Karl, Nuggets discussing contract extension

Multiyear deal would keep coach in Denver in 2011-12 and beyond

After surviving one of the most difficult years of his life, Nuggets coach George Karl is ending 2010 on a well-deserved high note.

As he closes in on 1,000 career wins, Karl has received a clean bill of health and is in renewed contract discussions that would keep him on the Denver bench for 2011-12 and beyond.

Extending Karl’s current contract was one of the top priorities for Masai Ujiri when he was hired as Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations on Aug. 27. Though the team does not normally discuss contract talks publicly, Ujiri felt this was a unique situation.

“We’ve said it from Day 1 that George is our guy and we want him here for a long time,” Ujiri said. “George is a future Hall-of-Famer. He has earned a contract extension.”

Karl, 59, repeatedly has said he wants to end his career with the Nuggets and he plans on staying in Denver after he retires.

“Stan and Josh Kroenke have been incredibly supportive of me on and off the court,” Karl said. “I love my team and I love our fans. I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of great players and coaches throughout my career, but I’ve never been this excited about basketball and life.”

Although an exact timetable hasn’t been set for a contract extension to be finalized, both sides remain committed to reaching an agreement within the next few months.

“Josh and Masai have negotiated in good faith, and I have a great deal of respect for them,” Karl said. “These things take time – but I also plan on being around for a long time.”

Karl and the Nuggets actually discussed a long-term deal early last season, but they agreed to a one-year extension on Feb. 12, in large part due to the uncertainty of Karl’s health at the time. Karl was diagnosed with head and neck cancer around New Year’s.

Karl underwent an aggressive six-week chemotherapy and radiation program from February to April, forcing him to miss 25 games in 2009-10. The Nuggets went 11-8 without Karl during the regular season and lost to the Utah Jazz 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

Watching Denver struggle in his absence gave Karl a renewed commitment to return to the bench, and he received medical clearance to resume coaching in September.

“George’s health has always been our top priority,” Ujiri said. “It is great to have him back on the sidelines. His spirit for life and passion for coaching is an inspiration to our entire organization and our fans.”

Karl hasn’t missed a beat in his return. The Nuggets are 12-6 and riding a six-game winning streak that put him at 998 career regular-season victories. Karl will soon join Don Nelson (1,335), Lenny Wilkens (1,332), Pat Riley (1,210), Jerry Sloan (1,205), Phil Jackson (1,112) and Larry Brown (1,096) in the 1K Club; his .596 winning percentage is the fourth-best among that group.

The Nuggets have won three Northwest Division titles – including two in a row – and reached the playoffs in each of Karl’s first six seasons, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2009.

Karl’s teams haven’t had a losing season since he was with Golden State in 1987-88 and his .620winning percentage in Denver is the best in franchise history.

Although Karl has won 74 career playoff games and reached the NBA Finals in 1996 with the Seattle SuperSonics, he remains in pursuit of an NBA title.

“I’m still desirous of being at the top of the mountain,” he said. “Even though I’ve been close, I’ve never been on top. I know Josh and Masai feel the same way, and we’ll do everything we can to bring an NBA championship to Denver.”

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...