I now move on to the George Karl Fiasco story Part 3. To briefly summarize the first two parts, in Part 1 I carefully described Karl’s belief system as revealed in numerous post-game and other media interviews, as well as in his decisions during games. I then showed how those beliefs have caused him to take away from J.R. Smith big blocks of playing time which, ironically, has made Smith even more impulsive and overly charged up and thus prone to stupid mistakes during games. In Part 2, I identified the only two players who are immune from the threat of being benched by Karl for petty reasons, Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, and I described in a new very important way the error that will be fatal to the Nugget’s postseason chances that Karl is making regarding J.R. Smith.
Here in Part 3, we take a brief look at what is at stake should the Nuggets be defeated by, in effect, Karl’s beliefs, and fail to even make the playoffs even though they have 3 superstars. Then, in Part 4, we will begin to compare Karl to other Coaches past and present.
The loss of Nene and Atkins to two illnesses may be what exposes George Karl as a poor coach to the world, because I truly believe that most other NBA coaches could get at least the 8th spot with the remaining superstar lineup. But George Karl is not "most other coaches," and he might very well fail to get the 8th spot with Nene and Atkins gone.
As you can tell by reading my lines and reading between them, I have essentially no confidence in Mr. Karl to guide his team to a playoff berth in the wake of and despite the serious roster hits. The strange thing is, the loss of Nene and Atkins, in my estimation, is the perfect scientific experiment to see whether Karl is as problematic as I believe he is.
Karl still has in Carter the point guard he would favor over Atkins even if Atkins were healthy, so the Atkins loss means surprisingly little to the Nuggets under Karl. But the loss of Nene, and the continuing reality that Kenyon Martin is not going to be back to 100% any time this season, means that if the Nugget’s coaching staff tries to get through the season on autopilot, they may crash the franchise plane into a Colorado mountainside.
If Nene and Atkins are going to be gone for most or all of the season, the Nuggets need a signing or two of available diamond in the rough replacements, or even an emergency trade, in order to get some kind of an insurance policy against Karl and his associates failing to make the appropriate adjustments and then failing to make the playoffs with a lineup that still features Camby, Iverson, Anthony, and Martin.
According to the ESPN playoff odds overseen by John Hollinger, which are based on a relatively simple and thus a relatively solid statistical framework, the Nuggets are unlikely to make the playoffs. The playoff odds, which are built on the framework of the Hollinger Power Rankings of the 30 NBA teams, are calculated by computer every night. According to the playoff odds, the Nuggets are expected to finish as either the 9th or the 10th best team in the West, just missing the 8 playoff seeds.
Were the Nuggets to miss the playoffs, it would rank as one of the truly historic franchise failures in the history of pro basketball. Other coaches are able to make the playoffs with players most of whom are not as talented or productive as the Nugget’s 3 superstars, so a Nuggets playoff miss would be a real humiliation for the Nugget’s coaches, the front office, and I guess the players themselves if you believe that they should be able to guide themselves, so to speak, into the playoffs with little strategic or tactical assistance from their coaches.
It would be a true outrage and downright embarrassing to Denver if a team that features Iverson, Anthony, Camby, and Martin could not make the playoffs. Hardly anyone outside of or in the Denver area is going to swallow a "we lost Nene and Atkins" excuse if the Nuggets do not make the playoffs.
The effect of not making the playoffs would go way beyond mere embarrassment. If the Nuggets do fail to make the playoffs, and George Karl does not "retire," how will they be able to get quality potential free agents interested enough in playing for Denver that they and their agents will work with their general managers to work up trades? Potential free agents and coaches the Nuggets might want would continue to look down on the franchise as a "gang that can't shoot straight.” I say “continue,” because this is already a problem to some extent, with many top players preferring the brighter lights, the more successful and glorious playoff histories, and the greater exposure that playing in a huge market either on the East coast or the West coast provides. If the Nuggets fail to make the playoffs, who will want to play for the Nuggets in 2008-09? Instead of helping or staying neutral, the quality free agent players and their agents would be stopping trades and signings where they would go to the Nuggets. Moving J.R. Smith for just compensation would be much more difficult. The situation would be really horrible in my opinion, and could easily lead to the Nuggets failing to make the playoffs again in 2008-09, this time by a wider margin, with them falling to .500 or even worse. .
So it is crucial that the Nuggets make the playoffs, even if they are quickly eliminated. If the Nuggets do fail to make the playoffs, it will set the franchise back and endanger the immediate future. Charles Barkley's derogatory views of the Nuggets will be considered gospel. And failing to make the playoffs could possibly set off a chain of events that leads Iverson to decide that he made the wrong move in his mission to win a ring. He might look for another team.
We shall see. Unless one or two Western teams collapse to some extent, there are going to be two West Conference teams that finish with winning records but do not get a playoff spot. Meanwhile, for the umpteenth straight year, the East Conference will most likely feature at least one team with a losing record that gets a playoff berth. Sports can be just as unfair as life sometimes. Whether the Nuggets make the playoffs in the West is most likely going to be an extremely close call. In fact, which team gets the last Western playoff spot may very well be determined by a tie breaker.