George Karl excited about Nuggets as camp approaches

Optimism high for Denver coach as he enters 25th NBA season
by Aaron Lopez

As it would for any coach, the memory of a Game 7 loss in the Western Conference playoffs lingered for George Karl.

On his 61st birthday, the Denver Nuggets were in position to pull off one of the greatest postseason comebacks of all time, leading the Los Angeles Lakers by four points with 10:44 to play.

The Lakers eventually rallied to avoid an upset at the hands of the sixth-seeded Nuggets, who fell just a few minutes short of becoming the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit.

After the initial disappointment, optimism gradually emerged as Denver acquired All-Star guard/forward Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers and re-signed free agents JaVale McGee and Andre Miller.

In addition, Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler spent the summer at Pepsi Center working his way back from hip surgery, and several of Denver’s young players – including 2012 draft picks Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller – were staples at voluntary workouts.

Still one of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Nuggets are deeper, faster and more experienced than they were in the playoffs less than five months ago. Karl repeatedly has said he is more excited than he has been in any of his previous 24 NBA seasons.

“I thought we were a pretty good team at the end of last year and we have a lot of room to grow,” Karl said as he prepared for the start of training camp next Tuesday. “We’ve added a player in Iguodala that makes us better.

“Usually during the summer, there’s something that doesn’t go the way you want, but I think we’ve had almost a perfect storm-type of summer from the standpoint of putting us in place to challenge a young team to get better and take a big step.”

Led by a potential starting lineup with an average age of 24.5, the Nuggets are poised to compete for one of the top four spots in a Western Conference race that features familiar heavyweights such as the Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

Ty Lawson (24) enjoyed a breakout playoff series against the Lakers, while Faried (22) and McGee (24) spent time training with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon. Danilo Gallinari (24) helped the Italian national team qualify for the 2013 European Championships, and Iguodala (28) secured an Olympic gold medal with Team USA.

Consider this: Each of those players has a talented backup – and, in some cases, two – which gives Karl leverage as he distributes minutes throughout the season.

“We have so much competition for playing time,” Karl said. “Our best players have to realize that they have someone right behind them that’s pretty darn good. Training camp is going to be extremely competitive.”

McGee is penciled in as the starting center, but he will be pushed by fellow 7-footers Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov. Veteran point guard Andre Miller will provide leadership off the bench, along with high-energy forward Corey Brewer.

Second-year forward Jordan Hamilton worked hard to improve his game this summer and will have an opportunity to move into the playing rotation. Chandler, a proven scorer and defender, will be brought along slowly but could be a key part of the second unit when he returns to full strength.

Forward Anthony Randolph, a mid-summer acquisition, also could see some minutes if the Nuggets run into injury problems.

Before Karl has to make decisions about playing time, he will focus on the tenets of defense and sharing the ball during training camp.

The Nuggets led the NBA in scoring and assists but ranked 29th in scoring defense and 30th in three-point field-goal defense.

“Defense, defense,” Karl said when asked about the points of emphasis during the preseason. “At the offensive end of the court, we need to figure out how we play with the new guys and help them understand the type of shots we want.

“I think we can deliver the ball to shooters better. We can be better with our turnover rate. We also need to improve our basic stats of three-point shooting and free throw shooting.”

With four weeks to prepare for the Oct. 31 season opener, Karl and his coaching staff are confident that they can build upon the success of last season and break new ground in 2012-13.

“There’s a confidence amongst everybody that we’re going to make a step,” Karl said. “The challenge is, how big of a step?”