Category Archives: Nuggets/NBA

Lunch with George Karl

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Had lunch Monday with George at Domo, the Japanese restaurant on Osage Street between downtown and the Colfax viaduct. George used to take his staff there when he was coaching the Nuggets because it’s near the Pepsi Center and has big tables. Diners at other tables recognized him and greeted him warmly as we wound our way to a corner table. I don’t know anything about Japanese food, but lunch was very good. Here’s the conversation:

So how’s the year been for you, your season off?

This is the time of year that I can’t deny I miss the gym more now. The excitement of playoff basketball and the last two or three weeks of the season always having some type of big game every night is fun. ESPN has been a good way for me to kind of stay connected to a lot of basketball people, so that’s been good. That’s been a positive. And I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed my freedom to be a parent and be a dad. I didn’t have that luxury in season. I’m going to go to Germany here in a couple weeks, go see Coby.

Last time we talked you were getting ready to go see him play in Italy.

Yeah, he went from Italy to Germany. He got cut in Italy and got picked up. He’s actually playing with Michael Stockton, John Stockton’s son. So it’ll be fun. They’re in a big playoff race.

Do you have playoff duties at ESPN?

I think in May I have five or six days in Bristol. I have no assignments as of yet and I don’t think I’ll get ’em because I haven’t requested ’em.

So you have to be back from Europe for that.

Yeah, I’ll miss the first, probably, two or three games of the first round. You have everything over there except DirecTV. They will have a game every night, but it’s usually a day behind.

I see where ESPN has given you a new name.

Swaggy G?

Swaggy G. Gucci Mane? Really? Isn’t he in jail?

Yeah. I know nothing. I mean, I read some stuff about it. I knew more about some of the guys who got killed — Tupac and Biggie. But it was totally an April Fool’s thing, which people didn’t even figure out. And what’s funny is ESPN absolutely loved it. I got compliments from guys on top.

Yeah, the YouTube clip is all over the place.

So, how close did you come, if at all, to talking to anybody about getting back into coaching?

There were a couple of rumblings around January, but the teams cleaned their acts up and started playing better.

So you never had any serious conversations of any kind?

No. And I’m not sure . . . what’s funny is, I want to coach. I’m excited and I’m healthy, probably healthier than I’ve ever been to coach in a long time. There’s a little urgency that says I’m not going to go crazy. In the last six weeks, I’ve gotten sad about what’s going on in Denver. I mean, I feel bad for the players.

Obviously, there’ve been injuries, but when you look at the way they’re playing versus the way they played a year ago, what do you think happened?

The only thing I can say is losing is a bad coach. I’ve said that a lot. It’s like last night [Sunday night in Houston, a 130-125 overtime loss that dropped the Nuggets to 33-44]. They found a way to lose that game. Good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose. I mean, they had to work hard to find that road last night and they did it. You know, some nights they didn’t play the right way. They didn’t play hard enough. I still don’t know what their personality is. I’m not sure they do. The injuries can cause that. If you use injuries as a crutch, it’ll kill you. It’ll destroy you. And they had enough talent to be good. They had enough talent to be successful. But they could never get over . . . they never could get to that switch of commitment.

Are we seeing everything Wilson Chandler has? When I look at his talent level, I think, this guy could be a big-time player.

I think Wilson’s a starter in the NBA. I think he has another step to make that he didn’t make this year. I think the thing that hurt them more than anything is [losing Andre] Iguodala. I think Iguodala was a rock that you could put pieces around, that you could make it work. And I think when you took that rock out, this team kind of flushed it — bad karma and bad luck.

What did you make of the Andre Miller thing?

I felt bad. I thought Andre deserved better.

Did you have any contact with Andre during that period?

He and I exchanged texts. That’s it. I think it hurt their team.

My understanding is it was the organization that said, basically, ‘You can’t come back,’ and forced that two-month limbo where he’s nowhere, he’s not being dealt, everybody’s just sort of stuck.

I have no idea. I wouldn’t be bragging about it because I think it was a mistake. To me, from the outside, and what I know, it seems you won a battle and lost the war. Maybe coach Shaw and the coaching staff felt they had to do that at that time.

Where should they go from here? Let’s say you were back in your old role in Milwaukee and you were in those front office personnel conversations. Where would you go from here with this roster?

I think the personnel is OK. I think if you fill in the holes that you need, and a coach should have input into that. It’s more what Brian thinks he wants than me. We felt we were a shooter away from being really, really good. I thought the mistake they made last year was they brought two shooters in. Their whole guard corps was offensive oriented.

You’re talking about [Randy] Foye and Nate [Robinson].

Yeah, you lost the best defender on your team and you addressed it with Nate and Foye. Early in the season, I thought everybody was getting in everybody’s way. The same with the bigs. You brought in [Darrell] Arthur and early in the season you mix in Arthur and [Kenneth] Faried and [J.J.] Hickson and [Timofey] Mozgov and everybody was bumping noses. I think there’s a lot of over-coverage, you know?

Too many small guards? 

There’s just too many people that don’t have an identity yet as to who they are. I mean, I think you have Ty [Lawson] and now I think Faried has got it back, but the first 60 games of the season, I thought he was somewhat lost out there.

What I was saying before was I think they have enough good players. Now, can they make them more than they are, which is what we did last year. But I definitely think they have enough . . . their face is different, but they still have skilled basketball players, as much as we probably had. I don’t think JaVale [McGee] is a legitimate excuse because Mozgov had a good year. And I don’t think they could have played a lot more together. I don’t think you want to play Mozgov and JaVale together.

Gallo is a legit excuse.

But if you didn’t know that was going to happen . . . you should have known that last year.

What do you make of the Mark Jackson situation?

This squid is very chewy.

It is.

I don’t know. It seemed to me it must have been some type of . . . from the outside, it seems like there’s a loyalty factor going on. There seems to be some kind of . . . to release people, that usually comes because as a coach, you don’t feel like they’re loyal to you.

But it’s two years in a row, right? You had a similar situation with [Mike] Malone last year.

I’m guessing. I don’t know.

Do players keep in touch with you?

I’ve talked to a couple guys. I’d say four or five reached out to me during the year. I saw Wilson Chandler about two weeks ago in a telephone store. We sat down and talked for a bit. I texted Ty a couple times. Sometimes he texted back, sometimes he didn’t. Haven’t heard much from Faried. Gallo and I have texted each other a couple times. Evan’s reached out. Jordan Hamilton reached out a couple times.

Those guys are on that list you were talking about, right? Guys who don’t yet have a real identity? Evan and Jordan and Quincy Miller?

When you brought Nate Robinson and Foye in, you killed Fournier. Your decision to bring those players in slowed his development. The coaches want to play Nate because he’s won games. Evan is learning how to win games.

But don’t you think they were in a position when Iguodala leaves, they’re not really expecting that, [GM Tim] Connelly is walking in the door, you’ve just lost 40 minutes a night, they’re just taking whoever’s out there. Foye is part of a sign-and-trade after Iguodala’s made a deal with Golden State that’s like, cover your ass, and Nate is just a free agent who’s out there. You’ve got to fill up your roster. You’ve got to get some points. I mean, it didn’t seem to me there was any grand plan. They’re just scrambling.

The only thing about all the changes is why didn’t someone hire a older guy? What doesn’t the coaching staff hire an older guy? Why doesn’t personnel hire an older guy, an experienced guy, to walk you through some of the nightmares these younger guys haven’t experienced? That goes off in my head because I’m an older guy and I like an older guy next to me. I want some guy that’s going to say, ‘George, you’re off base here. You’re wrong.’ And I just think if you had maybe an older guy there, the Andre Miller thing might not happen.

Might have been able to defuse it in some way?

When an incident like that happens, sometimes the coach goes a little crazy. He’s angry. And you have to hold his hand. You’ve got to walk him through it. It’s sad because I think both of them suffered. I think Andre suffered and I think Brian [Shaw] suffered because of it.

It was so strange because nothing like that had ever happened to Andre before, as far as I know. He was always considered a good locker room guy, I thought. Was I wrong?

He’s a great locker room guy. The thing that’s going to live with us is what happened. Whatever, 15, 16 years of being a great teammate and a great locker room guy is going to go by the wayside. There’ll be a cloud. I mean, I think Andre will get through it, but there’s a cloud.

By the same token, Brian Shaw was always known as a good locker room guy, a strong locker room guy. A guy who could bring together disparate personalities. The Shaq/Kobe stories. Stuff like that.

I don’t know. I mean, the only thing, I thought he took some shots at some guys that were really good competitors. I thought that was unfair because those guys competed for me like they were warriors, and they believed and they trusted that they could beat anybody. In six months, they’re different? I mean, I thought that was a cheap shot a little bit.

At?

At the team. He never mentioned names, but he constantly called them out for not being good competitors, they don’t know what championship basketball’s about. All I’m saying is there’s an experience about winning championships that should be on your roster if you’re trying to win a championship. I’ve been on a path to a championship every year of my career. Haven’t gotten there. But that means I don’t know the path to a championship? Or is it, you have to win the championship to know the path? I think too much is now predicated on Brian Shaw being a championship player or coach, and he knows the path. Well, he’s never guided that truck down that path. He’s always been in the back seat. And I think that was offensive to the players that had such a great year last year. To discount it in that way bothered them a great deal.

So, who wins it all this year?

I’m hoping San Antonio. I think the West is going to win.

Who’s going to come out of the East? Is it either Miami or Indiana? Is there any other possibility?

I think it’s Miami. I like what Brooklyn has done with their team, but I think in the playoffs that’s going to turn on them a little bit. They’re playing so small. They’re playing [Paul] Pierce at four and getting away with it, which I think was a great move. I think Jason [Kidd] did a great job of kind of helping their offense out that way.

And who’s the biggest threat to San Antonio in the West, do you think?

I think it’s the Clippers.

Really. Why them more than OKC?

I think right now they have better distribution of their skills and talents. They can come at you a lot of different ways. OKC, [Kevin] Durant and [Russell] Westbrook are big time, but I just like Chris Paul and Doc [Rivers] and Blake Griffin. Their defense hasn’t gotten to where I thought it would get but I think they still could win a game with their defense in a playoff situation. They’ve got shooters all over the place. (Jamal) Crawford can win you a game. (J.J.) Redick can win you a game. (Jared) Dudley can probably win you a game. And Blake and Chris Paul, I mean, we’re talking about guys that if you’re MVPing it, don’t they get two guys in the top seven or eight?

I don’t know if people take Blake that seriously yet.

When they played without Chris Paul, he was unbelievable.

All right, now let’s really test your skill because this won’t come out until after, but I’m asking you now, who wins the NCAA championship tonight?

I think Kentucky’s going to win, but I want Connecticut to win so bad.

Really, why? Because of Kevin [Ollie]?

I coached Kevin.

How long did you have him?

Two years in Milwaukee.

What was he like as a player for you?

Incredible integrity. Just a no-nonsense competitor. Made his career basically working hard.

Why do you think Kentucky’s going to win?

[John] Calipari has this karma. But I think Connecticut can win because of their guards. The best players on the court are going to be their guards. They’ve done a great job of negating size because their guard play is so much higher level. I think college basketball, even though we need big guys, the best guard is really important. If he’s the best player on the court, it’s a really important part of college basketball.

All the college coaches are saying again, for about the 90th time, that the one-and-done rule has got to be changed. Obviously, that’s up to the NBA. Do you see that happening?

Yeah. I think management wants it. The organizations want it to happen. I don’t know if the players are going to fight it. I think they’ll get two years. I think they want more than that. They kind of want the baseball rule, which I think would be great. I’d like three years. And then the high school kid that’s good enough to do it, you let him go. Cause I don’t think we’re going to overload our rosters with project high school kids. If a kid is good enough to play, we’ll take him in the top 15 or 20.

Will the D-league ever get to the point where it’s an actual minor league, like in baseball, where if you don’t want to go to college but you’re not ready for the show, you can come out after high school and go play in the D-league a couple years and hone your skills?

I don’t think it gets there until every team has its own [D-league] team. This hybrid stuff and owners not putting in the money . . . why don’t we have a team in Broomfield? ‘We.’ Why don’t the Denver Nuggets have a team in Broomfield?

Ha. You can’t shake it. Still like New Orleans? You were excited about their roster the last time we talked.

I’d say yes, but I think they’ve underachieved and they’ve underperformed to the point that it made me a little nervous. They’ve been hit with injuries too. [Ryan] Anderson, the shooter, was out the whole year almost, and [Jrue] Holiday. Seemed like they had chemistry issues a little bit.

Does this sabbatical remind you of the last sabbatical, the one before the Nuggets?

It reminds me a little bit. But I think my whole thing is, when I went through that one, I wanted to get back really fast. Now I want to get back, but there’s a window in my thought process of, what else can I do? I don’t think I want a job other than coaching, but are there adventures or an entrepreneur mentality of, for three months I’ve got to do this? I’m open to filling up my time in a good way.

Have you had any inspiration as to what sort of activities they might be?

Cancer-related stuff is always a possibility. Getting involved more in my foundation and more with some cancer situations. I think the American Cancer Society is doing a great deal for navigation for patients right now. Livestrong has always been very good in that area. I have a bunch of people who are talking about maybe trying to do some things on obesity for children. I think so much of our cancer now is being caused by obesity and what we eat. So let’s go to the problem. And there’s always the possibility of doing a book.

If I may ask you, what do you weigh now?

I weigh about 245.

What was the most you ever weighed?

290, 295.

A lot of that loss was right around your last cancer battle, no?

Yeah, I went down to probably 235, maybe 230.

When you came out of that, did you change your habits completely in terms of what you ate, what you drank?

I don’t think I did completely, but I did a good job, I think, in the mornings and the afternoons of eating right. And then if I want to goof around at nighttime, I could. Basically the rule I kind of live by is eat real food. Just don’t eat junk. Don’t eat processed, don’t eat fried, don’t eat sugar. If you don’t have cancer, eating sugar’s OK, but it’s not the best thing in the world. For a cancer person, you should never eat sugar because it feeds the cells. So my mornings and lunch, I’m trying to get my six servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. However I do that, with a green drink or having a smart breakfast. I know we’ve been saying that for 50 years, but it still hasn’t gotten through to our people, to our kids.

Seems like there are a lot of people out there now who think this is a big part of the problem — that a lot of Americans don’t eat real food. Have you come around to that position?

I’ve come around to the position that over 25 percent of our cancers are caused by what we feed our bodies.

Where does that come from?

I think the American Cancer Society has actually published that figure.

And that’s because of fast food, fried food, processed food, all of the above?

Yeah, if we feed our immune system correctly, it’s a hell of a piece of equipment. But if what we eat has to be interpreted by our immune system, it sometimes forgets about the cancers that are growing over here or the infection that’s growing over here or a virus over here. There are switches that switch off, and that’s what causes cancers. There’s some genetic makeup to it, too.

But I think the world of health care is so crazy right now because there’s tremendous knowledge, tremendous information. The internet is feeding it every day. But we don’t have a health care system that we trust. No one trusts it. The doctors don’t trust it. The patients don’t trust it. The pharmaceuticals don’t trust the insurance companies. The insurance companies don’t trust the hospitals.

And it’s billions of dollars, so it’s capitalistically driven. It kind of drives me crazy a little bit, and the government drives me crazy a little bit, too, because we’re still hung up on spending trillions of dollars on military institutions that, to me, is . . . who are we afraid of? Terrorists? Yes, but we don’t need atomic bombs for terrorists. We don’t need new bombers for terrorists. We don’t need a billion dollars spent on a new fighter jet. We’ve already got the best fighter jets. Our educational system, our infrastructure, and the world is changing so fast. I mean, it’s moving actually too fast for me. I want it to slow down and it’s not slowing down.

Do you have any interest in running for office?

I have at times, but government is so slow-moving.

It sounds like you’re really passionate about some of these subjects, though.

Colorado is a great state and I would love to see Colorado be a kind of a leading voice in environment, a leading voice in cooperation, a leading voice in finding these health care answers. I’m a big believer that if all these institutions — there’s billions of dollars here — if they could come together and work as a team, there would be more money there. It’ll work better and everybody will benefit.

It’s like a team system. Putting five guys who are really talented together and telling them, ‘Hey, if you win, you’ll make more money than if you just do your thing by yourself,’ I think the same thing applies to the health care system. If they would just say, ‘Listen, I’ll help you there and you help me here,’ then I think it would run smoother and you wouldn’t need all the bureaucratic processes where we spend billions and billions of dollars covering each other’s butts.

I think there’s a small undercurrent of a revolution in our country that wants it done the right way. And politics and capitalism have kind of confused it all. I mean, do you understand the housing failure, the mortgage crisis? Have you ever read a book on that? I can’t figure it out. It sounds like a Ponzi scheme. It sounds like something that if a criminal got caught in, they’d be thrown in jail.

When you talk about spending priorities you don’t agree with, I understand how that money could be reallocated to infrastructure or education. But health care, we already spend more money than anybody else in the world. So why would we need more money? Would more money solve the health care problem?

One, the idea of everybody having health insurance is not a bad idea. But if it bankrupts our country, it’s a bad idea. But it’s because of some other things in the budget too. We’ve got to worry about taking care of our country. What I know about economics, and I’m not good with it, it’s about not spending our money wisely. I mean, we’re going into Saks over here and Nordstrom’s over here is having a sale selling the same things that Saks is selling, but we go into Saks and still spend the money at Saks.

The worldwide competition now . . . I mean, you have to understand there are more doctorates in China than we have people.

More doctorates than we have people?

So I’ve been told. Two hundred million people in China have a doctorate.

We’ve got over 300 million people here.

OK, well, maybe I’m a little short. But think about that. That scares me more than about the military that China’s going to have. Someone said that a computer company in China had 350 high-tech jobs. You had to know a lot to get these jobs. And they got 35,000 applications.

Why is that scary?

It’s kind of like, what are we the best at now? Let’s say in sports. What’s our best sport?

Football. Commercially, and nobody else plays it.

But are we the best at basketball still? We’re probably still the best at basketball. Are we the best golfers anymore?

No, probably not.

Are we the best tennis players?

No.

We’re not the best soccer players.

Never were.

We might not be the best baseball players.

That’s true. That’s very competitive.

You know, we grew up in the ’70s and ’80s where we were the best at all that.

We were never the best soccer players. We were only occasionally the best tennis players.

I don’t know. Jimmy Connors was pretty good.

He was. So was John McEnroe. But Bjorn Borg was the best player of that generation.

Yeah, but we were right there. Do we have a guy now even in the top 10?

No. In tennis we have really fallen off, no doubt. You’re getting very nationalistic in your old age.

I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. I think a lot.

How’s the foundation doing?

We do a very nice job in a very small way. We do a nice job in the four or five foundations that we work with. Haven’t figured out how to expand it. I don’t know if I have enough money or time to expand it. To expand it, you’d have to hire some people probably.

Do you have a staff there at all?

No. We have a board. We raise money and we give it to other foundations. We’re kind of a United Way. We maybe bring in a quarter of a million dollars and give each foundation a quarter of that.

Do you still feel as passionately about that, what is it, four years removed now from your most recent battle?

What I think our medical system needs to work on is helping the patient mentally understand his challenge and his journey. I think we’re getting better in that area, navigationally. When you’re told you have to go through 40 treatments of radiation and eight weeks of chemotherapy, they should be able to tell me what that’s going to do to me. And if I have questions I should have someone who can give me answers. I think I have the top notch of the insurance world and I’m not sure I got all the answers I should have gotten.

What surprised you? What were you not expecting to happen to you?

I had blood clots because of my inactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I was told not to be inactive. It’s on me that I got the blood clots. I think I could have been educated a little more stringently about that. An example in my treatment is I found out later that I had this gene that creates blood clots. Well, they found that after I got the blood clots. OK, cancer treatment has been known to create blood clots. Why don’t we test all patients for that gene and then put them on a higher alert? And I’m not blaming my treatment. This is all on me.

An example I’ve made quite frequently is in the middle of my treatment, Kim gets a bill for $85,000 saying that my treatment was experimental and was not OK’d by the insurance company and you will be held responsible for this $85,000. I just told Kim, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’re not paying that bill.’ I could have written a check. Just imagine if this is someone that made $80,000 a year. I got it taken care of, but it wasn’t easy.

How did you take care of it?

We had to go through some financial people at Swedish Hospital and explain to them that this was not experimental. You had to get the doctors to sign off. You had to go through a lot of b.s. and some people might not have had the confidence or intelligence to do that. And I felt I had great care. I’m just saying I’m not a guy in Topeka, Kansas who might not be getting the best care. I don’t know. We can do better. I think the whole thing comes down to, we can do better.

The health industry is very strange. Whatever you want to call it. I don’t think it’s chaos, it’s what I all chaortic. There’s an order to the chaos.

Great word. Chaortic.

It’s now become a leadership word. It’s in some leadership books. They don’t want too much structure. They want a leader to be versatile enough to handle mistakes, confusion and problems with an order. That’s what they call chaortic. It’s the action of bringing order to confusion or frustration. I think Mark Warkentien used that word when we had J.R. [Smith].

Do you stay in touch with Wark at all?

I talked to him just briefly when Phil [Jackson] got the [Knicks] job. I’ve heard from the rumblings that Phil’s going to want his people in there, but I don’t really know.

Who do you think gets that coaching job?

I think it’ll be an intellectually philosophical dude, and Steve Kerr fits that category a little bit.

They say that Golden State is interested in Kerr, too. That’s one of the rumors floating around Mark Jackson.

I don’t get that. Why would you hire Steve Kerr?

He’s a smart guy. He’s never coached, but he’s a smart guy. How many openings do you think there’ll be?

Last year there were so many, usually it goes the other way. Last year, there were, what, nine, 10, 11? I think it goes the other way. Under five, probably.

And is it a big deal to you to get one this summer, or is it sort of, if it happens, it happens.

It’s bigger than if it happens, it happens. I want to work. I want to coach. I’m ready. I’m pumped. What we did last year, I want to expand it. When you sit around all day, you have plenty of time to study the game and get the pulse of the game. I probably watch more games now than I watch when I’m coaching. I mean, I prepare, but very seldom do I sit there at 5 o’clock and watch games until 11 o’clock. I’m not saying I do that every night now, but I do it once or twice a week, probably. So you’re seeing three or four games and you’re scanning maybe another one or two games. So I’m excited about that possibility.

Would you ever coach at any other level?

I just wish Kaci was a little older. I would think about coaching in Europe.

Is that right?

I would, but I don’t know if Kim and Kaci would.

Don’t you? It did wonders for Kobe (Bryant), spending part of his childhood in Italy.

No question. Both my (older) kids, Coby and Kelci, say it was a building block in their lives. [Karl coached Real Madrid in the 1989-90 and 1991-92 seasons.] But it’s a little different over there now.

How old is Kaci now?

Kaci’s nine.

Are you so committed to that family stability that she would stay in school in Denver even if you took a job somewhere else in the country?

I think that’s a good possibility. I mean, we love Denver, and the school that she’s at is fantastic. Before I came here I wrote a letter trying to raise money for them. You never know, though. My gut says the first year probably would be an experiment.

You still think it will happen? If you were to lay odds on it, do you think it will happen or do you think you might be done?

I think I’ll get back in, but I’m not sure it’s going to be this summer.

But you think at some point it will happen.

I would just think after the year we had . . . So much of the stuff that we did I think we still are very good at. But I can’t deny that rolls around my head every once in a while.

Not getting back in?

[Nods]

Last time, you were out a whole year and then part of the next year, right?

Till January.

So you still got time.

I hope so!

You took a little heat after our last conversation.

About Iguodala?

About Iguodala.

[Shrugs] Hopefully you can write this time without me getting bombed.

Have you had any contact with him?

Iguodala?

Right.

No. In fact, I was going to text him today because he donated a big hunk of money to my foundation. I was going to give him a dinner. I’m going to make that available to him when he gets into town on the 15th, but I don’t know if he’ll be available.

Tell me something you’ve learned from all these NBA games you’ve watched this year.

The game of basketball is still about flow and rhythm and unity.


Descending into the bizarre

Part of the charm of the Denver Nuggets throughout their history has been their fondness for departing the mundane world and exploring the strange and bizarre. Even the truly cuckoo at times.

Whether it was Paul Westhead encouraging opponents to score, LaPhonso Ellis inexplicably developing holes in his kneecaps or Bill Hanzlik’s team threatening to put up the worst win-loss record of all time, the Nuggets have found ways to mesmerize even when they were terrible, in the manner of a train wreck.

This year, they are back at it. In what is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing seasons in their history, going from a franchise NBA-record 57 wins last year to missing the playoffs this year, at least two developments qualify as bizarre.

The first was the decision to perform reconstructive surgery on forward Danilo Gallinari’s torn anterior cruciate knee ligament 10 months after he suffered the injury, which I wrote about here.

The second is ongoing. It began with point guard Andre Miller calling out first-year coach Brian Shaw in front of the bench nearly a month and a half ago in what turned into the first “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision” of the 15-year veteran’s NBA career. It continued when the team suspended Miller for two games without pay, rescinded the suspension the next day and turned it into a personal leave with pay, which has dragged on ever since.

Set aside for the moment that this conversion turned punishment into reward, allowing Miller to continue receiving his $5 million salary for doing nothing as a consequence of acting out.

It went from strange to inexplicable when the other two point guards on the roster — first Nate Robinson, then Ty Lawson — went out with injuries. This series of events left the Nuggets with three point guards on the 15-man roster, none of them available for duty. Playing without a quarterback — shooting guard Randy Foye filled in, putting up 14 assists, 11 turnovers and a horrific plus/minus of minus 58 in two games as the starter at the point — the Nuggets were blown out by Indiana and Minnesota to close out a dreadful 0-4 road trip that brought a merciful end to the pre-All-Star break portion of their schedule.

On the bright side, no member of the organization was invited to take part in any of the five events scheduled in New Orleans this weekend, so they should have time to rest up.

With 31 games remaining in the season, the Nuggets are 24-27, six games out of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Earlier in the season, the club’s new brain trust, particularly Shaw, liked to mention how similar the record was to last year’s team at the same point because last year’s team started slowly owing to a heavy dose of early road games. They don’t talk about that so much anymore. Last year’s team was 33-18 at this point.

Of course, that was a very different group. It included Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, for example. It did not include Foye, Robinson, Darrell Arthur or J.J. Hickson. George Karl was the coach and Masai Ujiri the GM.

So we asked Ujiri’s replacement in the front office, Tim Connelly, to join me and Tom Green on the radio show to explain what he’s doing about all this. Connelly was good enough to call in from New Orleans yesterday. Here’s that conversation:

Me: Let’s start with the question that fans are asking, I think, mostly, which is: You’re out of point guards on your team and you’ve got a point guard under contract who’s been away from the team for about a month. What is the impediment to the logical solution to that problem, which would be to bring Andre Miller back to run the point for you for a little while?

Tim Connelly: Sure. Well, we’re still looking at all options. Certainly, what happened, there were no winners. Andre’s a pro and a great guy. I think emotions got the best of him. Having a first-year head coach, as an organization we thought it was important that our guys knew in the locker room that we would deal with it internally. And certainly, that’s an option. We’ve looked at a couple different things and that’s one of them.

Tom Green: That is a consideration, though? Is anyone with the organization talking with Andre about that?

Connelly: Yeah, I was with Andre yesterday in the gym. We worked out yesterday. Two days ago, I’m sorry. I talk to Andre all the time.

Me: So Tim, overall, there’s a sort of an inflection point here where the first half of the season or so your team looked to be at least in range of a playoff berth. As time goes on now, since you’ve lost both of your point guards, it just doesn’t seem like that’s in the cards, at least at the moment. You’re six games out of the playoff bracket. So how do you look at that? Are you rebuilding, are you looking for a good draft pick at this point? Are you still competing for the playoffs? What’s your view of that?

Connelly: Certainly, we’re disappointed. I don’t think any of us expected to be here. And it’s easy to blame injuries, but in this league there’s no one to blame but yourselves, obviously. So every day I think we have to be realistic with where we are, and right now we’re not where we want to be. We’re too late in the season to talk about posturing for draft picks. I think what we have to do now is determine of the guys who are healthy who can we rely upon moving forward, both this season and next.

Green: So when you guys hit the road, before the All-Star break, you’re above .500, but this road trip obviously has been a terrible one. It’s been four games when you guys have really been blown out.

Connelly: It’s been awful. Awful.

Green: Yeah, so how do you look at that as a GM? Obviously, you’re taking a big-picture look at things as a general manager, but do those games reflect on the organization, the players, the coaches, in a way that you need to be concerned about?

Connelly: Well, certainly, like I mentioned earlier, no one’s feeling sorry for us. A lot of teams deal with injuries, maybe not to the extent that we are, but it is what it is. And I can take losses. What I struggle with is a lack of effort. Moving forward, I think it’s important for any guy that’s going to wear the Nuggets uniform, we’re going to make sure that he’s a guy that’s going to leave it on the court. With all the injuries, I understand we’re kind of behind the 8-ball a bit, and I think the coaching staff’s done a great job. But I think as a front office guy and as fans, we all expect more.

Me: Let me get back, Tim, if I can, to the point guard question, because, putting Andre Miller and that situation aside, it would seem that when you run out of point guards, you’d go get one, even if it’s just a D-league guy, if it’s a street free agent, you know, somebody who could run the point. Instead, you’re playing these games with non-point guards running the point, whether it’s Randy Foye or one of your wing guys, and I just wonder why haven’t you brought in at least somebody who fits the job description.

