Karl, Nuggets Still Eyeing Playoffs
Keep in mind the Nuggets went just 2-7 in playoff series in Carmelo Anthony's seven seasons in Denver. Both series wins came in 2009, when the Nuggets made the Western Conference finals and the only season since 1994 in which they've won even one postseason series.
Nevertheless, with Denver being in the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference playoff race as the blockbuster deal was done to ship Anthony and veteran leader Chauncey Billups to New York, the Nuggets coach is talking big.
"I might be crazy, but I think we can make the playoffs and I also think we can be a threat to win in the playoffs,'' Karl said Tuesday. "I'm sorry. I just think our guys are good enough to grow up fast and to learn quick.''
Karl seems to have it all figured out for his Nuggets (32-25), who entered Tuesday night's game against Memphis at the Pepsi Center in third place in the Northwest Division, 4 ½ games behind first-place Oklahoma City.
"I want to win 18 (of the remaining 25 games),'' Karl said of what would make the Nuggets 50-32. "If we win 18 games and beat Oklahoma City twice (in the final three meetings to win the tiebreaker in the series the Nuggets now lead 1-0), I think we have a hell of a chance, and I know you think I'm crazy, to have homecourt (advantage in the first round of the playoffs).''
With the Nuggets highly unlikely to catch the top three teams in the West -- San Antonio, Dallas and the Lakers -- that means the Thunder (35-19) would have to close 15-13 for the Nuggets to catch them and win the tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed in Karl's world.
And all of this talk comes before a single player gotten in the trade has shown up for a Nuggets practice.
In the deal, which included Anthony signing a three-year, $64.47 million contract extension with the Knicks, the Nuggets got point guard Raymond Felton, forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, center Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks 2014 first-round pick, 2012 and 2013 second-round picks that once belonged to Golden State and $3 million. The Nuggets also got center Kosta Koufos from Minnesota and also shipped forwards Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman and guard Anthony Carter to the Knicks while sending a 2015 second-round pick to the Timberwolves.
"The whole thing comes down to every one from the coaches to the organization felt something had to be done, a movement had to be made,'' Karl said of Anthony being on the trading block due to being unwilling to sign a an extension with the Nuggets and having leverage due his ability to opt out and becoming a free agent this summer. "Josh (Kroenke, Denver's president) and Masai (Ujiri, the executive vice president of basketball operations), pulled it off... They did a great job of getting the most out of what they could.''
Karl offered special thanks to the New Jersey Nets, who also were in the running for Anthony. Even though FanHouse had reported in December that Anthony had no interest in signing a contract extension with the Nets and there never was any indication he had changed his mind, New Jersey's dealings with Denver resulted in the Knicks sweetening the package enough for the Nuggets to agree to send Anthony to his preferred destination.
"The New Jersey-Knick game probably got us what we wanted,'' Karl said. "Because they were bidding against each other.''
But what Karl didn't want was to see was the departure of Billups, a Denver native, and hometown hero. While Anthony had been angling is way out of town, Billups had made it clear he didn't want to leave.
"I can't deny that when the trade went down last night, I was kind of more sad than happy,'' said Karl, who spoke to his players Tuesday and told them of the effort needed in games this week when the Nuggets, who also play Thursday and Friday, could be shorthanded if traded players do not arrive in a timely manner. "I think most of that sadness was because of Chauncey.''
The Nuggets lose their top two scorers in Anthony, averaging 25.2 points, and Billups, averaging 16.5. Karl said Gallinari is the most likely candidate to replace Anthony as the starting small forward and Lawson will take over now for Billups as the starting point guard. But there certainly is a chance Felton, averaging 17.1 points and 9.0 assists, eventually could seize that spot.
For now, the Nuggets are just glad to get the deal done. Anthony had been on the trading block since it became apparent last summer he was in no hurry to sign the extension the team offered.
"I'm just happy it's over with, period,'' said forward Al Harrington, who said he has no regrets signing a five-year contract as a free agent last summer, turning down Dallas because he liked the Nuggets' prospects better. "Now, we won't have to answer these questions no more. I hope this is the last time I'm going to have to answer any trade questions for a long time.''
Like Karl, Harrington and forward Kenyon Martin both said they believe the Nuggets still can make the playoffs.
"If it was going to happen, I guess there's no better time than now,'' Martin said. "We're good, man. We've got guys who are going to show up and play. Of course you're going to miss Melo and Chaunce, A.C., all those guys. But like I told the guys, 'Can't worry about who's not here right now. We've got a job to do, so go out and do it' ... Why not (make the playoffs)? Still got good guys who can play basketball.''
If the Nuggets make the playoffs, it will be the first time they've gone into a postseason without Anthony since 1995. In his 7 ½ seasons with Denver, Anthony helped make basketball again relevant in the city, averaging 24.8 points.
"I have tremendous respect for what he did here, what he gave us, what he gave me,'' said Karl, who had coached Anthony since January 2005. "I can't deny his personality and his skill level is a conflictive personality to a coach. And you know I thought we survived this year ... in a positive way. Now, was it an A-plus? Probably not. But I look at whatever the six years that I had with Melo is a blessing for a coach.
"Trades are hard for coaches. I mean, I've been with guys I knew I had to trade. But, when you do it, it doesn't feel good.''
Still, Karl said he believes the team's "skill level is going up in playing fast'' because "Melo's not a fast player.''
Denver's players, though, were in no way critical of Anthony. Harrington said he's "happy for him'' due to being "back home.'' Anthony is a New York native who moved to Baltimore when he was 9.
While the Nuggets ended up being the trader of Anthony, some in Denver think the word to describe the four-time All-Star now is traitor. But Martin came to Anthony's defense.
"Why is he a traitor?'' Martin said. "He didn't trade himself. Just because he didn't want to rush and sign something, everybody labeled him as that? The man didn't have to rush. He had until next summer to sign. So what's the big deal? I understand what people are saying, but it's a business at the end of the day. The man made a business decision not to sign the extension yet.''
Nevertheless, there never really was any serious possibility in recent months Anthony was willing to re-sign with the Nuggets. So now they are without him for the first time since they went 17-65 in 2002-03.
But that hardly has stopped Karl from talking about, not only making the playoffs, but winning a series.