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News » Karl's fate in hands of players

Karl's fate in hands of players

Karl's fate in hands of players Now the Nuggets get to vote. Do they want George Karl as their coach? The decision is in the hands of Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and - here's a scary thought - J.R. Smith.

Denver is talking NBA championship.

Is Karl, with 933 career victories in the league but no ring, the right man for the job?

Unable to land a new deal he badly wanted, Karl is working in the final season of his contract with the Nuggets . That seems to be the definition of a make-or- break year.

Either the Nuggets win it all, or Karl's fate will be open to debate by franchise owner Stan Kroenke and his merry band of front-

office execs.

So I asked Karl: Will the lack of job security change the way he coaches?

"Better not change," an eavesdropping Billups playfully shouted from the back of the room, before Karl could answer.

Hmm. Who's running this team?

Well, in truth, the answer never really changes in the NBA. This is the ultimate players' league, unless your name is Phil Jackson or Jerry Sloan.

"Whether you're a player or coach in a contract year, the best thing you can do is really give your best. That's the bottom line," Billups said. "When you're in a year that you've got to prove yourself and prove your worth, the best thing you can do is cross all T's and dot all I's, and not worry about things out of your control. The only thing you can control is your product."

In a little more than six seasons with Detroit, Billups and his teammates were perennial championship contenders, despite the fact the Pistons went through four coaches.

"Oh, we'll have rough patches during the season. That's a given," Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman said. He trusts there is the needed mutual respect between Karl and his players to work through the stickiest of situations.

But the coach in the final year of his contract walks a knife-thin line with a sharp, jagged edge. What happens to Karl now really depends on how hard Kenyon Martin plays for him or if Smith tunes out the coach.

"I've seen it from afar, when a team said, 'Oh, I didn't want this coach anyway.' And I've seen teams say, 'We've got to fight for this guy.' I think it's based on your leadership in the locker room, not with the coaches," Billups said.

"It's my responsibility, it's Melo's responsibility and it's K-Mart's responsibility to keep the players locked in at all times. No matter what's going on in the front office, no matter what's going on in the coach's office, we've got to play for us. Especially with a young team, with poor leadership, it could go either way."

But how will Karl, whose Basketball IQ is as undeniable as his mercurial temperament, handle the strain? When the inevitable problems in the locker room arise, he will not have a hammer. There is a well-documented history of serious disagreements between Martin, Anthony and Smith and their coach.

Karl has mellowed, and now wisely trusts Billups or assistant coaches to get his message to the court. But in a tense situation, will Karl implode? Unlike him, Denver's star players are relatively secure in the knowledge they will be around next year if this season goes sour for the Nuggets in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, where San Antonio, Portland, Dallas and the defending champion Lakers all made significant personnel additions to already loaded rosters.

According to Karl, the last time he faced the possibility of lame-duck status was in 1997-98 with Seattle. And how did that turn out? "We won 61 games," he recalled.

But it wasn't exactly a happily-ever-after ending, because Karl and the Sonics separated, with both parties getting the seven-year itch for a new relationship.

"George Karl has more than 900 games in this league. He's a pro. And we have players who are pros," Chapman said. "Do you think this is a coach who can be somebody he's not? George is going to be who he is."

At age 58, Karl certainly must understand he is beginning to run out of chances for fresh starts in the NBA. So, better make this work in Denver.

"I believe this team can win a championship," Karl said, "and that's my job."

Is the NBA title a fair expectation for a franchise that's never won one?

Maybe not.

But know this: If Denver players get the sense he's not the coach to get it done, Karl will be looking for his next job.

Mark Kiszla: 303-954-1053 or

Chat with him weekdays from 10 a.m.-noon on Kickin' It with Kiz on

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 29, 2009


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