I don’t know if it’s because I live within the market or not, but there seems to be a large number of NBA folks who think the Denver Nuggets could be a sleeper team in the NBA’s Western Conference this season. Most of the talk will surround teams in Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, where there is plenty of star power. But can the Nuggets surprise folks without having a true superstar? Coach George Karl believes they can.
George Karl joined KKFN in Denver with Evans and Klatt to discuss the Denver Nuggets’ dark horse status, JaVale McGee, why the team can win without a star, looking forward to a full season after the shortened version last year and his expectations for his team.
A lot of people seem to believe your Denver Nuggets are the dark horse in the West. Are you getting that feeling during the preseason?:
“I would have to give a grade of B+. I think we’ve played good basketball; we have our players playing at a high level. I think we’re competing in the right way. … We’re not 100 percent yet. The last couple games, the 3-ball has gotten crazy on us, which we thought was one of our weaknesses last year, covering the 3-ball. We’re trying to, philosophically, get a little better there. … I think what I’m excited about is I’ve got so many guys on this team that have a window of improvement, and maybe a big window of improvement. … It’s just exciting to have a foundation like that.”
What’s the next step for JaVale McGee?:
“For me it’s just his consistency. The game of basketball has a lot of possessions to it. JaVale has this way of doing the spectacular. He has a highlight-reel type of talent, but there’s so many possessions that you’ve just got to be smart and consistent and fundamentally sound. I think too many times he doesn’t give the mental focus to those possessions. … Sometimes he’s a spectacular defender; other times he’s a reactor at the defensive end of the court. We just want him to be more consistent.”
When you talk about this group of guys and their attitude, do you feel re-energized at this point?:
“I think since the trade and since I’ve come back from my cancer thing, I’ve delegated things more than I ever delegated. I only coach 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 situations and the games. My coaches do a great job and they’re very, very respectful. They’re very respectful of just trying to do the game and working hard.”
Nobody denies that you have a lot of options and talent, but people question whether this team can win without a star:
“I think if we win basketball games, there’s going to be a star that’s going to evolve. We kind of have our thoughts on that. I think the best team wins NBA championships year-in and year-out. It’s not the most talented team that wins NBA championships. … I just think it’s the team that understands job, has a together attitude and then kind of catches the chemistry in the playoffs. Dallas two years ago wasn’t that top-notch NBA basketball team, but they beat the Lakers, swept the Lakers, got some confidence and Dirk Nowitzki went crazy and won an NBA championship. I just think we have guys — not as talented as probably Dirk — but we have young guys. If we can be successful in the first round of an NBA playoffs, I think we can roll and figure out who evolves. I think evolving is a part of the NBA. I think you’re going to see, this year, one or two surprise teams in the NBA.”
Are you looking forward to normalcy this year after the lockout-shortened season last year?:
“I think, again, a lot of our youthfulness, our young roster, they’ve got to grow up. Part of the process is understanding … the NBA season. … It’s 82 games and there are a lot of times in the NBA season that you’re going to struggle. You’re going to play San Antonio, the Lakers and Dallas back to back to back, and you’re not going to have a lot of success. But you’ve got to sustain your confidence, you’ve got to sustain your development. … I just think we have young guys that have shown they’re already into that commitment and they have a growth plate that’s going to be bigger and better.”
On the team’s expectations:
“I think the best way for me, my expectation is get home court. That’s what I think we’re capable of doing. Nobody can predict injuries and circumstances in an 82-game season, but I think if we stay mentally and physically healthy and stay strong, I would like to see us battling in April for that fourth, third or fourth, seed, maybe even a second seed. … There’s, I would say, 12 or 13 teams that I think have a chance to make the playoffs.”