Posted Jan 20 2011 10:42AM
George Karl faced cancer. Twice. His son had it. The elder Karl was blasted with radiation. He had a feeding tube inserted in his stomach when treatments caused mouth and throat sores that made it too painful to swallow. He admitted thinking about dying.
In a related development, the Carmelo Anthony madness drags on.
The Nets say they have permanently pulled the plug on the blockbuster trade -- maybe it's Russian for "Melo told us no way, we need to save face and make it look like our idea" -- and the Nuggets are back to somewhere between hours and months of continued distraction before a final resolution. It is not an ideal situation, obviously.
But their coach is about 10 months removed from about as far removed from ideal as you can get. Cancer of the throat and neck then. After prostate cancer in 2005. After Coby Karl had thyroid cancer.
George Karl knows tough situations, and this isn't one of them.
If anything, part of Karl relishes the challenge of dealing with something like the Carmelo situation, and that has always been the underplayed Karl storyline compared to the emotional tug of the health issues. He's a scrapper, a Pittsburgh kid who became a coach who toiled in the Continental Basketball Association and Europe before finally making it in the NBA. And when he did make it, he put his own kind -- the likes of Chris Andersen, Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza and now Gary Forbes -- in important roles. Karl featured his stars (Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, Chauncey Billups, Anthony) but relied on the supporting cast.
It's why what seems like a mess to most everyone else isn't to Karl. More than that, in actual, tangible basketball repercussions, it's why the Nuggets are 24-17 at the midpoint despite injuries that have limited Andersen and Kenyon Martin to 11, 15 and 11 games despite the never-ending Anthony travelling circus and, now, despite the schedule.
"I don't think drama is good for any team," Karl said. "I think stability and competing is what we want, what we like to do. But the bigger the NBA gets, the more distractions that we're going to have. And we can't deny that we've had, at times, the distractions."
At times. Like, oh, every nanosecond since Day 1 of training camp.
The question deserves to be asked, with enough of the season logged to no longer consider this simply a good start: George Karl for Coach of the Year?
He isn't the favorite, not with the work of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, but Karl has to be in the conversation. Too much has gone right for the Nuggets in the standings while too much has gone wrong all around them, and voters love those kinds of circumstances when weighing candidacies. Overcoming obstacles to win is always a draw.
"For a coach? Oh, yeah," Karl said. "But we knew that going in. We moped about it a little bit, but we got excited about it for the most part. We've got to make moves. We've got to be ready to make moves. We've got to kind of have a wild card in our pocket: If this isn't going to work, what else is going to work? So as a coaching staff, I think it's been kind of fun, even though we would like to have one or two more wins."
What a time to push the debate. The Nuggets, after three consecutive defeats and at times looking especially disinterested or distracted, have won four of five. And not just any four of five. They just beat the Suns by 34, the Heat by 28, the Cavaliers by 28 and the Thunder by five on Wednesday, losing only to the Spurs.
Next up are the Lakers, on Friday, but then, in order: the Pacers, Wizards, Pistons, Cavaliers, 76ers, Nets, Trail Blazers, Jazz, Timberwolves, Rockets and Warriors. Denver could soon be on pace for Karl's 11th season of 50 wins or more.
"Yeah, we've had some fun with this year," Karl said "We've won games playing some kind of a unique lineup, starting different people and having some success. In a very strange way, our bench has been better than our starters.
"Our bench has carried us and picked us up in a lot of wins. Melvin Ely has helped us win games. Gary Forbes has been a surprise. I think Arron [Afflalo] and Ty [Lawson] took their responsibility on this team and probably played a little bit better than we thought they were going to play. There's a lot of positives. There's a lot of things. There are days.
"We can't deny that the 'Melo drama doesn't have a cloudy effect on us at times. But in general, I think we've stayed strong."
Said the man who knows all about staying strong.
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