George Karl isn’t a lone wolf. He doesn’t have the stage to himself when it comes to autocratic coaches who need to control their environment. The NBA creates these personalities like vitis vinefera grapes create wine. The problem the North Carolina trained Karl discovered coaching in a star driven league was two fold. You can’t win without iconic talent. But that iconic talent can be egocentric with very stubborn perspectives. It leaves coaches like George Karl and Phil Jackson, those that have a lot of ego and judgement themselves and need their side heard at all times, to write a book explaining things.
Karl, following Jackson’s lead on eviscerating a player he coached (Kobe Bryant), has his turn now that he is out of the NBA. It’s important that everyone knows how Karl felt about certain players with nothing being private. It is his turn to finally even the score.
We know the NBA ecosystem. Players can’t be fired so coaches are. It is a thankless job. Karl has been one of the NBA coaches who has found success in the league. Karl also has had player conflicts with the greatest players he has coached on each of his stops: Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins. Does that say more about those great players who are bound for the Hall of Fame or already in? Or is that self-revealing about George Karl?
Karl’s memoir is titled Furious George. It is an accurate summation because Pittsburgh raised Karl embodies a lot of the blue collar ethic that rejects happiness as a principle. He was frequently furious evidenced by the continual scowl on Karl’s face during games. But Karl’s fury was in part what led him to beat back the debilitating effects of cancer only to return to coach, only to be fired from coaching.
Rumor had it the only reason Karl wanted back in the NBA was to pass Don Nelson on the All-Time wins list. But he was coaching Boogie Cousins so there you go. More than likely, Karl’s NBA coaching days are behind him and he’ll forevermore be the 1,175 win coach. Who would hire Karl anyway, knowing that if it ends badly there will be pages in a book?
Carmelo left Denver. It seems like a lifetime ago but Karl is still bitter about the Carmelo paradox: offensively brilliant, defensively apathetic. It is not that Karl is saying something so revolutionary we are dumbfounded by the very fact he judges Carmelo because of his defense. But when it is coming from Karl it sounds bitter and angry, as if he blames Carmelo for keeping him from a title when it had little to do with Carmelo and more to do with Kobe and Shaq and Phil Jackson and the Lakers.
“Carmelo was a true conundrum for me in the six years I had him. He was the best offensive player I ever coached. He really lit my fuse with his low demand of himself on defense. He had no commitment to the hard, dirty work of stopping the other guy. Since Carmelo only played hard on one side of the ball, he made it plain he couldn’t lead the Nuggets, even though he said he wanted to. Coaching him meant working around his defense and compensating for his attitude.”
I feel compelled to point out that it is a coach’s job to pull out of a player that thing that he can do but that is he not doing. So if Carmelo wasn’t playing defense the responsibility was shared. But maybe Karl is right and that Anthony just won’t play defense. That too is not original. Players come into the league with skill sets. Some are willing and have the desire to be the best at everything. Others are not, are willing to settle for that thing that puts a lot of zeros on the checks.
Karl is still disgusted that Carmelo wouldn’t go where Karl wanted him to go and thus keeping Karl from hallowed ground, that elusive championship. On the one hand, with this particular didactical argument, Karl is laying out his frustrations about Anthony from a coach’s perspective. But. On the other hand he is shaming Carmelo the player for who he is professionally. There is another passage in which he says Carmelo is a star but not a winner.
In today’s culture a winner means leading your team to a conference finals appearance and fighting for a title in June. Carmelo has only been in one conference final (2009), coached by George Karl. He has never been in the NBA Finals. Within that narrow definition, Chris Paul isn’t a winner either. He hasn’t been to a conference final ever. He hasn’t been in the Finals. But Paul is the best defensive guard in the NBA while Carmelo’s defense still borders on ordinary.
So George Karl is right. But…
Slamming Carmelo in a book gets a lot of pre-publicity pub with the Carmelo apologists on one side and the Carmelo haters on the other. But the facts uphold the truth. That Nuggets team with Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith and Carmelo wasn’t as good as the best team in the West back then, the Lakers. George Karl wasn’t as good a coach as Phil Jackson. J. R. Smith wasn’t as good as Kobe. No one could match the dominance of Shaq.
What would be revolutionary would be to read a coaches biography where he says I failed as a coach to get a player to reach his potential. I am accountable. I didn’t do my job well enough.
But this is the NBA where the coaches are the second class citizens. Eventually they will get their revenge.
photo via llananba