George Karl ready to return to practice court
For a 60-year-old gym rat like George Karl, training camp has always provided an enjoyable month-long teaching platform that eases the transition into the regular season.
NBA teams won’t have the luxury of time before opening 2011-12, but Karl is ready to hit the court running.
“I’m a little giggly,” the Nuggets coach said during an informal session with the media Monday. “It’s exciting. We’ve got 66 games in 122 days. Kind of fun. Crazy, but fun.”
Pending the approval of a new agreement between the NBA players and league owners, the Nuggets will open training camp on Friday. Denver currently has seven players under contract, plus two rookies who should come on board quickly. The Nuggets can begin signing free agents on Friday, as well.
“It’s probably not a camp for complication,” Karl said. “With free agents, you (might) have four or five new faces. And we have maximum 16 practices before we start playing. That’s a ridiculously small amount of practice, because the first practices are just feeling it out.
“Even with a 28-day training camp, I’ve always said the first 10 to 15 games are really training camp. So I think you’ll see training camp last into January.”
If anyone can adapt to new personnel in a short amount of time, it’s Karl. The Nuggets went 18-7 down the stretch last season after trading All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony as part of a 13-player deal on Feb. 22.
Few people outside of the Denver predicted the Nuggets’ post-trade success, so Karl is not surprised to hear the doubters return in 2011-12. Many “experts” say a repeat of last spring will be difficult now that rotation players Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are playing in China.
“No one ever picks us,” Karl said. “I always love summertime talk. We’ve only won 50 games four years in a row and two or three times they (predicted) we weren’t going to make the playoffs.”
Because they are free agents, Chandler, Martin and Smith might not have returned to Denver anyway. The Nuggets, however, are trying to re-sign starting center Nene (unrestricted) and starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo (restricted).
Nene opted out of the final year of his contract after averaging 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds and led the NBA in field-goal percentage (.654) last season.
“In a very quiet way, Nene’s become our most talented player, in my mind,” Karl said. “He is tremendously respected in the league for his offense and his defense. I think he’s a great defensive player at the end of games. He would be very difficult to replace. But again, we live in a world of business and we live in a world of free agency. Would I jump off the bridge if we have to replace him? I’d probably get mad for a day and then get excited the rest of the time.”
While Nene has the final say about where he signs, the Nuggets can match any contract offer to Afflalo. The fifth year guard enjoyed a breakout season in 2010-11, averaging a career-high 12.6 points and shooting .423 from three-point range. He also established himself as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders.
“As much as Nene’s become our most talented player, I think Arron has become our most intangible glue guy,” Karl said. “I couldn’t take Arron off the court. Arron was this foundation of consistency at the basics of the game. As the season went on, I was amazed. I felt naked not having him on the court.”
Karl tried to call Nene and Afflalo on Monday – the first day teams could have direct contact with free agents – but his early morning calls went unanswered. For the time being, he would have to leave the sales pitches to Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
“I think Masai understands how important both Nene and Arron are to this team,” Karl said, “but it is a business. We’ve just got to see where it goes.”
If Nene leaves, it will open the door for young big men Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov. Both arrived at the Pepsi Center on Monday, joining Nuggets guard Andre Miller and free agents Anthony Carter, Gary Forbes and Al Thornton.