George Karl Optimistic After Denver's Dominating Opener
The only thing is it wasn't that hard at all.
The Denver coach had quipped he had hoped his first regular-season game back after battling a form of throat cancer would be against Minnesota rather than Utah, which upset a Karl-less Nuggets team 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs last season. But the Jazz looked rather Timberwolf-like Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, and not just because ex-Minnesota player Al Jefferson was manning the pivot.
Or maybe it's that the Nuggets are going to a lot better this season than many expect. Denver took a 27-point lead early in the second quarter and cruised to a 110-88 win in the regular-season opener for both teams.
"I hope that it's the beginning of a 50-win season and getting back to being a premier team in the Western Conference,'' said Karl, who was coaching his first regular-season game since March 16 before missing the final 1 1/2 months of last season. "I think we can be that. I'm still amazed by the soothsayers that say we're not very good. I think we're pretty good.''
More will be known after it's learned how good the Jazz will be after Utah on Wednesday used just six players returning from last season. But there are ample reasons to believe these Nuggets aren't too shabby.
Yes, big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen are still not back after undergoing offseason knee surgeries. But young guards Arron Afflalo, who is showing his 20.4 scoring average in the preseason isn't a fluke with his 22 points Wednesday, and Ty Lawson are improved.
Summer addition Al Harrington, who returned after missing the final seven preseason games with a foot injury, strengthens the bench at forward. And Shelden Williams, starting for Martin at power forward, had 16 rebounds in his first game after being picked up off the scrap heap last summer on a minimum contract.
And then there's that guy who's still around. That would be forward Carmelo Anthony, still with the Nuggets after many believed he already would be traded by now. Anthony, who has yet to sign a $64.47 million contract extension offer and can opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer, had 23 points after getting a nice ovation from the crowd during introductions.
"My job is to try to convince 'Melo the place he wants to be is Denver,'' said Karl, who now looks to be in good position to get the multi-year contract extension he seeks to stay in Denver. "He just doesn't know it yet.''
All Anthony could do was laugh when he heard what Karl said.
"George, come on, man,'' Anthony said. "Come on, George. Just let me play. Nah, I'm here, man. I was excited about playing Utah. I'm here. I can't control what happens out there. Whatever happens is going to happen.''
The Nuggets could trade Anthony by the Feb. 24 trade deadline. For now, a source believes it's likely they'll at least wait until after Dec. 15, when free agents signed last summer can be traded, which would add to the pool of players available.
If that's the case, it would give Denver fans at least 11 more home games to cheer Anthony.
"The fans were good,'' Anthony said. "The reception, I felt good about it. The fans, they want to see basketball. They came out here to see basketball. It was the opener. I'm here in a Denver Nuggets uniform. They don't want drama. I don't want drama.''
Well, maybe the Nuggets do. Historically, they sometimes have done better when faced with adversity.
"Everybody wants to talk about the negativity,'' said Karl, whose team had minor scares Wednesday in the first quarter with center Nene missing most of the quarter after being poked in the eye and point guard Chauncey Billups missing most of it to get four stitches in his lip after an accidental elbow by Deron Williams. "There is a strengthening that comes from tough times.
"There's a strengthening that comes from a difficult understanding, and sometimes you got to be more focused. Sometimes you got to be tougher minded. Sometimes you got to be more disciplined. ... With our injuries and maybe the turmoil we have, we've got to stay focused.''
Of course, injuries and the situation with Anthony is small stuff compared to what Karl has had to go through this year after being diagnosed with cancer in January and going through a rigorous treatment procedure. But he's now looking stronger each day.
The fans gave Karl a nice ovation when he was introduced. He called it a gratifying night even if he did say "the hype of the game was a little strange for me.''
"Just the appreciation of the players,'' Karl said about his emotions. "I told the team before (the game) that their friendship and their togetherness over the summer helped me want to get back. I also told them I think they're a special team, and it's an honor and a privilege to try to be a special team in this league to coach and to coach one is my privilege.''
Karl is liking his team so much he told FanHouse earlier this week he's hoping to sign a multi-year contract extension to stay in Denver. Sources said Nuggets executives soon will get to work on trying to make that a reality.
Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri didn't want to get into specifics. But he offered little doubt the team wants to keep Karl around for the long term.
"George is here for awhile,'' Ujiri told FanHouse. "We don't discuss anything like negotiations and all that. We haven't come to that, but George is in the future plans for sure.''
As for Anthony, that's another story. But it had to be encouraging for Nuggets' brass to hear him talk about how he believes this team stacks up against the outfit that advanced to the 2009 Western Conference finals before losing 4-2 to the eventual champion Lakers.
"I think now we're a little deeper than we were on that team,'' Anthony said. "I think that team in the Western Confernce finals, we were a little dirty. I think everybody was concerned about us being dirty during the games. Now, we can rotate everybody. We got the bench that are coming off and playing extremely well.''
Well, any team with Martin in street clothes wouldn't be accused as much of being dirty. He and Andersen will be back eventually, and Denver's record could be a lot better when they return than many had envisioned.
As for Karl, obviously the wins aren't always going to come as easy as they did Wednesday. But even Utah coach Jerry Sloan saw one consolation in a night in which his team got wiped out.
"That was good,'' Sloan said of Karl being back on the bench. "It's a great thing. He's done a lot in his career in basketball. It made me feel good to be there.''
Sloan knows games against the Nuggets this season with Karl on the bench will be far different than they were during last spring's playoffs, when the team was headed by assistant Adrian Dantley. It doesn't figure to be long before everybody in the league recognizes that.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson