Contract in hand, Karl pursues Moe's record, NBA title
Nuggets coach has chance to surpass friend's 432 victories
Doug Moe is in danger.
More accurately, Moe’s franchise record of 432 victories as coach of the Denver Nuggets is in danger.
When George Karl signed a multiyear contract extension Tuesday, it almost ensured that he will supplant Moe as the winningest coach in Denver history (Karl has 315 wins in six-plus seasons with the Nuggets).
Moe couldn’t hand-pick a better person to break his record. He and Karl both learned the game while playing a decade apart for Hall of Fame North Carolina coach Dean Smith, and Moe served as Karl’s assistant in Denver from 2005-08.
In typical Moe fashion, he had just one piece of advice for his longtime friend about eventually passing him on victory lane.
“If he doesn’t do it quickly, I might not be around to see it,” the 72-year-old Moe quipped.
Given Karl’s track record of success, the race to 432 won’t take long.
He is one of just seven coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 regular-season games, and the Nuggets are making a push for their fourth consecutive 50-win season and eighth straight playoff appearance.
Karl, 59, smiled at the thought of two Tar Heels at the top of Denver’s career-win list, but he is equally excited about the opportunity to lead a talented young team eager to forge a new identity following the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
“It’s been a pretty amazing three or four weeks,” Karl said after practice Wednesday. “It seems like the spirit of everything is moving in a very positive direction for me.
“Coaches usually don’t get two chapters. I think the Melo era, that chapter is a lot of excellent basketball, a lot of good wins, a lot of good situations. But I think everybody now is happy about the newness of what’s happening. I’m just happy that I get an opportunity to start a new personality with a bunch of new guys that I think can be really good.”
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke, executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and Karl share the common vision of bringing an NBA title to Denver. Karl guided the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1996 NBA Finals and took the Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals.
“My goal is always to be a championship-caliber basketball team,” Karl said. “I pride myself on trying to put a team of excellence on the court over an 82-game NBA season and then hopefully be ready to perform well in the playoffs.
“There’s a freshness and an energy between Josh, Masai and I that hasn’t been here before. Hopefully the fans and the city of Denver will fall in love with the team as much as I’m in love with the situation.”
For all his career accomplishments and milestone victories, March 8, 2011, certainly will go down as a day to remember for Karl, who is more than 10 months removed from chemotherapy and radiation treatment for throat cancer.
After signing his new contract extension, he received encouraging news from his doctor.
“My energy is good. My health is (good),” he said. “I had a great report from the doctors, from the immunologist. It was a great day.”
Karl was equally thrilled for his assistants, who received a measure of stability knowing that their boss is under contract for the foreseeable future. It also eliminated any potential uncertainty for Nuggets players.
“It means a lot,” point guard Ty Lawson said. “You know you’re going to have your coach around. I’m familiar with him now. He’s my only coach so far in the league, so I’m happy he’s going to be with me a couple more years.”
Even the newest Nuggets are quickly appreciating the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest minds in basketball. “He’s a great coach, probably one of the best coaches ever,” said Denver forward Danilo Gallinari, who was one of five players acquired by the Nuggets on Feb. 22. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can from all these experiences and from all the advice he gives me. I’m lucky and honored to be one of his players.”
As two of the key young players on Denver’s roster, Lawson and Gallinari very well could be on the court when Karl gets victory No. 433 with the Nuggets. The No. 432 hangs from the Pepsi Center rafters in honor of Moe.
It would only be natural for Karl to get a banner in his honor, right?
“No,” Moe joked. “Tell George I don’t want anything of his near anything of mine.”