Sources: Nuggets' Rebuilding Won't Affect George Karl's Future
With it becoming apparent the Nuggets most likely will be entering a rebuilding mode, sources said Tuesday the team is committed to bringing George Karl back as coach next season and Karl is committed to staying.
The Nuggets and Karl, whose contract expires at the end of the season, have been working since early December on an extension, most likely a deal for three years. The sides have agreed that the future makeup of the team will not be an issue, and that a deal will get done.
Speaking to FanHouse before Tuesday night's game against Phoenix, Karl confirmed from his end he has no plans to leave Denver next season regardless of whether or not the Nuggets are rebuilding.
"Yeah,'' Karl said. "I'm hoping to be in Denver next year.''
Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri did not return a message Tuesday.
Current trade talk surrounding Anthony has delayed negotiations. But there is optimism that if a trade is done soon, Karl's extension could be wrapped up by the end of January. If the Anthony situation lingers, Karl's situation could go into February.
Anthony, who has yet to sign a three-year, $64.47 million contract extension and can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer, is likely to be dealt by the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The Nuggets are talking about a three-team trade, which also would include Detroit, that would send Anthony and Billups to New Jersey. But the deal could hinge on whether Anthony is willing to sign an extension with the Nets.
There also have have been reports the Nuggets want to include forward Al Harrington in the deal with the Nets. Harrington is a New Jersey native.
"It really doesn't matter to me,'' Harrington said in a brief interview with FanHouse. "Whatever happens happens. So we'll see.''
Karl sure doesn't sound like a guy who wants to lose Billups as his starting point guard, which would be a further indication the Nuggets will be entering a rebuilding mode.
It was Billups' acquisition in November 2008 that spurred the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals, where they were two last-second botched inbound passes away from upsetting the eventual champion Lakers before losing 4-2.
"I think Chauncey knows that we love him,'' Karl told reporters after Tuesday morning's shootaround. "I think Chauncey knows that we are in a situation that we got to make decisions. But, in the same sense, Chauncey knows that if he wants to come here (in the future if having departed), Chauncey will always have a place on our team. I think the organization feels the same way.''
But it's the organization that is looking to trade Billups, 34. A source who has been involved in the lengthy Anthony trade negotiations said the Nuggets believe they likely would buy out Billups anyway after the season, something that could be a negative in the community since the Denver native is beloved. So why not just pull the cord now, when the trading of Anthony already will be looked upon by many locals as a negative?
Billups is under contract next season for $14.2 million. However, the Nuggets, or whichever team he might be with at the end of the season, can buy him out after the season for $3.7 million. With Billups showing signs of slippage this season, the source said the Nuggets have been thinking about buying him out in addition to having thoughts about seeking to re-sign him at a lesser salary.
Billups, who does not want to be traded, said Tuesday he has talked to Nuggets management about his name being included in trade rumors but wouldn't offer details of the conversation. He was asked why he believes the Nuggets are willing to trade him.
"I don't know,'' said Billups, whose averages have dropped from 19.5 points and 5.6 assists to 16.8 and 4.9 this season. "You have to ask the powers that be. I don't know.''
The Nuggets regard Ty Lawson, Billups' backup, as their waiting-in-the-wings starting point guard even if Karl on Tuesday didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement for Lawson being ready for such a role. Karl said, "I like Ty Lawson a lot.'' But he believes the second-year man still must take some steps.
"Ty has got to mature, too,'' Karl said after the shootaround. "He has a laid-back mentality that drives me a little crazy at times.
"My big belief and approach to leadership is you lead by example, you lead by attitude and you lead by approach. You don't lead by words. And his laid-back attitude probably stops him from being the leader that I personally would like him to be right now. But I think we can change him.''
They might have to if the huge three-team deal goes through, one that could involve more than a dozen players. Other key pieces moving could be forward Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris from New Jersey to Denver, guard Richard Hamilton from Detroit to the Nets, and forward Troy Murphy from New Jersey to the Pistons.
The source who discussed Billups believes Harris then would be moved to Portland in a package for Nicolas Batum, who would be Anthony's replacement at small forward (another player, such as point guard Andre Miller, would have to be thrown in to make the salaries match). The source, who believes the Trail Blazers are on board with that, said Harris wouldn't be needed in Denver because of Lawson being earmarked as the future starter.
Still, there's no guarantee the deal will go through. Anthony might continue to hold out in the hope of being traded to New York, his believed preference.
On Monday, Anthony expressed disappointment that Billups' name has come up in the trade talks because Billups is a hometown hero. On Tuesday, Billups expressed his gratification for that.
"Honestly, I really respect him and appreciate the fact that Melo is concerned with my future and my life and my family,'' Billups said. "That just shows what kind of person that he is. We have a big-brother, little-brother type of relationship. And he knows what's important to me.
"So for him to be even thinking about that, and it's a crazy time for him, it means a lot. But, unfortunately, the business of basketball is a little bigger than Melo and myself.''
Billups' agent, Andy Miller, told FanHouse last Saturday his client would see a buyout by this summer if traded. Billups was asked Tuesday if he would seek a buyout either immediately or next summer if dealt to New Jersey.
"That's something that we'll talk about later,'' said Billups, a five-time All-Star.
Billups was with six teams in his first six seasons. But after finding a home with Detroit in 2003, he led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title and was named Finals MVP. He believes that situation has prepared him for now.
"It's tough,'' Billups said of being in the trade rumors. "But the one thing that I'm grateful about is going through what I've been through so many times. I got a real, true understanding of the game and the business when I was 21 years old, when I was a rookie and I was traded that year.''
Billups said the toughest part of leaving Denver would be because his family is here. He and his wife, Piper, have three daughters and his parents and his brother are in the city.
"I'd be able to play basketball on the moon if they had a flight there,'' Billups said. "I can play anywhere. But the family part of it is the most difficult situation.''
Billups has expressed a desire to move into Denver's front office when he retires. As for Karl's offer of always being welcome by the Nuggets, Billups didn't want to get too far ahead.
"You guys know how I feel about Denver,'' Billups said. "That's a long way. That's a lot of different scenarios and situations down the road. But I'm probably always going to live in Denver the rest of my life, when my career's over. So you never know what can happen.''
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson