Google+ Followers

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

THE EVOLUTION OF GEORGE KARL

Thanks to Eric Musselman for bringing this article to our attention via his twitter (he's a must follow). The article comes from ESPN.com and was written by Ramona Shelburne:

George Karl's office is the space of a man with a lot going on. Cluttered, not messy. The important stuff is where it should be. A picture of Karl and his son Coby hangs on one wall. A photo of his youngest daughter, Kaci, is above his desk.

Karl is 50 pounds lighter now than he was when the picture with Coby was taken. His gut is noticeably smaller. So is his neck, when he's not wearing a mock-turtleneck that covers up the damage left by radiation treatments for neck and throat cancer in 2010.

He doesn't read the kind of things you expect him to. There are basketball books in his office, sure. But there's also "The Happiness Advantage" and "The Biology of Belief." Karl loves books like this. Things that make him think and get his mind bouncing all over, connecting thoughts and ideas in new ways, making the world look just a little bit different than before. People, players, ideas, books, basketball. He loves anything that does that.

When people ask how Karl is different now, how surviving two bouts of cancer have changed him, or what all the ups and downs in his remarkable coaching career taught him, you point to moments like this, when he shoos away a negative thought before it has a chance to rattle around in his guts and take him down the rabbit hole.

"I think I give my mind more space to think the right way now than I did then," Karl says. "My ego and my anger and my hatred for losing, that possesses you and doesn't allow your brain to function in a correct manner."

There are still vestiges of the old George. Quirky things, like how he hangs his suits up after games, puts a box score in one pocket and his game tie in the other.

"I pull out the stat sheet later, and if it's a loss I throw the tie away," he says, laughing at himself.

"There's some superstition there, but it's more that I like the tradition. I like taking the walk after shootaround when I'm on the road. I like to take my nap.

"I used to have these little sayings -- just things that fell into my life along the way -- during the playoffs."

He hasn't done that this year, he says. Nothing has popped into his head.

"Except for one thing," Karl says, catching himself. "We had this shirt made up for the guys."

He fumbles around his desk looking for it, then realizes it's on his chair.

On the front of the shirt is one word: TRUST.

Masai Ujiri thought he had some idea of what to expect from Karl when he was hired as Denver's general manager in the fall of 2010. He'd worked with Furious George as a scout in the Nuggets' front office from 2003-07, loved him, got him, and generally felt he understood him.

But the coach he encountered on this second turn with Denver had changed.

"I tell some of the players, 'Thank your God that he is like this now,'" Ujiri said with a smile.

"There's a big difference. He's calmed down. I think he enjoys it a bit more. He channels his energy in different ways, more positive ways.

"I think before he was more reactive. It wasn't necessarily anything bad, he just wore his emotions on his sleeve. You saw more of it. Now you see calm. He thinks about something, then he moves forward. He doesn't even give it the time of day."

Ujiri was only 39 when he accepted the GM position. Very young for the job, just like Karl, who was 33 when he got his first NBA head-coaching job in Cleveland in 1984.

Ujiri had never been entrusted with such power and responsibility. And this was going to be a doozy. The Nuggets' superstar player, Carmelo Anthony, wanted out. It would be Ujiri's job to trade him.

Complicating matters was Anthony's desire to be traded to the New York Knicks, and only the Knicks. Ujiri essentially had just one team to negotiate with, and 28 others to commiserate with.

There was a fundamental choice to be made before any talks began: The Nuggets had to decide what they valued. What was meaningful to them as an organization, what kind of team they wanted to be. And for that, they looked to Karl.

Ujiri studied Karl's great Seattle teams from the mid-1990s. The type of players he got the most out of. The types who didn't fit. The way he liked to play.

"The most impressive thing is his system," Ujiri said. "The way he coaches allows players to be very successful. Role players, star players, all kinds of players -- they all did well for him.

"When I came here [Nuggets owner] Josh Kroenke told me that, if Carmelo left, the type of players we wanted to bring in were young and energetic, who would fit with his system."

It was a conscious choice to aggregate talent and essentially shun the star-centric system. To prioritize speed, depth, athleticism, defensive ability and hustle over play-making and scoring talent.

Or, as Karl puts it, ''Why don't we just go get really good players and try to make 'em great?"

These are just a few of the excerpts of this story -- click here to read the entire story.