Legendary Nuggets coach Doug Moe had served as a consultant for his old squad for a spell when, in 2005, George Karl asked his old friend to take a seat on the bench for the remaining third of that season. “We weren’t going to put any serious demands on him other than being a communicator and a guy hanging around helping me understand what goes on in the Denver organization,” Karl told Aaron Lopez of Nuggets.com in 2011. George Karl had taken over as coach of the team only a few months prior, on January 27, 2005.
The Nuggets were four games under .500 when Doug Moe accepted his expanded role with the team. They went on to secure the seventh seed in the playoffs, going a stunning 25-4 after the All-Star break. “That run was pretty incredible stuff,” Karl said. “One of the best decisions I made was convincing Doug to come back because he kind of unified the staff and the organization. Everybody kind of came together because Doug was part of the crew.”
Moe remained “part of the crew” for several more years, as an assistant coach, then as a consultant. He retired for a second time in 2009. During his second tenure with the Nuggets, Moe wasn’t always expected to travel with the team. He was given a schedule that jived with his age and his energy level. He was in his middle sixties – no longer a young man.
Today George Karl is 61. He is approaching the age that Doug Moe was when he was consulting for the Nuggets. The old ball coach has survived a battle with prostate cancer that left him seeming older that his years would indicate. It’s not hard to see that he’s tired. You can sense it during his post-game interviews – especially after a loss like the one he absorbed last night at home to the lowly Washington Wizards. Karl has already suggested that he might lighten own travel schedule, arriving various cities after the team has already participated in walk-throughs, allowing his assistants to work the team out and spend time going over the game plan before he flies in.
Karl is no spring chicken. Maybe the time has come for the team to move him into a role similar to the one Moe played. He could act as a consultant and assistant, remain close to the team, participate in instructing the players and help bring his vision for the Nuggets together while no longer acting as the head coach.
Melvin Hunt, who is in his third season with the Nuggets, could act a surrogate. Hunt had wild success as member of the Cleveland Cavaliers staff before moving to Denver. His Cavs teams made four consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and reached the finals in 2009. Those seasons pre-dated Lebron James’ famous “decision” to leave Cleveland, of course. But Hunt learned a lot about winning nonetheless.
While George Karl seems exhausted and disheartened while speaking with the media, Hunt seems young, confident and self-assured. There’s an undeniable contrast between the two coaches, detectable even to a novice viewer. Doesn’t it stand to reason that Hunt is better equipped to communicate with players, too? Can Karl’s weary, scratchy delivery possibly carry his message anymore?
Any time the question is posed “should George Karl be fired?” the response from his supporters is “who would you replace him with?” Perhaps the answer is Melvin Hunt. And maybe it’s a transition that can be made gradually with Karl still an active participant in plotting strategy for the Nuggets. His passion for basketball has clearly never waned, and he remains a top NBA coach in most people’s eyes. Still, the Nuggets are never as good as they should be.
Unless Karl would simply refuse a lesser role and threaten to leave to coach another team, coupling him with a younger, more energetic man to assume the head coaching role could be the best thing for Karl and for the Denver Nuggets.
The team could make Hunt’s title “Assistant Head Coach” and he could assume a portion of Karl’s responsibilities – including facing the media after a tough loss.