A franchise record 57 regular season wins doesn’t mean much to Josh Kroenke. Neither did having the NBA Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year running your squad.
Not when you get bounced in first-round as the third seed.
Kroenke cleaned house this past month, letting general manager Masai Ujiri cross the boarder to Toronto and firing head coach George Karl. Rushing to fill these spots before the NBA Draft and free agency period, Kroenke hired Tim Connolly as vice president of basketball operations and Brian Shaw as head coach. How did it come to this, Josh?
OUT WITH THE OLD
Initial reports of Ujiri’s exit from Denver was unexpected. When word came out the Toronto Raptors offered Ujiri a five-year $15 million dollar contract – a juicy raise for Ujiri who was making $500,000 per year with the Nuggets – his departure came as less of a shock. Ujiri was familiar with the Raptors, having come to Denver from Toronto in 2010 as a rising front office brainpower. Kroenke was unwilling to match the offer and Ujiri, heralded for completing the Carmelo Anthony trade, left the country.
Then, Kroenke fired Karl. Let’s take a closer look.
The Nuggets have made the playoffs ten consecutive seasons, nine coached by Karl. Only once have the Nuggets made it past the first round – in 2009 when they advanced to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Karl has acquired the reputation of a Hall-of-Fame coach who hasn’t been able to get it done in the playoffs. Sure, he has been to the Conference Finals three times – with the late Seattle SuperSonics, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Nuggets – and one NBA Finals with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp with the SuperSonics in 1996. But Karl’s 80-105 record in the playoffs and .432 win percentage sticks to his resume.
There is a reason Karl has coached for over two decades and will most likely get another job soon. In 25 seasons, he has only missed the playoffs three times – including two seasons, 1985-1986 and 1987-1988, when he was fired midway through the year. He boasts a 1131-756 record in the regular season, and a .599 win percentage, good for sixth all-time in wins and 30 all-time in win percentage.
Karl gets his teams to the playoffs, no problem, but hasn’t figured out how to get them to play games in June. That’s why Karl has never won a championship and the reason he no longer coaches the Denver Nuggets.
Some may still argue that Karl wasn’t given a fair shot with the current Denver roster. After all, Danilo Gallinari was out for the playoffs after tearing his ACL and Kenneth Faried didn’t look like the “Manimal” after an ankle injury suffered in mid-April.
No doubt, Karl is a Hall-of-Fame coach who has been through a rough few years dealing with throat cancer. But in a business where championships talk and patience runs Kevin Durant-thin, Kroenke was ready to move on.
IN WITH THE NEW
The next move for Kroenke was to fill in the cavernous holes left by Karl and Ujiri. His first hire was Connolly. Connolly was previously the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly the Hornets) and is considered a budding young talent in the executive ranks. Like Ujiri, Kroenke is banking on a young executive in Connolly, 36, to take the Nuggets to the next level.
Now with the help of Connolly, Kroenke had to find a coach. Shaw it is. After being passed up by several teams, the Nuggets decided to give Shaw a shot at coaching. Shaw played 14 seasons in the NBA, and then moved on to coaching. He was an assistant coach with the Lakers, the majority of the time under legendary coach Phil Jackson. Most recently, Shaw spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers, helping them reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013.
Shaw is a proven winner. He was a part of the Lakers three-peat in the early 2000s and won another two as a coach in 2009 and 2010. He has received heavy endorsements from NBA legends Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, and has admiration across the league. An apprentice of the Zen Master himself, Shaw is well prepared to lead the Nuggets.