Connelly: Well, we have 15 roster spots. You can’t just call somebody up. The only way we could bring someone in would be a trade or release a player. If we had an empty roster spot, that would be an easy answer and a short-term solution, but we don’t have a roster spot right now.

Me: So have you considered making a transaction in order to create room for a point guard?

Connelly: At the end of the game last night [Wednesday night’s 117-90 loss at Minnesota], I considered everything, including walking down to the corner bar.

Green: What about fans? Obviously, the fans are watching and you know what it feels like as a fan to watch your team play like that. So what is your message right now to your fans? Hang in there, the second half’s going to get better? What can you tell people to give them something to hold onto?

Connelly: Well, I think certainly, first of all, apologies over this last road trip. I mean, it’s unacceptable. I like our team when healthy. I don’t know how we would look, but theoretically I think we have a lot of good pieces. We’re not where we want to be. We need to add another piece here or there to be a team that’s going to win meaningful games in the playoffs. But at this moment, apologies, stick with us. Certainly, we’re not happy and we’re not going to stand pat and let this thing devolve any further.

Me: So we’re about a week away from the trade deadline. When you say you’re not going to stand pat, is that a pretty clear signal that you do intend to make a move, or more than one move, between now and a week from now?

Connelly: Sure, I’m certainly hopeful. We’ve been trying for weeks and months. I think we’ll be as aggressive as anybody and certainly we’re aware of the needs that we have. We’re trying to address them prior to the deadline and then after that, through free agency and the draft.

Me: What do you see the needs as being?

Connelly: Clearly, we need to improve our team defense. Certainly, right now, it’s tough playing all these young guys in the sense that deficiencies are expected, not to the degree that we’ve seen recently, I don’t think that’s something that we want to accept and act like it’s the norm. And I think we need one more impact player, regardless of position. Another guy we can count on on a night-to-night basis like we can right now with a guy like Ty or Wilson [Chandler].

Green: The NBA all-star game can be a convention for the league, a chance for GMs, coaches, at times, to get together, or many, just take a break. What’s going to happen for you and what’s going to happen for this team over the next few days? What are you guys going to be doing? Is there going to be some management activities?

Connelly: Well, you know, not specifically. I’m in New Orleans right now. I spent the last three and a half years here. I’m partially down here to check on a condo. But I’m going to meet with several of my buddies and colleagues who hold similar jobs with different teams, but the conversations are always ongoing. It’s good sometimes, though, to be able to look a guy in the eye and see where their interest is and hold their feet to the fire. So I’ll certainly do that over the next couple days prior to coming back to Denver on Saturday.

Me: Obviously, this is a more difficult subject for a general manager to talk about than for fans to talk about, but as fans of the Nuggets look at the 2014 NBA draft, it looks to have a number of at least potential impact players at the top. And you mentioned the need for an impact player, another impact player. You’re in this strange situation where one of the two picks that you’re going to have, yours or the Knicks’, is going to go to Orlando, and even though the Knicks have the worse record, they may have a better chance to end up in the playoffs because of the weakness of the Eastern Conference. So is there any part of you that you permit to consider that from a strategic standpoint — how you get into the lottery and give yourself a chance at one of those impact players?

Connelly: You know, I think if you’re going to take that approach, that’s an approach that probably has to be initiated on draft night. I think when we were somewhat healthy, missing JaVale [McGee] and Gallo, we proved to be a decent team, probably a playoff team. So I think we’re too advanced into the season to really look at that with any chance of it coming to fruition. Despite our recent struggles, we’re still only a couple games under .500. It doesn’t seem sensible at this point. The numbers that you have to get to reach that top six — I think there’s probably a drop-off in the draft — it would be very difficult to get to, so internally it’s not a discussion that makes much sense for us.

Green: I think a lot of people feel bad for coach Shaw. And you say nobody feels sorry for anybody, and I understand that, but Brian Shaw has come in here and it’s been a bit of a mix as far as how this roster has worked out and who’s healthy and who can play in his first year as a head coach. What are the conversations like between you and Brian going forward as far as what he needs for this second part of the season?

Connelly: Sure. Well, we actually laughed about it the other night. We’ve seen everything that you’re going to see in the first five, six months on the job — injuries, the in-house issues we’ve had. I think what he’s going to do is the same thing as we’re going to do, is see who we can rely upon. Out of the players that are healthy presently, and if we make any additions, who are guys that we can count on to kind of get it to where we want to go? Certainly, when he got here, he was very outspoken, as was I. This team has a really proud history of regular season success. For whatever reason, we’ve had trouble once we get to the playoffs. We’d like to be a team that not only gets to the playoffs but is a tough out in the playoffs once we’re there.

Me: Tim, before we let you go, I’ve got to ask you the Gallo question, because I’ve never seen a situation like that, where a guy tore his ACL and had reconstructive surgery 10 months later and starts the clock all over again.

Connelly: Neither have I.

Me: So can you give us any insight into the decision-making process that allowed that to happen, or did that all happen before you got here?

Connelly: It happened before I got here. Certainly, I think, the only insight I can give you is that whatever decision was made by Gallo and the doctor, Gallo’s focus was to return to the court as quickly as possible. Certainly, that didn’t happen. The most recent surgery was fantastic and we expect a fully healthy Gallo for next season. But it’s definitely bizarre, and it’s unfortunate not just for Gallo but kind of having that uncertainty surrounding his return or lack thereof this season. But I don’t know what happened at the time. It was right before I got here.

Me: What is the general rule in terms of who gets to decide that, the player or the team?

Connelly: One hundred percent the player.

Me: So if he says, ‘I’m going this way,’ you have no way to change his mind?

Connelly: No, the only real authority the team has is obviously they can choose to pay or not pay for specific operations or treatments, but ultimately it’s the guy’s body, so he’s going to have final say.

We have talked before about the big decisions that led the Nuggets to this point — the failure to compete financially to keep Ujiri, the firing of Karl, the miscalculation on Iguodala. Collectively, these represented the major fork in the road. Team president Josh Kroenke, son of owner E. Stanley Kroenke, decided to put his stamp on the team by clearing the decks and asserting his authority over the basketball operation. Over time, we will see how that works out.

The more recent issues suggest a lack of backbone in the young front office. In the case of Gallo’s surgery, I’m told the Nuggets’ medical and training staff opposed the decision to let the ACL heal itself through “healing response” therapy. I’m also told Nuggets brass — which would have been chiefly Kroenke at the time, in the transition between Ujiri and Connelly — didn’t want to alienate Gallo’s agent, the powerful Arn Tellem, by challenging him on this. The result was a disastrous 10-month delay in the surgery.

In the case of Miller, it’s hard to imagine why the Nuggets don’t put it to him very simply: “You’re under contract. We need a point guard. You come back and play, right now, or you’re suspended without pay. End of story.”

I don’t know if the impediment to Miller’s return is Miller or Miller’s agent or Shaw or Kroenke, but from an old-school perspective it’s inconceivable that a GM would work out privately with a player who is under contract and desperately needed who for one reason or another won’t play. Who’s in charge here? Trade him for another point guard, which the Nuggets have evidently been trying to do without success, or demand that he fulfill the obligations of his contract.

But hey, if it weren’t for the bizarre, these Nuggets would just be bad. For the moment, the Miller mystery is the most interesting thing about them.


The Melodrama is back

NEW YORK — Took time out from the riveting media sessions leading up to the Super Bowl — Broncos coach John Fox: “I’m happy about the Chinese new year, and I’m happy that the animal is a horse” — to check in on the latest chapter in Carmelo Anthony’s love/hate relationship with whatever team happens to be paying him gobs of cash at any given moment.

That’s right, the Melodrama is back. Did you miss it?

Stop me when this sounds familiar: Anthony can opt out of his contract with the Knicks at the end of the season and he’s trying to figure out if the hardwood would be shinier someplace else.

He engaged in a similar Hamlet-like wrestling match with himself in Denver three years ago before the Nuggets, convinced he would leave as a free agent, traded him to New York and the bright lights, big city he craved. Remember how some Nuggets fans blamed Anthony’s wife, La La, for his determination to flee Denver? Remember the theory that she needed a bigger stage for her burgeoning career as a professional celebrity?

Well, they might have had a point. Monday was release day for her literary debut, The Love Playbook, with book signings all over Manhattan, appearances on the national morning TV shows and everything. But back to our rerun.

“I definitely think he will stay,” La La said Sunday on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live. “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.”

Wait, what? I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

Anyway, here’s the money quote:

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere.

Odd echoes of the Sinatra line about New York — If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere — but not quite the same meaning.

The backlash was swift, and so was the back-pedal.

“Let me clarify this REAL QUICK,” she tweeted the following day. “When I said last night, ‘if I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere’ I meant living in a place with no family and no friends. I meant moving my entire life to a place I had never even been to before. In no way was I trying to disrespect Denver. I enjoyed Denver tremendously & love the city. — La La”

Glad we got that straightened out.

Anthony’s problem, of course, is the usual. He’s second in the NBA in scoring at 27.1 points per game, but his team stinks. At the moment, the Knicks are 18-27. In the woeful Eastern Conference, this record puts them just a half-game out of the playoff bracket. This is not good news for the Nuggets, who are owed the Knicks’ first-round pick in the coming NBA draft as part of the trade that sent him east in 2011.

If the Knicks miss the playoffs, that pick ends up in the draft lottery and could prove invaluable in a draft with some elite talent at the top. Because the West is so much stronger than the East, the Nuggets have a better record than the Knicks (22-21) but a worse position in the standings (2 1/2 games out of the playoff bracket). The Nuggets have to send the inferior of their draft picks to Orlando as part of the trade that brought them Andre Iguodala — temporarily, as it turns out — in 2012.

It’s all rather complicated, but one lesson seems clear: The Knicks wish they had their draft pick back. The Nuggets wish they had their draft pick back. Maybe this trading future draft picks for big-name players isn’t such a hot idea. But that’s another column.

