Wednesday, May 8, 2013

George Karl second Nuggets coach to win Coach of the Year

It was announced today that Nuggets head coach George Karl won the NBA's Coach of the Year award. Karl won the award in a landslide vote as he received 62 first place votes. The next closest coach was the Heat's Erik Spoelstra with 24 first place votes. Karl has been a hot topic on the podcast and we discussed his role with the team on this week's show. Lost a bit in his award is the fact that the Nuggets are no longer playing this season, but that shouldn't tarnish the work Karl did with his 57-win team in the regular season.

Karl wants his team to do three things on offense: one: get to the rim, two: get to the foul line, three: take three pointers. It's amazing how much the Nuggets players follow suit. Watching other NBA games you see a lot of bad shots and low-percentage looks. Karl gets his team to take the higher-percentage shot on most occasions and that's a testament to how well his team listens to what he wants.

George has discussed how his coaching style has changed over the year as he's gotten older. He's no longer "Furious George" he says, but arriving to many practices early - you can hear Karl barking orders at his players though the doors blocking the media from whatever is going on inside the practice gym. Even when the doors are opened and the media is let in, Karl has continued to ride his players until they get things right.

The X's-and-O's are only part of the NBA coaching game. Motivating players and getting them to buy into what you want to do is the single biggest challenge that I believe coaches face. How can you motivate millionaires that have been beaten down by life in the NBA? How can you get a young player to believe that your way will be what leads to their success?

When Ty Lawson became a Denver Nugget in 2009, people had mixed thoughts on what type of player the undersized point guard could become. Lawson will be entering his fifth NBA season when he steps on the floor for the 2013-14 campaign. He is the engine that makes the Nuggets go and Karl has helped turn Lawson into one of the best point guards in the league. It's as if the two were destined to team up. Lawson with Ferrari like speed and Karl the driver that wants to mash the gas pedal.

But Lawson has become more than just a lightning quick guard. Under Karl's guidance he has developed an all-around game, but the most important aspect of Karl's tutelage? Leadership. Karl talked about calling and texting Ty nonstop last off-season to challenge Ty to become the leader of this Nuggets team. How did Lawson respond?

Ty challenged his teammates in the media this season for not listening to Karl's game-plan. His play after that moment began to soar and his teammates took notice of him as the season went on. Andre Iguodala was asked what he enjoyed most about playing with the Nuggets, he didn't hesitate to compliment Lawson:

"How quickly I adjusted to my teammates," said Iguodala. "I think it kind of showed in the fourth quarter last night. Even when we were down throughout the game, Ty and I, we continued to have conversations with the team. To lead the guys. I've never had such great comradery with teammates that quickly. We really came together. We gelled."

Credit Lawson, but also credit Karl for steering Lawson's ship (to a degree). Karl was asked about Lawson's leadership this season and he acknowledged how far he'd come, but he also said he would pester him again this summer. Lawson said he would pay for the rooms for any of his teammates that wanted to come out to Las Vegas and train with him this summer.

It's no surprise that Karl, a former point guard, would want Lawson to be the leader of this Nuggets team. Karl didn't have a long professional career, as a player. He played for the San Antonio Spurs in the ABA from 1973-76 and for the Spurs in the NBA during the 1977-78 season. His found his niche as a coach.

Do his players love him? I remember Iguodala talking early in the season about how there is always somebody who hates the coach on the day-to-day basis - as guys want more playing time, more rest, more of something.

Coaching in any professional sport is about the same as playing in any professional sport - it's hard work. Coaches must balance different personalities, keeping guys happy, doing what is best for the team, working with a roster they don't have a lot of say in, working through injuries, working through trades, and being second guessed by just about everybody.

My first season with access to the team, I came away impressed at how close this Nuggets team was - from the way the players, coaches, public relations team, and training staff all worked together and worked together with a closeness I still do not fully understand and never will.

There is so much that goes into an NBA season and the 57-win Nuggets will always have a place in team history. This is just the second Nuggets team to get a Coach of the Year award. Doug Moe won the award for his work during the 1987-88 season where the team went 54-28.

It's great that this franchise win setting team got some national recognition with Karl's award and it was great to hear Karl thank all the people who helped him along the way and to credit this award to his players, staff, and the front office.

I can't wait to see what's next for the Nuggets.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter

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