George Karl didn't see it coming. The Denver Nuggets fired him after he led a young team to a franchise-best 57 wins, and the move by team president Josh Kroenke came just a month after Karl received the NBA Coach of the Year award.
Karl spoke with 850 KOA radio's Dave Krieger and discussed a number of topics including his dismissal, the contract talks that possibly led to his firing, and Denver falling to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of this year's playoffs.
The most interesting part of the piece details Karl's failed contract discussions with the Nuggets. With an odd three-year option to be picked up after the 2013-14 season, Karl said he was willing to rework a deal for a one-year extension if it'd help him stay in Denver -- remaining with the team was a priority Karl said he made clear to Kroenke.
But soon after that conversation, Kroenke shockingly fired Karl.
"I think I called it stupid," he said, recalling his final meeting with Kroenke, the one where he was dismissed after eight and a half seasons. "I think I did say, 'I want you to know I think this is really stupid.'
The Nuggets weren't without disagreements despite their success, but Karl downplayed reports that there were issues over how little he played young investments like JaVale McGee. There weren't discussions about player rotations, and though he admitted to some tension with general manager Masai Ujiri (who is now with the Toronto Raptors), it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"I think Masai (Ujiri) and Josh both thought it was easy to win," Karl said. "It is not easy to win."
"I had felt since the trade deadline that Masai and Josh were over here and we were here and it seemed like we were getting further and further apart," Karl said. "But I thought it was just my paranoia and just coaching. It seemed like I would piss them off with what I said in the papers or how I handled the game or whatever. But the harmony of our team, I thought, was in a very good place."
Now a candidate for the openings with the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, Karl sees a frightening trend in the coaching world. Not even successful winners can call their jobs safe. Karl will interview with the Grizzlies on Monday, after the team fired coach Lionel Hollins following a 56-win regular season. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was similarly fired after a 56-win year.
For that, Karl even went as far as saying he felt hypocritical for being interested in the two openings.
"It might be the right stuff for Josh Kroenke, but it's the wrong stuff for the game of basketball," Karl said. "And it's sick and a little sad that coaches are losing this much respect or appreciation. I don't think the game is going to be healthy if we continue down this path of blowing up coaches who have done well. "
Still, he's not overlooking his successful eight-plus seasons with the Nuggets and a community that swelled with support as he battled throat cancer a few years ago.
"But I also want to say that the Kroenkes have treated me well. My eight and a half years is a special eight and a half years. I found a home. I'm going to live in Denver. And the fans, for me, I mean, the connection the fans made with me here was deeper than it was even in Seattle. And both ways. The fans who don't like me are pretty intense. But I mean, I get people who are pretty emotional coming up to me now, almost crying, making me cry.