In any case, that blockbuster 2011 trade isn’t working out that well for either team. The Nuggets received Danilo Gallinari, who blew out his knee last spring; Wilson Chandler, a talent who does more tantalizing than producing; Raymond Felton, who was exchanged for Andre Miller, who is now on indefinite leave from the team; and Timofey Mozgov, a nice if uninspiring big man. Neither team looks any closer to a championship now than when they made the deal.

Anthony’s comments about his situation are similar to his comments in Denver back in 2010. All he wants to do is win. He wants to go wherever that can happen.

“Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve,” he told reporters this week. “I’m going to do what I got to do to get that.”

Actually, he’s not. To get that, he probably needs to become a better team player rather than the sensational, one-dimensional scorer he has been throughout his career. In 10 seasons before this one, he has never appeared in an NBA Finals and only one conference final. His friend and peer, LeBron James, has won two titles and has his sights set on catching Kobe Bryant (five) and Michael Jordan (six). Melo, meanwhile, seems doomed to the Dominique Wilkins career path — lots of points, zero titles — unless he can hitch his wagon to somebody else’s team of horses.

The only way to lose his tag as a scorer who doesn’t make anybody else better is to win a championship or two, a feat he seems further from today than three years ago when he fled the Nuggets.

“The important thing is winning a championship; that’s the only way to shake it,” Bryant said the other day. “That’s the only way Michael shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

The Lakers are one team likely to have the space under the salary cap to sign Anthony if he’s a free agent on the open market this summer, but it’s not at all clear that adding another ballhog to a team that features the aging Bryant would give Kobe his best chance at title No. 6.

This isn’t our problem in Denver anymore, except insofar as it would help the Nuggets if the Knicks stink it up as badly as possible this season.

But think of poor La La.

“I get blamed for everything,” she said on Bravo. “No matter what happens, it’s my fault . . . I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

Cue the late Warren Zevon: Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

By all accounts, La La’s book publicity tour is going swimmingly. It’s all about love and sex.

“The love at my book signing in NY yesterday was amazing!” she tweeted today. “Come out today at 7pm 271 Livingston street, Northvale, NJ Can’t wait to see you!!!”


The man who saved pro basketball in Denver

The man who saved pro basketball in Denver

Quite a thrill to see my old friend Carl Scheer tonight at the Pepsi Center. This is the guy who saved pro basketball in Denver by putting together a syndicate to keep the team afloat in the 1970s.

“The price of a unit was $17,500, and you had to buy two units,” he told me in 2005, when the NBA All-Star Game came back to Denver. “So 35 guys put in $35,000 apiece to buy in. That’s how we bought the team. We had a little operating capital, but not much. The plan was they would buy season tickets and get their friends to, and for the most part that’s what happened.”

When they ran out of money in the early 1980s, Jane Moe, Doug’s wife, suggested Carl call Red McCombs, who had just sold his interest in the San Antonio Spurs. McCombs bought the Nuggets for about $4 million. Without Scheer, Denver would have lost its pro basketball franchise.


Does anybody here have a clue?

Maybe it’s a symptom of our gentle nature out here in the fly-over time zone that mainstream media seem to be giving our local pro basketball franchise a pass for its second major blunder since last spring. The net effect of these missteps has been to cost the Nuggets two of their top three players — one permanently, the other for much longer than would otherwise have been necessary.

The first, of course, was losing Andre Iguodala to free agency and getting nothing in return. This is not to disparage Randy Foye, acquired in a face-saving, after-the-fact, three-team trade, but, hey, he’s Randy Foye. No team in its right mind, even the Nuggets, would have made that trade voluntarily.

You can blame Iguodala for his decision to defect, but it is the job of the smart front office to gauge such risks and the Nuggets’ front office gauged this one poorly, as its remarks at the time demonstrate.

The second, disclosed this week, was that forward Danilo Gallinari’s new-age approach to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — “healing response,” dude — didn’t work. I’m told the team’s medical and training staff warned management that this was the likely outcome. They were ignored.

Who pushed for it? Gallo did, through his agent, Arn Tellem. The Nuggets’ weak front office acquiesced.

So, nine and a half months after tearing his ACL in a game against Dallas on April 4, 2013, Gallinari underwent reconstructive ACL surgery, the usual treatment, earlier this week. Coincidentally, the gap between then and now is roughly how long it took Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to recover from an ACL reconstruction and return to the field.

That is not to say Gallinari would have recovered from the standard procedure that quickly — Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose took considerably longer — but certainly he would be well on his way to returning to the floor by now. Instead, the clock has started all over again and the Nuggets’ substantial regression from last season is pretty much set in stone. Starting the clock over again now, he could easily miss the beginning of next season, too.

The impetus for this “healing response” solution came from Gallinari and doctors not affiliated with the Nuggets. A minor procedure was performed last spring to repair cartilage damage, followed by new-age stimulation methods to get the ACL to repair itself. Gallinari was so excited about this that he told his fans all about it in a video he posted on Facebook in June:

“Hello everybody. I wanted to update you all about my situation of the knee and what they did on the surgery. It’s good news because I still have my ACL. My ACL wasn’t torn, it was just partially torn, and so they were able to keep my ACL doing a special treatment called the healing response, where basically you give the chance to the ACL to naturally come back and heal, and that’s what we did. So right now the scenario for the future is completely different. I will update you all about that in the future. But for now, is very good news. I’m very happy. I hope you’re happy, too, all my fans around the world, and I’ll talk to you soon.”

The suggestion of a “completely different” timetable from traditional reconstructive surgery was intended to convey that it wouldn’t take nearly as long for Gallo to return. There were giddy projections that he might be back on the court early this season. By November, Gallinari had come around to the realization that this was not going to happen and noted something Nuggets management should have had in mind last spring — that he is far from a medical expert.

“As you are able to see, it was the thought of a guy who had this injury for the first time,” he told the Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey. “I had no experience with this injury, this rehab. That was just my prediction. But as you can see, I was completely wrong. It’s day by day, week by week. You cannot really predict. You’ve got to just listen to your knee.”

In fact, Gallinari was experiencing continuing instability in the knee, which, of course, is what happens when you tear your ACL. It would take another two months for him to come around to the need for traditional reconstructive surgery, performed, finally, by the Nuggets’ orthopedic surgeon.

So let’s review the last 10 months:

  • April 4, 2013: Gallinari tears his ACL in a game against Dallas.
  • April 17, 2013: Nuggets complete regular season with 57 wins and 25 losses, the best record in their NBA history.
  • April 30, 2013: Gallinari undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the Steadman Clinic in Vail to repair cartilage damage. “After a short-term rehabilitation, a date will be scheduled for Gallinari to undergo surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee,” the Nuggets say in a news release. That surgery never happens, and the Nuggets never say why. Gallinari fills in the blanks with his Facebook video in June.
  • May 2, 2013: Nuggets are eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, four games to two, by the Golden State Warriors.
  • May 7, 2013: Coach George Karl is named NBA coach of the year.
  • May 9, 2013: General manager Masai Ujiri is named NBA executive of the year.
  • May 31, 2013: Toronto Raptors announce they have hired Ujiri to run their basketball operation.
  • June 6, 2013: Nuggets fire George Karl.
  • June 17, 2013: Nuggets hire Tim Connelly to replace Ujiri.
  • June 21, 2013: At press conference introducing Connelly, team president Josh Kroenke is asked if he is confident Iguodala will re-sign with the club when he becomes a free agent July 1. “One hundred percent,” he says.
  • June 25, 2013: Nuggets hire Brian Shaw to replace Karl.
  • July 7, 2013: Iguodala agrees to a four-year deal with the Warriors worth $48 million.
  • July 10, 2013: Nuggets acquire Foye as part of sign-and-trade deal sending Iguodala to Warriors.
  • July 11, 2013: Nuggets sign free agent forward J.J. Hickson.
  • July 26, 2013: Nuggets sign free agent guard Nate Robinson.
  • Sept. 30, 2013: The Nuggets’ web site publishes a story on the eve of training camp headlined, “Expectations remain high as Nuggets open new era.”
  • Oct. 1, 2013: The Nuggets’ web site publishes a story on the first day of camp headlined, “Gallinari upbeat as Nuggets go through first practice of camp.”
  • Jan. 2, 2014: Nuggets suspend guard Andre Miller for two games for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
  • Jan. 3, 2014: Nuggets rescind suspension of guard Andre Miller, saying he will take time off with pay for personal reasons.
  • Jan. 21, 2014: Gallinari undergoes reconstructive knee surgery.

The Nuggets are currently 20-20, three games out of the Western Conference playoff bracket. A year ago through 40 games they were 24-16, on their way to winning nine of their next 11. They have lost nine of 20 home games after losing three of 41 last season. The debate among the chattering class is now whether they should tank the season in hopes of getting a good draft pick to add to the pick they are due to receive from the New York Knicks in a promising 2014 draft. In other words, whether they should start over.

(Correction: The sentence about the draft picks was poorly written, as several readers have pointed out. The Nuggets must surrender the lower (worse) of their two 2014 picks to Orlando as part of the trade to acquire Iguodala in August 2012. As I understand the argument from those who advocate tanking the season, the Nuggets missing the playoffs would give them two chances at a high lottery pick, assuming the Knicks also miss. They will not end up with both picks.) 

Longtime Nuggets fans are extremely familiar with this strategy. They saw it in 1990, when Doug Moe was fired and his aging team of the 1980s dismantled. They won 20 games. They saw it in 1996 and 1997, when the team that upset the Seattle Sonics in the 1994 playoffs was dismantled. They won 21 and 11 games in consecutive seasons, missing the NBA record for fewest wins in an 82-game season by two in 1997-98. And they saw it in 2002, when Kiki Vandeweghe dismantled the team from Dan Issel’s second go-round. They won 17 games.

Arguably, it worked twice. The dismantling of 1990 delivered a series of high draft picks that turned into Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis, Bryant Stith, Rodney Rogers, Jalen Rose and Antonio McDyess. Pre-McDyess, it had its moment in the sun in the 1994 postseason, but poor decisions and devastating injuries to Ellis and McDyess short-circuited that generation of Nuggets.

