George Karl's Return Speaks Loudly, Even if His Voice Does Not
Tuesday marked the first day of practice for the Denver Nuggets coach since he was lost in March for the final 1 1/2 months of last season due to a form of throat cancer. If Karl's voice didn't hold up, an electronic whistle was in his pocket.
Karl said he didn't use the whistle except to joke around with players. His voice, although a bit strained following Monday's media day and team meetings, was good enough to make it through the first day of training camp.
"When you have a bad practice and guys have a lazy mentality, you might use it then,'' Karl said. "But (Tuesday) was very professional and very solid.''
And very uplifting. Nuggets players were thrilled to have their coach back on the court.
"Seeing him energetic, positive, you can tell he's excited about it,'' said forward Carmelo Anthony.
Yes, Karl was excited. He said it hit him shortly before practice started that he was back doing what he loves.
"Before the practice, there was an emotional moment to say, 'Don't take for granted what you've always loved to do,' " said Karl, who noted that moment hit him about 10:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the start of the workout, when he walked onto the court and players were getting ready. "I thought of some of the people who have helped me get back here and who I should probably make a phone call to thank.''
When the media was able to watch the final half hour of the 2 1/2-hour workout, Karl was not too animated. Forward Al Harrington said the assistants did a lot of the floor work Tuesday.
But it's just the first day. And having assistants do a lot of work during NBA practices is hardly uncommon.
"When he had to come in and brought it in, he gave us the little speeches or whatever,'' Harrington said. "He had a lot of passion behind it.''
The speeches are just shorter. Karl says his mouth still gets sore when he talks for more than three or four minutes.
Karl is expecting that will be the case for at least two more months and perhaps for as many as seven more. He admitted he wore out his voice a bit early this week due to all his pre-training camp duties.
"I think it might be strained from the combination of the (past) two days,'' Karl said.
But that's OK with Anthony.
"He can't talk more than four minutes, which could be a good thing,'' Anthony joked. "Other than that, he sounds good, he looks good.''
Yes, Karl does.
"It's fun to be back,'' Karl said. "It's fun to get the butterflies. It's fun to interact with your basketball family. I was pleasantly surprised in the intensity and attitude in almost everybody. I thought there might be a little bit of a cloud over it, and it would take some days to get away from that. But I thought we had a very solid practice and got a lot in.''
While some of his workload figures to be scaled back, Karl doesn't plan to miss any games this season. He offered only one limitation provided by his doctors.
"Right now, I think they don't want me to kind of lose a lot more weight,'' said Karl, who has dropped more than 40 pounds since being diagnosed in January with the cancer and going through rigorous treatments in March and early April. "They want me to kind of sustain my weight that I'm at right now. If I do want to lose weight, wait a few more months before I do that.''
Karl's task is to get the Nuggets back to their 2008-09 form, when they threw a scare into the eventual champion Lakers before falling 4-2 in the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets, with assistant Adrian Dantley having replaced Karl, were upset 4-2 in the first round of last season's playoffs by injury-riddled Utah.
"We went up and down and it would have been a different story if he would have been out here,'' guard Anthony Carter said of what Karl told the players before Tuesday's practice to let them know they can return to the 2008-09 level.
It remains to be seen if the Nuggets, with Anthony a candidate to be traded due to his unwillingness so far to sign a three-year, $64.47 million extension offer that is on the table, can get back to that level. But the players sure seem excited about having their coach back.
"It was great,'' Carter said of Karl's return to practice. "It was pretty emotional.''
And sometimes lighthearted. Karl demonstrated his electronic whistle to players during practice.
"It had three sounds,'' Carter said. "One like a Tweety Bird call, one like a police siren and another like a regular referee's whistle.''
Karl said he's never used a whistle in his coaching career. He remembers what his college coach, North Carolina legend Dean Smith, once said.
"Coach Smith told me, 'If your voice is strong, use your voice, not your whistle,' " Karl said.
Karl's voice isn't as strong as he expects it will be later in the season. In the meantime, it can't hurt to have a whistle around just in case.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson