A questionable trend has begun to emerge in the NBA: hiring coaches with little to no NBA coaching experience. While teams in smaller markets fated to not make the playoffs next year may benefit from hiring an unproven coach, larger market teams with immediate championship aspirations have been the ones to take this leap of faith. Most recently, Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr, both first-time coaches, have managed to land head coaching gigs with the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors, respectively.
Admittedly, there is a genuine excitement about manufacturing the next great head coach from relative obscurity. This trend, however, seems to have come at the expense of George Karl.
With Mike D’Antoni’s much-celebrated resignation surfaced a large list of rumored replacements for the Lakers head coaching vacancy. The list included Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins, Mike Dunleavy Sr., George Karl, and Jeff Van Gundy, among others. Yet as the coaching search has shifted into high gear, Karl’s name has all but disappeared.
But why not George Karl?
There has been much disappointment in the lower-than-expected draft pick awarded to the Lakers. Certainly the draft pick has played a large role in narrowing the list of potential coaching candidates. Some have reasoned that hiring Byron Scott at a modest price would be a better choice than a more decorated coach commanding a higher salary, thus potentially handicapping the roster for years to come. However, given the Buss family’s deep pockets, the Lakers’ TV deal with Time Warner Cable, and the fact that a coach’s salary does not count against the NBA salary cap, such concerns lack merit.
Regardless of the team’s goals for next year, Karl has proven that his teams can win, even with a roster not primed for a playoff run. Notably, George Karl has coached his teams to a non-losing record for 21 straight seasons, the longest streak in NBA history — surpassing Phil Jackson’s streak of 20 seasons.
He is one of only six coaches in league history with more than 1,100 career wins. Of those six, only Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Jerry Sloan have a better winning percentage. Phil Jackson notably won with players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Byrant, and Shaquille O’Neal. Pat Riley won with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. Jerry Sloan won with Karl Malone and John Stockton. George Karl, on the other hand, won with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Andre Iguodala. Billups and Iguodala were both on the downside of their careers.
Since becoming the head coach of the Denver Nuggets in 2005, Karl has made the playoffs every year in the superior Western Conference. Karl’s success arguably peaked in the 2012-13 season, when he won the Coach of the Year award on the heels of a franchise record 57 wins. Karl’s team achieved this record while being the third youngest team in the league, without a single All-Star. A month after his achievement, Karl was fired.
Clearly, his track record speaks for itself. Yet, his critics will argue that he has never won a championship, nor has he been able to survive the first round of playoffs for most of his coaching career. While Karl has yet to win a championship, neither have Byron Scott or Kurt Rambis. Further, we are well aware of Scott’s recent performance with the Cavaliers and Rambis with the Timberwolves. Given the Lakers’ resources, big market lure and championship tradition, the sky’s the limit for George Karl.
Other concerns revolve around Karl’s health and age. Karl’s battles with cancer have been well-documented, his most recent being neck and throat cancer in 2010. Though, he made a full recovery and successfully coached the Nuggets for the following two seasons.
While I’m not necessarily advocating for Karl, it is difficult not to wonder why the Lakers have not reached out to Karl, let alone interview him. A concern for any potential head-coaching candidate, especially one with Karl’s exacting personality, is the coach’s relationship with Kobe Bryant.
For a coach with a track record of sustained excellence, however, George Karl should at least be a part of the conversation.
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