The dismantling in 2002 delivered the third pick of the 2003 draft, which became Carmelo Anthony. When Karl was hired as coach in the middle of the 2004-05 season, the Nuggets began the best run in their NBA history, winning 50 or more games five times.

But tanking was hardly the plan when Kroenke blew up the management team that won all those awards last year. When I asked him last spring if he was lowering expectations for this season after making those changes, this was his reply:

“Not at all. Not by any means. But do I think that 57 wins is within our range? Of course. Do I think that we will get there? I’m not sure. I can sit here and I can plan for the next number of years, but the one thing you can’t plan is injuries. We are starting the year and we are going to be without one of our leading scorers [Gallinari] for a significant portion of the year.

“I have a contractual situation this summer with Andre Iguodala. Andre and I know each other very well; I have had good conversations with him over the last week and I think Andre knows the direction that I want to take the team. I think that he is excited about it and that is going to be a big piece to our summer as well.

“For next year I am not lowering expectations at all. I am going to try to win every game that we can but also implementing a long-term vision on how to get to the ultimate goal of getting to the NBA Finals and winning an NBA championship.”

The confidence Kroenke expressed that his relationship with Iguodala would lead him to return to the Nuggets turned out to be misplaced. The confidence he placed in Gallinari, Tellem and their outside doctors, the ones who recommended the “healing response” treatment, also turned out to be misplaced. There are those around the association who believe the Nuggets’ front office was intimidated by Tellem, one of the game’s most powerful agents, and feared a confrontation over treatment of Gallinari’s injury.

As a result, Kroenke’s answer to the question about lowering expectations for this season turned out to be inaccurate. The Nuggets are nowhere near the team they were a year ago. As Kroenke pointed out, the injury to Gallinari was going to take a toll in any event, but had the standard medical response been taken at the time, he would now be in his 10th month of rehab from ACL surgery rather than his first week.

After all this, Nuggets fans can be forgiven for asking, as they have many times over the past 24 years: Do the people in charge of this boat have any idea what they’re doing?


Coffee with Josh Kroenke

Josh Kroenke is a busy guy. At 33, he’s the top executive of both the Nuggets and Avalanche and, of course, the son of their owner, E. Stanley Kroenke. He’s also coming off a year in which he put his stamp on both franchises, naming new front office executives (Tim Connelly and Joe Sakic) and new head coaches (Patrick Roy and Brian Shaw). He joined me for a cup of joe this morning at a Starbucks not far from his office at the Pepsi Center.

Q: You reset both organizations last year, front office and coaching. Let’s start with the hockey team. How do you think it’s going so far? How do you think, in particular, Joe is transitioning into his new role?

A: I think Joe’s doing a wonderful job. Joe is a great communicator. Obviously, I think that Patrick has done a very good job as well. I think everybody is doing a really good job in their new roles. It’s good to see the cohesion that the organization has. Top to bottom, there’s communication at all different levels, and if someone is doing something that someone else thinks they can do better, or they think they can do differently, no one is afraid to communicate about it. And I think that’s great.

Q: Were you surprised at how fast they got out of the gate?

A: I think we all were. I think that’s a credit to Patrick, but most important that’s a credit to the players. It’s been a rough few years, and we knew when we reset it a few years ago, going young, it was going to take a few years to kind of come together. But I think as fast as it’s come together over these past few months, it’s been great to see, because we knew we had some young talent there. It was just a matter of pointing it in the right direction.

Q: How long did you think it was going to take to be a playoff team?

A: I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping that we had the right guys in charge, and I think with Patrick and Joe, and Greg [Sherman] as well, I think we do. I think that they’re all doing a great job and I think that with the youngsters, seeing everyone buy in, and then the veterans we have on the squad as well, it’s been really rewarding for me to see how quickly they’ve turned it around. It’s a lot of fun for me to be a part of.

Q: Was the Elway model part of your thinking when you decided to go with Joe?

A: I don’t know John very well, but I’ve had the privilege to kind of talk to him here and there and pick his brain a little bit. With guys like John and Joe, guys that have competed so long in their respective sports, and with the kind of people they are, I think it lends very well to leading an organization like they do. I think Joe and John know each other a little bit. I don’t know how well they know each other. But I know that Joe respects John, obviously. As far as the John Elway model, I didn’t look into it too much. I looked at making sure we got the right guy for the job.

Q: Traditionally it sort of defies history because the history of great players as coaches or GMs isn’t great. And yet it seems as though in this town anyway there are now two models where it seems to be working pretty well. Did you go into that, in terms of the history of it?

A: You know, I didn’t go into it too much. I wanted to make sure we had the right people and the right personalities for the job. At the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to put the time in and really put the work in. I think that John and Joe are both spectacular examples of that. Knowing Joe and knowing John a little bit, I know they take what they do very seriously and they’re both winners and they want to win. And until they get to that point, I know that neither of them are happy.

Q: You came to your positions with a lot more background in basketball than hockey. How has your personal evolution gone with the game of hockey?

A: You know, it’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy the game. To understand it on a level that I do now as opposed to where I was when I first moved to Denver is night and day. It’s a great game. I can see why so many people love it and so many guys want to get into it at a young age. It’s a true team sport. You meet a lot of great people. Throughout the league, in all these organizations that I’ve had the privilege of being around, it’s wonderful people. Very humble people and a lot of hard workers and they love the game just as much as John loves football or Brian Shaw loves basketball. It’s a great sport to be a part of. The individual stars are going to play well, but it’s all about the hockey assist — who can set up their man and who can set up their teammates. I think it’s probably my favorite sport to attend in person. Sitting down on the glass of an NHL game is an unbelievable experience.

Q: What’s been your approach to how close or distant you want to stay from the players?

A: That’s evolved over time. Particularly on the basketball side, when I moved here, I knew a lot of the guys. I played against them. I played with Linas Kleiza in college. That’s kind of evolved over time from a peer-to-peer relationship and now that I’m in kind of a supervisor role in both organizations, I’m still close with the guys, I like to have a relationship with the guys, I think that’s important that they feel that on both teams. Went on a hockey road trip earlier this year. That was so much fun. I went on the early season trip to Toronto and Boston and it was great. Great to be around the guys. At the end of the day it goes a long ways; they know that I’m behind them as well.

Q: Keeping in mind the Daniel Snyder story in Washington, where the owner’s relationship with star players has been a problem for coaches, as an owner in roughly the same age bracket as the players, is there any issue there for you?

A: The locker room is the coaches’ domain. I don’t want to interfere with that at all. Me having a relationship with some of the players on the periphery I don’t think is a problem, and if it ever was a problem I would hope that the coaches would come address it to me right away because I don’t ever want to interfere with anything that they’re trying to do.

Q: You’ve got a member of the Swedish Olympic team [Gabriel Landeskog], a member of the Russian Olympic team [Semyon Varlamov], a member of the Canadian Olympic team [Matt Duchene] and a member of the U.S. Olympic team [Paul Stastny]. Were you disappointed Erik Johnson didn’t make the U.S. team?

A: I was disappointed EJ didn’t make it. I was hoping that Jan Hejda would get a chance at the Czech Republic team. There’s so many different nationalities; it’s one of the cool things about hockey is it brings together people from all over the world. I was hoping that as many of our guys were going to get a shot as they could, but there were a few guys I was hoping were going to get included but didn’t.

Q: So let’s switch gears and talk about the Nuggets. The last time I heard you talk about the state of the team was last year when you did a series of press conferences about organizational changes and free agency, so let’s go back to that point and let me ask you first about the Andre Iguodala deal. When you look back on that, were you disappointed at the time with the outcome? Were you surprised?

A: I was more disappointed than I was surprised. We’d done our diligence throughout the year and throughout free agency. We kind of knew there was a chance that he would come back and a chance that he wouldn’t. In the transition period, Tim Connelly didn’t have to hit the ground running, he had to hit the ground in a full sprint. We were able to have good conversations with Andre and his representation. Ultimately, Andre felt it was best for him to go elsewhere. That’s really all I can say about it. He plays for another team now and we’re looking forward.

Q: So how do you feel about the moves that you made after that and the roster that you have now?

A: I feel pretty good. Andre waited several days into free agency to make his decision and he was our No. 1 priority. We didn’t have any cap space to really use. We were going to re-sign Andre with Bird rights. So there was a different evaluation of players. Looking at our current roster, even without Andre, we felt we were a playoff team. So we wanted to try and bolster our bench and also provide value signings to where we were flexible moving forward.

Q: And do you still feel that way? Do you still feel like you’re a playoff team?

A: I do. The hard part that comes with professional sports and sports in general is you can’t make an honest assessment until you’re healthy and it’s been a rough year in that regard. Obviously, without Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] and without JaVale [McGee], we don’t know really what we have. I think that our guys have done a wonderful job of stepping up to the plate without a full roster.

Q: Speaking of JaVale, I think it’s fair to say there was a widespread perception that you and the organization wanted JaVale to play more and that contributed to the trade of Kosta Koufos. Is that a fair assessment?

A: I don’t know if it’s completely a fair assessment. I think we’re always looking at ways to improve our team. Obviously, with the salary that JaVale commands you hope that you get a lot of production out of it, but we don’t ever try to dictate who plays or who doesn’t play. We want to let the coach set the rotation and if he feels that he’s going to win more games with somebody else, then by all means, we should go with somebody else. But JaVale is a talented guy and I think hopefully with more playing time he gets better, but obviously we’ll never know until he gets healthy.

Q: Do you see him as an enigma as a lot of NBA observers do?

A: He’s an interesting personality. He’s much more intelligent than a lot of people give him credit for. I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of very intelligent people over the course of my life and sometimes the most intelligent people are the hardest ones to kind of read. And JaVale seems to be that way. I think that the next year or two or three of his career will obviously be very telling — what he wants to do and how he wants to get to the level he wants to be as a player.

