He’s your classic, “I don’t want to make excuses, but…” kind of guy.
It’s easy to predict how the dialogue will go if the Nuggets get off to a slow start this season. And it began with Ty Lawson’s contract situation, which was resolved yesterday but was a problem throughout the preseason.
“It falls under the level of ‘distraction,’” Karl said Sunday about Lawson’s pending deal. “It is business, and business is not the best energy for training camp. Basketball is the best energy for a training camp. But there is business in training camp going on all the time now in the NBA.”
At least Karl recognizes that this is a league-wide issue, although you get the feeling that misfortune always seems to find his team. The Nuggets are like Pig-Pen, thePeanuts character who can’t escape the black cloud always hovering.
“I stay away from the excuses and the rationalizations, but I get disappointed when I don’t think I pushed the right buttons,” Karl said during a difficult stretch last season. “As a coach, you’re always looking for that sunrise, where everything is going to be better. This year, it doesn’t seem like the sun has come up. We’ve been in Seattle; it’s been cloudy.”
Even in moments of candor, and there are plenty of them with Karl, he finds a way to squeeze in the “woe is me” routine.
Karl, however, is one of the most refreshing coaches to cover in sports. His honesty is appealing to the media, even if it is sometimes frustrating to fans and the organization.
You know the Nuggets front office gets a little uneasy when Karl desperately wants to give an honest answer. And if his media sessions were a poker game, he would have the easiest “tell” at the table.
He looks a reporter in the eye, takes a deep breath, looks up at the ceiling, rolls his eyes and then manages his words carefully. This is how you know he isn’t telling the truth. Contrast that to Mike Shanahan, for example, who was a master of lying to your face. I’ll take Karl any day.
If the Nuggets head coach is anything, he’s transparent. Yet, he’s an emotional guy who uses his filter on occasion, which at times sounds like whining.
“Some nights, we have it; and some nights, we don’t have it.” Karl said last season in another moment of candor.
But his message got lost when he followed up with, “The injuries have shrunk our skill set. We’re not wearing teams out as much as we did earlier in the season, and I’m hoping it’s just because of injuries. I mean, we’re missing almost 85, 90 minutes of the game from our starting lineups, and we’re trying to fill that in with guys that are playing hard and trying.”
Another popular refrain was last year’s lockout-shortened season, which condensed the schedule and limited practices.
“Our pick-and-roll defense is not the worst in the league, but it’s chaotic right now. How do we straighten that out without practicing?”
And when it comes to complaining about the referees, Karl takes a backseat to no one, including Hall of Fame head coach Phil Jackson.
“(Bynum) was playing nice illegal defense,” Karl said in his postgame press conference after the Lakers won game one of their first-round series against the Nuggets. “He zoned up good. I think we got one illegal defense (called against the Lakers); I saw about 30.”
Here’s the funny thing about Karl. He talks about not wanting to make excuses, but doesn’t realize how things sounds once they comes out of his mouth – like excuses.
Although, let’s give him credit for a pair of beauties last season, which every fan should applaud and appreciate.
“I’m tired of excuses. I think it’s playing with your heart, playing with intensity and playing with a commitment that, even if you lose, you can be proud of.”
“I’m not going to make excuses. We weren’t good enough to even come close tonight. But that’s the great part about NBA playoff games. We’ll learn, adjust and play harder.
This season’s excuses are there for the taking. A brutal early road schedule prompted Karl to say he’d be thrilled with an 8-2 record – a veiled shot at the NBA, who he likely believes screwed his team.
Throw in a predicted rash of injuries, like any team will suffer during an 82-game grind, and it’ll challenge Karl to refrain from complaining despite boasting the deepest bench in the league.
Despite this, Karl is a gem as a person and an incredibly underrated coach. He’s the opposite of pretentious and the type of guy you’d want to grab a beer with.
Karl might have his best roster to date in Denver. Let’s just hope he’s fresh out of excuses if things don’t go the Nuggets’ way this season.
Eric Goodman hosts Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman from 3p-6p Monday through Friday on Mile High Sports Radio (AM1510 | FM 93.7).