Karl trying to prevent former assistant from playoff success
OKLAHOMA CITY – As a general rule, The Grudge lasts about a year.
That’s how much time Nuggets coach George Karl typically needs before he can accept the fact that one of his assistants is leaving his staff for an opportunity to advance his own coaching career .
Scott Brooks was no exception.
“Mad is probably putting it very mild,” Brooks said. “Very angry.”
Five years after leaving Karl and the Nuggets, Brooks is giving his former boss more moments of anguish as a playoff adversary.
Led by its third-year coach, the Oklahoma City Thunder has a 3-1 lead on Denver in its best-of-seven first-round playoff series. The Nuggets will try to extend the series Wednesday night in Game 5 at Oklahoma City Arena.
“Scotty’s done an incredible job,” Karl said. “He’s good. He does a good job of understanding and allowing his good players to play, which sometimes young coaches have trouble with. I’ve been happy with him – until now.”
Throughout his 11-year NBA career, Brooks was a scrappy point guard who played for seven teams and always knew that he eventually wanted to be a coach. He paid his dues on the sideline in the American Basketball Association before joining the Nuggets in 2003-04 as a member of Jeff Bzdelik’s coaching staff.
His arrival coincided with a basketball renaissance in Denver as the Nuggets built a playoff contender around young big men Carmelo Anthony and Nene and veterans Jon Barry, Marcus Camby, Voshon Lenard and Andre Miller.
The Nuggets ended a nine-year playoff drought in 2004 but struggled during the first half of 2004-05, leading to Karl’s arrival 42 games into the season.
Upon seeing Brooks’ potential as a coach, Karl immediately told him to stop charting deflections, contested shots and other various statistics during games. He wanted him to view the game as though he were running the show.
“He felt that I was best served thinking like a head coach and looking at the game as a head coach,” Brooks said. “He wanted me to do that as long as I didn’t give him a lot of advice during the game. ‘Don’t mess with my timeouts.’ … I knew my place.”
Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin was impressed with Brooks’ work in practice and games.
“He was enthused about the game, had a great knowledge about it,” Martin said. “He was willing to try different things. As a head coach, that’s what you have to do.”
With Brooks learning from Karl on the bench, the Nuggets went 32-8 in the second half of 2004-05. Brooks stayed on for one more season before taking an assistant coaching position with the Sacramento Kings.
The move allowed him to spread his wings and be closer to his home in Northern California, but it was still difficult for Karl to accept the fact that he was losing another bright lieutenant.
“There was a period of time I was disappointed,” Karl said. “It’s kind of become a little bit of a habit in Denver. We lose one or two guys almost every year. That’s great. It’s got to be something that we’re proud of.”
Brooks spent one season in Sacramento before accepting another assistant coaching position with the Seattle SuperSonics, who moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008. When P.J. Carlesimo was fired 13 games into the 2008-09 season, Brooks was named the team’s interim coach and earned the job full-time with his performance.
“P.J. was good to me,” Brooks said. “Like I said three years ago, you hate to get your first job when your buddy was fired, but that’s part of this business.”
Beating your friends on the basketball court is another part of the job description. Karl, in the postseason for the 20th time in 23 NBA seasons, is trying to prevent Brooks from winning his first playoff series as a head coach.
The Nuggets avoided a four-game sweep with a hard-fought 104-101 victory Monday night in Game 4. If Denver can avoid elimination again Wednesday, Game 6 would be played Friday at the Pepsi Center.
“I’ve got to convince our players that what we did (in Game 4) is going to be harder to do in this building,” Karl said. “But it’s also more rewarding when you do it in this building … I think we’ll be fine. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Regardless of how the series turns out, Brooks will always be thankful and respectful of the opportunity Bzdelik, Karl and the Nuggets organization gave him nearly eight years ago.
“I had a great experience in Denver,” he said. “It’s a great organization. George is a terrific coach and Mr. (Stan) Kroenke treated me very well and I have a lot of respect for their family.
“I just feel that I’m in a good place now. I like where I’m at. I like where I’m living. I like what I’m doing. I like the players I’m coaching. I don’t know if that would’ve happened if I would’ve stayed (in Denver), but I felt I would be a head coach one day.”
Brooks, the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year, appears to be at the start of a long career, and Karl certainly will offer encouragement and support along the way.
For now, Karl is reserving his right to hold a grudge.