Q: With respect to Gallo, there have been a lot of different estimates along the way of when he might be ready. Some of them were a lot earlier than now. Do you have any feel for when he might be back?

A: You know, obviously we want to get Gallo back as soon as we can, but with an injury like that, you never want to rush it. So Gallo is on Gallo’s time frame. He’s been working his tail off on a daily basis with [strength coach] Steve Hess, [trainer] Jim Gillen and our entire training staff. We have a physical therapist on staff now, starting this year, and I know that Gallo and some of the guys are very pleased with the exercises that he’s provided. With an ACL, you’ve just got to be careful. Derrick Rose sat out the entire year last year to make sure he was healthy. We don’t want to rush Gallo back, but obviously, he’s a huge part of our team.

Q: So no specific ETA?

A: No, I can’t give you a specific one. I would love to be able to, but I can’t because I would hate to provide the wrong information.

Q: What did you make of the last week or so, with the losing streak and the turmoil surrounding Andre Miller?

A: You know, I knew there was going to be some ups and downs, and sometimes some of that stuff just has to work itself to the surface. With ups and downs and the transition with the coaching, Andre was somebody that, he thrives in an up-and-down type of pace, but Andre is getting older and we’re kind of in a transition period where we had lost several games in a row and I think Brian was trying different things out. I respect Andre immensely and I respect Brian immensely and I think it was just one of those emotional things that gets the best of people at the time and I don’t anticipate any issues moving forward.

Q: Looking back, did you think that perhaps bringing in Nate Robinson and creating a three point guard situation might at some point have to settle out?

A: I’ll leave that up to Brian and the coaches to figure out. With Nate, I think the idea that Tim and Brian discussed was to provide some scoring punch, and obviously Nate does that here and there. It was a transition for everybody in the organization, let alone the guys that were coming in from a different team. Nate’s had his ups and downs but he’s a fiery competitor and somebody that we hope can provide some additional benefit to us down the road. One thing I thought that we lost a little bit last year was at certain times throughout the year we didn’t look as tough as we needed to be, and Nate’s a tough guy.

Q: You’re about middle of the pack offensively in terms of scoring and in terms of efficiency. Middle of the pack defensively in terms of efficiency. What do you think of the style of play at this point?

A: As far as the style’s concerned, I think we’re doing just fine. I think Brian’s going to get better over time as he continues to experiment with different things that he thinks are best for our team and best for our personnel. We started off kind of slower earlier in the year, and I think that was by design. Then I think we got into running more and more, and our pace continued to improve. With the injuries we just don’t exactly know how everything is going to shake out until we get healthy because we have some talented guys that aren’t playing right now.

I think with a new system and a fresh idea with some of the guys that are kind of entering their defining years on what’s going to happen with them and their careers, it could be all over the place. I don’t know how to exactly answer your question because we’ve done a few different things throughout the year so far. We started off slow and now we’ve kind of sped it up a little bit. We want to get out and run. We’re at the mile-high. That was one of the things that Tim and I talked about initially when I interviewed him, was we like to play fast here. We want to get out and go and take advantage of our natural resources.

Q: It looks like you’re playing about as fast as last year, but your shooting percentage is about four points below where it was last year. Do you think that’s about the people or the mix?

A: I think it’s a combination of everything. We started off 0-3. We played a really difficult game in Sacramento. It was such an emotional night for the city, that was going to be a tough one to win. And then we came back and we got thumped by Portland who, it turns out, is pretty good. And then we had to play San Antonio, who we also know is pretty good. Then we went on a little run, we won seven or eight in a row, and then we were kind of here and there, here and there, and then we lost seven or eight in a row. There’s going to be ups and downs. I think the most difficult part of sports, one is injuries and two is staying patient with the team and the people that you have. Everybody is so competitive and they want to win, but you have to have a much bigger picture in your mind over a period of years. I think we’re right about where I thought we’d be. I think we’re right where we were last year at this time, almost.

Q: I think Brian had it flipped. He said after the win over Memphis that you were right where you were a year ago after 32 games, at 15-17. I think you were 17-15 last year, and you were about to go on that run where you won 16 out of 19 or something.

A: I knew we were right around where we were. But there’s going to be ups and downs. Ultimately, I don’t look for the big swings. I look for a growth chart that has its ups and downs but is steadily improving.

Q: More than a few fans think that a bunch of these guys are pretty much your average, replacement-level NBA players. Whether it’s Hickson or Arthur or Foye or Nate — journeymen, guys who have been around. So when you talk about the people who are about to define who they’re going to be as players, who are you talking about?

A: We have several of those guys, guys in their mid-20s really starting to show if they’re going to take a leap or if they’re going to remain who they are, I think. Those are big-time growth years as a person, and you figure out who you are. I think we have several guys. You can just look at our roster and go down, look at the ages, and we have several guys that are in that time frame. And there’s a couple guys we think have a chance to be pretty doggone good and there’s a few guys we’re still waiting to see who they are and who they want to be.

Q: You don’t want to talk about specific names, I take it?

A: No, but you can look at the roster and look at the ages. We have a lot of guys that are clumped together along with one or two guys, like Randy and Nate and Andre, that are a little bit older. And then we have a couple guys that are younger. But then there’s a stack of guys that are all around the same age there, within a few years of each other.

Q: What’s fair to expect from Ty Lawson? I think there’s some frustration that he looks so good sometimes and then the rest of the time, not so good.

A: You know, Ty’s been through a lot here in Denver. He was somebody we had our sights on in the draft, we were able to get a hold of him through a trade and he’s developed here the whole way. I think Ty has unbelievable potential. I think he can be one of the best guards in the league. It’s a matter of him getting comfortable with the offense and comfortable with himself being an alpha like that. Is he a true alpha? I don’t know. Ty’s as good as he wants to be, I think. He has that type of talent.

Q: If you were talking directly to your fans and addressing the perception that you’ve taken a step back, what would you say?

A: I addressed the team earlier this year and I said, ‘Sometimes, going to a place you’re unfamiliar with can lead you to a place you’ve never been before.’ I think that’s kind of the general message that I tell myself. Sometimes you have to take a slight step back to take a bigger step forward.

With the coaching change, I’m more than happy with Brian. I think he’s doing a great job. George [Karl] did an unbelievable job when he was here. I have the utmost respect for him. I try to tell people how difficult a summer it was for me, but I don’t know if anybody really understands. I think it’s a bright future. We have a lot of very good players, we have a lot of flexibility and I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a great thing for us moving forward. I understand the hesitation because we had such a great season last year, but I’m really excited about the future.


Breakfast with George Karl

Had breakfast with George Karl a week ago, just before he and the family left for Italy to see Coby play and enjoy a family holiday.

The girls of DJ’s Berkeley Cafe — this is what they called themselves — had to have their picture taken with him. The woman who entered when he did had to tell him she was a fan. About half the people he runs into think he’s still the Nuggets’ coach and wish him luck in the next game.

Between the public battle with cancer, the generally entertaining and successful basketball team and the continuing work through his foundation on cancer, George is very popular when he’s out and about. I invited him to north Denver for breakfast thinking he might go unnoticed. I was completely wrong about this.

Excerpts of our conversation:

Q: So how have you been?

A: Well, you know, the summer was normal. My son plays summer league and we do family things in the summer time. Everything was normal. I think the emptiness, the shallowness of ‘What the hell’s going on?’ probably didn’t start until mid-September, when the guys are back in town. You know they’re working out and everybody’s in the gym. September’s a fun time because you’re starting to get excited but you don’t have any pressure. The pressure doesn’t start until you actually start practicing.

ESPN has been fun. I mean, it’s incredible what ESPN has done. I was there 8 1/2 years ago and it’s an amazing transformation. The town of Bristol now is the capitol of sports TV. And why I have no idea. But it is. And it’s growing and growing. When I used to be there, it was so much slower and smaller. It was a small town when I was there 8 1/2 years ago. Now it’s a big city. It just blows my mind.

Q: Do you think you have a future there?

A: It’s not something that I necessarily want to do the rest of my life. I would probably rather stay in the gym.

Q: Have any coaching opportunities come up yet?

A: No. I’m hoping they don’t come this quickly.

Taking a team in the middle of the year is not the most advantageous situation. We had a helluva ride here [32-8 following Jeff Bzdelik (13-15) and Michael Cooper (4-10) in 2005]. It’s the only time I’ve really ever done it. I’m sorry — when I went back to Seattle in ’92, I guess [27-15 following K.C. Jones (18-18) and Bob Kloppenburg (2-2)]. Seattle was desperate to get back in.

There are parts of how my life is now that I’m enjoying. I’m enjoying scheduling time to see my family, hanging out at my kid’s school and being involved in the neighborhood and all that good stuff. As you get older, you probably like that more.

Having more time being at home, being with Kim and Kaci and some more time to socialize, and then I have my time to go to ESPN, which connects you. And I have some other endeavors, doing some videos and talking about maybe doing a book. I’m not a big book writer because I don’t think I want to tell all the truth right now. I think that’s the next chapter.

Q: When you’re done?

A: There are some things, like cancer and the empathy and the consciousness I would like to bring to my story, a lot of people say it would be a good story. There are some other possibilities. Teaching. Maybe talking about what I think about my career and my life, not a biography but more what I’ve learned. What I’ve learned from people. What I’ve learned from Phil Jackson, what I’ve learned from Dean Smith, what I’ve learned from Larry Brown, what I’ve learned from Doug Moe. And then also maybe have a writer go talk to them about me, because I’m not afraid of somebody saying, ‘Well, I think George is a jackass.’ That’s been written before.

Q: Have your views changed at all about what happened to you here?

A: I still don’t have a tremendous understanding of it. It’s funny, when I walk around Denver, people still think I’m the coach. They’re like, ‘Hey, good luck tomorrow!’

Q: Do you watch the games?

A: When I have a relaxed moment, I do. I don’t ever say, ‘I can’t do that because I have to watch the Nuggets game.’ It’s really strange but in my discussions with ESPN and amongst other situations in TV and radio, Denver doesn’t come up. It just seems like the rest of the nation doesn’t think they’re relevant. So I think they’ve got to re-prove themselves.

