First of all, Karl talks about Portland and Seattle landing the top two picks in next month’s draft. “I got (perturbed) all over again. It was very frustrating. The Western Conference was tough enough. Now look at it,” the Nuggets' coach said. Now while the young talents of Durant and Oden both look promising, I for one am not that worried about either team, regardless of who they end up with on draft day, being able to push the Nuggets out of one of the top two spots in the Northwest Division. Assuming for a minute that the Trailblazers do in fact end up with Oden and the Sonics settle, and I use that term loosely, for Durant. Please allow me put your mind at ease when looking forward to what both of these teams potentially bring to the conference picture.
The Portland Trailblazers treaded their way to another losing season, (32-50), while now hypothetically having a log jam at the center position with Przybilla, Magloire, the young LaMarcus Aldridge, and Oden. Furthermore, with the long list of front court players just mentioned the Blazers were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last year with the third lowest total boards per game in the league. The addition of Greg Oden will assist in getting the Blazers out of the basement of the NBA’s rebounding category, but that is not where the biggest problem lies for Portland. The Trailblazers were second to last in per game scoring last season and it is in this realm that the addition of Greg Oden will not be an immediate fix for the Portland faithful. Oden’s limited offensive game at this point in his career will almost surely keep him from averaging double digits in his first full NBA season, whereas I can almost guarantee that he will grab more rebounds than points with the Blazers as a rookie. With that said, I do think that the Blazers will be an improved team that probably puts the Timberwolves in the rearview mirror, but Greg Oden is not Lew Alcindor, nor is he being paired with Oscar Robertson, so don’t get too excited if you still have dreams of Bill Walton leading Portland to the NBA promise land. The Trailblazers still have a long way to go before they are ready to evict Denver or Utah out of the top two spots.
Now onto even more reasons why George Karl should not lose too much sleep about the other top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. It is almost a certain reality that with Rashard Lewis opting out of his final two contractual years with the Sonics to test the free agent market that Seattle will look to Kevin Durant to fill his void. The only problem with that is, much like Lewis, I do not see Durant making a monumental contribution right out of the gate. The two have almost identical bodies, 6’10” and about 220 pounds, and both men play a very similar perimeter game. Durant will not be able to crash the boards as he did in college with like sized players in the NBA, and just like Lewis in his first two years, will have to make substantial adjustments to his offensive game with one of the opposition’s best defenders hounding him all night. So, even if I am completely wrong in my outlook on Durant’s rookie season (I doubt it, but even if…). The Seattle Supersonics are going to be extremely hard pressed to improve overall with the departure of Lewis and all their eggs literally riding in Durant’s rookie basket. Not to mention the looming move out of the great northwest for greener pastures in Oklahoma City or another Midwest metropolitan area if and when they lose the already fading fan base, and lease, up in their little corner of the basketball world. Oh, and if that were not enough to have riding on the shoulders of a would-be sophomore in college. The Sonics were a lackluster 31-51 last season; the second worst record in the Western Conference. Sleep well, George, sleep well.
Are you still with me? Good, now onto the best part of the article written by the near permanent fixture on ESPN’s Around the Horn.
I have to hand it to Woody for picking at the near completely healed scab that was how George Karl threw J.R. Smith under the bus for game five of the playoff series with the Spurs. Woody writes, “The day before the final game in San Antonio, Karl said he was “shutting down” reserve guard J.R. Smith, which caused a hailstorm of criticism aimed at the coach. Smith had played pathetically previously, and Karl could have just sat him instead of making the young player a scapeguard.”
In reply, George Karl recognizes that the situation could have been handled in a more efficient manner and offers this statement, “Looking at it today, I guess I should have kept my mouth shut. That's today. If the process makes him mentally a stronger person for us next year and puts him on a better path, then I did the right thing. Now it seems like the wrong thing, even though 80 percent of our players told me that's what they wanted.”
This is where I get confused. Karl clearly states, “Now it seems like the wrong thing, even though 80 percent of our players told me that's what they wanted,” but is Karl saying that 80% of the Nuggets wanted J.R. benched for not following the game plan or did 80% of the Nuggets want their fellow teammate thrown under the bus the way that Furious George decided to? I’m going to go with the first of the two interpretations and give the Nuggets players the benefit of the doubt, but the fact still remains that George Karl transferred the frustrations of three straight losses to the Spurs onto J.R. and shouldn’t have done so in the manner he did. Throwing a guy under the bus, especially publicly and during an ongoing series, is never the road to take when trying to either motivate your team to victory or when explaining its downfall. I hope George Karl finally learns from this case and discontinues these kind of blow-ups because it is starting to become a repetitive trend in his coaching career and in each isolated incident, (Ray Allen, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith), the outcome has not been favorable for either party.
However, I will say this about George Karl: In the rest of the interview he does own up to not maximizing everything that he could have in the first round clash with the Spurs. Karl states, “I didn't do enough to help A.I. (Allen Iverson), and I didn't do enough for J.R. and L.K. (Linas Kleiza). Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and Nene had outstanding series, but I was still learning A.I., and I just didn't figure out how to get him easier shots and do more for him when he was struggling. We could have had better spacing on the floor so (the Spurs) couldn't smother him. He wanted so badly to win, and I failed him. I'm evaluating what more we can do for A.I next season. The X's and O's were fine, in my opinion, but the most important thing a coach can do for his players is to help them get better. J.R. and L.K. were lost in the playoffs, and I didn't help them find their way. My fault.”
Refreshing words to calmly soothe the burning of yet another first round torching of the Denver Nuggets, but what I would like to see out of George Karl next season is that same kind of ownership when the Nuggets go through yet another inevitable tough stretch of games. This year I was critical of how George Karl was, in my opinion, too cool when things were not all square in the Nuggets Nation and if he can find a way to light the fire earlier, and in a more productive manner, next season I still like the Nuggets chances on yet another improving season.
It’s been awhile since I let one of these babies rip and I think we could all use it since the past few weeks have been so thin on the newsworthy scope of things. So, with no further delay…
God, that felt good.