like a kite being flown by Benjamin Franklin.

They couldn’t stop Stephen Curry. Heck, the Nuggets couldn’t stop Ann Curry. Denver gave up 100 or more points against the Warriors four times that series, including a 131-point disaster in Game Two.

And how did Karl respond to what the underdog Warriors threw at his Nuggets team? What were his adjustments? I dunno. I still don’t know what Karl was up to that series.

Karl’s coaching against Golden State reminded me of the scene in Mel Brooks’ “History of the World Part I,” where penniless Frenchmen tried to sell everything from rats to apple cores during the heartless reign of King Louis XVI, just before the French Revolution occurred.

“Nothing,” one vagabond shouted to passersby. “I got absolutely nothing for sale!”

And he actually stood next to a sign that said so.

George Karl had absolutely nothing against Golden State. The only thing missing was the sign.

I admire the courage that Karl showed during his two fights with cancer. He’s a survivor and I admire his refusal to let cancer win.

And, like George “The Animal” Steele, Karl was fun to watch. And Nuggets games at the Pepsi Center were must-see events.

George Steele put fans in the seats, too. But his style never amounted to anything beyond that of a novelty act.

And now, after yet another Nuggets postseason collapse under Karl, fans are left with a bad taste in their mouths — one that tastes an awful lot like turnbuckle stuffing.

Aside from sports column writing, Vic Vela covers the Legislature and other beats for Colorado Community Media. Follow him on Twitter: @VicVela1


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