Q: They’re playing better lately.

A: (Nods). JaVale [McGee] getting hurt, one, opened up the lane, and two, I think it makes it easier to coach the team. You can find minutes for four guys and you have one big guy, which you probably need. Against 30 or 40 percent of the teams, you need a big guy. But about 60 percent of the teams, the spirit of the team is to play fast.

Even in the first 10 games, I think it’s shown that they play better when they play fast. They’re actually playing at a faster pace than we did last year. I mean, it’s close.

Q: The original plan seemed to be to feed JaVale in the post. Can that work?

A: The thing we went to three or four or five years ago, of attacking, attacking, attacking, the first couple years we had Melo and we tried to balance it. We tried to attack and get Melo his isos and then he had some post-ups. What we found after the Melo trade was it’s better to say, ‘This is the way we play.’

What the whole thing comes down to is you can’t lose the strength of the team, and I think the last three or four games the game’s been tilting back to playing very aggressive. So it’ll be interesting where it ends up.

I love Ty (Lawson) having a great year. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for Timo (Mozgov) because in a lot of ways, I thought, what happened the last three or four years, the two guys that got screwed by me, by my decisions, were Birdman [Chris Andersen] and Timo. Both of them now seem to have found a place and that makes me happy.

Q: What’s your take on JaVale?

A: He came here as a player that played 30 minutes [in Washington] without earning that responsibility, was given that responsibility because they were a bad team. My year with him last year, I was trying to figure out what he was. I thought at the end of last year he earned the right to get more minutes this year but I don’t think he earned the right to be given 30 minutes.

Q: Did you ever have a sit-down within the organization about JaVale’s role?

A: I don’t remember that conversation directly, one-on-one, either with [owner] Josh [Kroenke] or even [former general manager] Masai [Ujiri]. I think they tried to lobby through my assistants quite frequently, especially Masai. But we were having such a fun year last year that the opportunity probably didn’t come up until we lost to Golden State.

Q: Have you relived that series much, or replayed it in your head?

A: Gallo’s injury took our defense. Say we were above average defensively, and I think that probably would be a good way of phrasing it. And we went from above average to ordinary. We had no versatility in our defensive schemes. Wilson [Chandler] was the only guy that we could maneuver around. And we run into an offensive team that was the best at what we did the worst — cover the three ball.

And then you take your versatility out and you’re playing two small guards that their guards can shoot over even with good defensive position. They took the momentum from us in Game 2, shooting the hell out of it, and Games 3 and 4, that building was, it had a karma to it. We took it to Game 6. It wasn’t my favorite series I’ve coached. I wish I would have done a better job trying to figure out how to give confidence to our offense and/or our defense. Even in our two wins, I thought they were on guts and grit more than they were on good basketball cohesiveness. I think we were trying to find answers quite often in that series and didn’t find answers. And that falls on the coach.

Q: Do you think Andre Iguodala was Mark Jackson’s “mole”?

A: No question.

Q: Does that bug you?

A: I just think that’s media hype. I mean, that series was not a physical series. Everybody wants to be more aggressive with the guy kicking your ass, so . . . .

Q: The media didn’t say it. Jackson said it.

A: I thought Mark had a lot of tricks in that series that were bush- . . . I don’t know. I don’t know what they were. Almost high-schoolish. They were beneath the NBA level. And they might have worked. They might have motivated his young team in a good way. You know, he’d announce a starting lineup and start another guy. C’mon, man. You think we’re not ready for that?

Q: Is your goal still to coach in the NBA again?

A: One more time.

Q: I’ve thought the best chance would be a situation like the one when you came here, a team that’s underperforming with nothing to lose.

A: It bothers me a little bit that no one realizes that coach Grg [Tim Grgurich] and I were two of the guys that started player development, and our history of developing ordinary players into better players is off the charts. It bothers me that our practice habits and how we prepare before the game and work our guys out is being copied by 10-15 teams in the NBA. It bothers me that not only did you have a winning program, you had a culture that was admired by other NBA people.

And I’m not saying it can’t be duplicated or done better. I know it can. But in the same sense, there’s a chance it can’t. I just thought it was a year too early, maybe two years too early to not try one year more to see if it would go a little further. Because it was pretty impressive. Statistically, it’s extremely impressive.

It might have a little Moneyball to it. It works in the regular season, doesn’t work in the playoffs. We’re aware of that. We’ll listen to that criticism and see how we’ll change it. I think Oakland [baseball’s Athletics, the Moneyball model] has tried to change some of its philosophies with the Moneyball system.

Q: Are you still frustrated about the ending?

A: I’m not frustrated with eight and a half great years, fun years. The window of frustration is small compared to, I found a home and an unbelievable eight and a half years. To take not winning in the first round of the playoffs as your scapegoat, I don’t think you evaluated it fairly. That’s just my opinion. Obviously, there was a bigger opinion somewhere else.

Q: When did you decide that Denver would be your permanent home? Seemed like you really liked Milwaukee, too. Any other stops in the running?

A: My hope was to coach another two or three or four years, ride out this chapter of development and, you know, fade into the sunset. I would never live in Cleveland. I don’t think I’m a California guy. Seattle, it just rains too much. So I think you’re right, Milwaukee, when you get older I think you look for a home a little bit more, probably. But you know Boise has always had a good proximity to my first family. We hang out in McCall, Idaho in the summer time. My idea before Denver was I’d probably move to Boise and have a winter home in Phoenix or Tucson or someplace.

But now, Denver’s weather, its beauty . . . The street has always been nice to me. It still is. I get a lot of, ‘I’m a Nuggets fan but I’m more a George Karl fan because of what you’ve gone through.’ A lot of cancer patients, survivors, feel friendly enough to come talk to me about their story.

Q: What’s your foundation up to?

A: We do lots of work locally, including with the Boulder Community Hospital. We raise $100,000 a year and donate it to other charitable organizations that I think are really good for cancer in Denver. I have no desire to be in a national program. I want, whatever my foundation does, I think it’s all going to be in Colorado.

Q: Why is that?

A: In my history of advocacy, I think I’ve always thought about the national, federal side of it, and I think it’s too big to be successful. So over the last five or 10 years, I think you should work harder taking care of your community, being involved in your city, maybe even in your region, your town, because you can maybe have more of an impact. I used to write checks for presidential candidates and think whoever wins the presidency is important. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that the national government is basically a bank that’s kind of messed up. I don’t know that that’s the case with national cancer societies. I think the American Cancer Society of Colorado does a great job. But Colorado has an ability to be one of the top cancer care centers in the country. I think all of cancer care can be done better. I think we need to rethink how to do this better.

I’m a big advocate of integrative care. I think holistic and integrative care, bringing in meditation and acupuncture and massage and relaxation, I think we need to open our minds.

The society of cancer advocates reminds me of an NBA locker room. It has a lot of ego and a lot of money. Insurance companies — lot of ego, lot of money. Pharmaceutical companies — a lot of ego and a lot of money. Doctors — a lot of ego and a lot of money. Hospitals, non-profit, profit — ego, money.

I’m sure cancer is not the only situation like this. I’m sure diabetes might have the same nightmares.

Q: Do you address it the same way you address it in an NBA locker room?

A: I’ve never had the chance, but I would. I really think if we all would kind of work as a team, that we’ll all come out of it better off.

Q: How do you overcome ego and money?

A: (laughs). I’m better at ego than money, probably. I mean, millions of dollars have messed up a lot of parts of the game of basketball. If you’re playing for the money, I don’t know if you can be really good.

Q: Percentage-wise in the NBA, how many players in your experience are basically in it for the money?

A: More. It’s growing. Every year it’s gotten more.

Q: Less than half?

A: That would be interesting, to ask that question. I think almost all players now, in the summertime, are businessmen and are worrying about whatever, their brand and these words I keep hearing. But the great players still, when it comes October first or November first, they understand what 82 games is.

That’s why I admire LeBron a lot. I think he’s the best guy in basketball and he is possessed to win championships. I’m sure he understands that’s going to make him more money, but that’s not why he’s that way. He has a goal to catch Michael. He thinks he can. And he is driven.

If Julyan Stone would have that same passion, of just, ‘I want to get on the court, I want to play 15 minutes a game and I can do that,’ if that’s what his drive is, he’ll get there better than, you know, ‘If I get on the court I might make a couple million dollars a year.’ The drive’s got to be the passion for the game and I think the game has gotten so business-oriented, so agent-player relationship centered, that it’s hard to not say that money’s always going to be a part of the decision of where [a player] goes.

But I still think the great player is driven by the passion for the game and not by the check that he gets every two weeks.

Q: So what’s the plan? Wait for the phone to ring?

A: There are days I wish it would ring and there are days I don’t want it to ring. I mean, I watch the Knicks play and I wouldn’t want to be in that hell for a million dollars. It’s just New York City and the Garden and the immensity of the pressure. I think Mike Woodson is standing up to it with tremendous integrity.

Q: Best team in the West?

A: San Antonio, probably. I’m a Golden State fan. I’ve never seen a team with that many offensive weapons. David Lee and Bogut, you could run an offense through them and they could win games. If the Denver Nuggets had Bogut and David Lee, they’d be good. And they’re not among the top offensive options. Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala. They have so many weapons offensively that can blow up, and they’re doing a pretty good job with the defense. I think Houston and the Clippers are still in that stage of development that I think they could be very good by the end of the year, but they have their moments now when they struggle.

The team I like a lot and it bothers me is New Orleans. That Davis kid is coming and their three guys out front, Holiday and Gordon and Evans, can get to the rim, and they can score. Gordon can be a great shooter. And then they’ve got the Ryan Anderson kid who’s the best shooting four in basketball.

Q: So why does it bother you to like them?

A: I think they should be playing better. But I’m still on record that I like ’em a lot. I like them because Anthony Davis is a basketball player. He’s not a big man. He’s a basketball player that’s seven feet tall. And I just think the game is about basketball players, not necessarily position players.