Former head coach George Karl has made headlines over the past month due to his recently released book titled “Furious George,” which chronicles his 40-year journey in the NBA. Karl held nothing back when it came to thoughts regarding his former players and bosses. Being outspoken and raw in this manner typically would leave many to think he’s effectively retired. But at 65 years old, Karl believes he has more to give to the game of basketball.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Karl to talk Carmelo Anthony, his future plans, Russell Westbrook, the MVP race and his take on younger players.
Lang Greene: A lot of times, when someone releases a book like this and you’re bearing your soul and just telling it like it is throughout your long journey playing round ball, coaching round ball, would you say you’re effectively retired or would you still like to get out on the sideline or get back in even in a front office capacity?
George Karl: Coaches never retire. Coaches always want to be in the gym, and I’m one of those guys. I’m a lifer. I’ve put over 30 years into coaching, maybe 35 and now I may [try to get to] 40 years being a coach. I was a player for five or six and a coach ever since. I’ve always wanted to be a GM, I’ve always wanted to kind of run the game, and feel the game, and give to the game. But right now I’m 65 years old, so that’s got to be a decision by somebody else in an organization that thinks I can help them. I sure think I can help somebody along the way.
Greene: You talked about being around the game. What are some things you’re doing right now to be around the game? Are you hanging around some high school gyms, are you doing some coaching clinics? What are you doing to stay around the game?
Karl: I’ve visited about three or four college programs. I’ve never studied the college game. I’ve had the opportunity with Ben Howland, Mark Pope and Mike Dunlap, some of my friends in the game of basketball, to spend some time. I go up to the University of Colorado to see Tad Boyle’s team play in the Pac-12. So I’ve got that. I’ve got my son (Coby Karl) who coaches the LA. D-Fenders in the D-League and so his games are on TV, on Facebook, every day and I can watch his games, and we talk quite frequently about what happens in the game. My family’s a basketball family. My daughter is married to a high school basketball coach in Olympia, Washington. He’s a girls’ basketball coach so I get to see them play when I visit my grandchildren up there.
Greene: Let me ask you this because you mentioned the college game, so it’s a perfect segue into the next question. One of your former UNC guys, Larry Brown, went back to the collegiate ranks when he left the NBA. Would that be something you would be interested in? I know you haven’t studied it, but in your book you talk a lot about how the rules and the stringent nature of the NCAA wouldn’t interest you, but, being around the game, being in a situation where you can instill your wisdom on some younger players, would you give it a look?
Karl: I think I’m open to anything right now. I am open to doing front office work, helping out with the personnel on an NBA team. I’m interested in college. I’m interested in helping people. I’m interested in European basketball, would I be interested in going back to European basketball? That’s a possibility. I mean, I’m open to anything, I’m not rushing into anything, [but] I think I’m open to conversations. What if, what if? I’m ready to go.
Greene: You talked about in your book that the guys that really resonated with your heart and your spirit were the guys that really got after it, guys that were real tenacious. You mentioned Kendall Gill who just didn’t, necessarily, visually have that fire in him, that you saw. Now, transitioning to a current player in the game, when you look at a guy like Russell Westbrook and what he’s doing and the way he approaches the game, is that a guy, as a coach, that you look at and say ‘I wish I had a few seasons with him under me?’
Karl: I think Russell Westbrook is a freak. I mean, this man, the way he plays with his energy and his passion every game, is a pretty amazing thing. And I have a lot of admiration for his approach to the game, and there’s no question about that, plus he’s one of the most talented athletes playing the game of basketball today. So that’s a special package and I’ve always looked at Russell Westbrook in that way. He brings to the table what coaches like on the table. Sometimes he makes mental errors, sometimes his basketball isn’t the purest of all, but damn, I would love to coach that. And I think it’s easy to coach because he’s on your team, it would be easy to coach the team. And his leadership by example is pretty obvious every night. I think that’s why OKC, looking into that, they’re great. I think the Westbrook, Harden stories are really good this year. I mean, I never saw James Harden be this type of playmaker, I didn’t see that. [Houston Rockets head coach] Mike D’Antoni saw that more than I did. And I think it’s a marvelous story how giving him the ball has calmed [Houston] down into a very efficient offensive team and a much better defensive team.
Greene: I’m going to put you on the spot since you mentioned them both. Right now, as we approach the All-Star break, who would you give the MVP to out of those two?
Karl: I think like all coaches, I’m going to go with the team that’s winning more games. And I think Harden’s evolution into a point guard, along with D’Antoni’s philosophy of coaching, has turned Houston into a team that might be a contender. I think right now we have Cleveland and Golden State ahead of everybody, and I think Harden and the Houston Rockets have a chance to get there by the end of the year.
Greene: Last thing on Westbrook. Just looking at the situation, I’ve joked around with people and said, from an individual career standpoint and legacy, Kevin Durant going to Golden State might be the best thing for Russell Westbrook, individually, not necessarily as a team, with Oklahoma City because now a lot of the questions around him being ‘maybe you should defer to Kevin Durant?’ or ‘are you the 1B to his 1A?’ Did you see this type of talent? Obviously, we knew he was already an All-Star, already on a great trajectory, but did you see him being able to explode like this before the season started?
Karl: I thought he always had a chance. I think without Kevin Durant there’s around 10 percent or more possessions in his control, maybe even 20 percent more possessions in his control. And I think the NBA is a game of efficient basketball. The coach wants to get the ball to the most efficient player on his team that will create a team game and a successful flow and aggressiveness in their offense. I think when Durant and Westbrook shared it, it was fine, of course, they did a good job of figuring that out. Now I think it’s simple. It’s simple, I think, for OKC to understand their personality right now, and sometimes I think Durant and Westbrook was kind of confusing. At times when one guy maybe wasn’t playing that well, they didn’t know how much the other guy was supposed to take over. So it was always kind of a, ‘Well if you control one, you have a chance to control both of them.’
Greene: I’m going to transition now. Obviously, a lot of the talking points from your book have really resonated from the Carmelo Anthony situation. Kenyon Martin responded, J.R. Smith responded. But I want to ask you, from a different perspective, looking at some of the guys that are leaders of their teams in this day and age, do you get the sense that guys just aren’t ready to handle the expectations that are given to them?
Karl: I think what I’ve seen in the league is that it’s taking longer, for whatever reason, for a college player to come into pro basketball and learn how hard the game is, how difficult the challenge is and how to be a pro every day at a high, high character level. I think that’s what you’re seeing, and before maybe, I look here, a young player would come into the game and it might take two or three years. It seems like it’s taking longer now, it seems like it’s taking three, four, or five years before the maturation of the pro attitude that is necessary to be a great player.
Greene: Do you plan on, ultimately one day, when it’s all said and done, maybe getting together with Carmelo, Kenyon, J.R. and maybe cracking back a brew? You guys did win a lot of games together, will there be phone calls made, at some point, just to talk as men?
Karl: I would hope so. I’d hope so, when the storm calms down and the waves start hitting the shoreline, there might be opportunities in the world of basketball that we can cross, have a coffee or two, or a beer, I’d love those conversations. I think tough conversations make you even smarter. Tough conversations, when you express what’s inside your gut, makes you aware of things and makes you grow.
Greene: Now let me ask you this. Out of all the places that you’ve been, is there one particular stop that you look back and say ‘We left it on the table?’ Whether it’s Seattle with, basically, a prime [Shawn] Kemp and [Gary] Payton, whether it’s the world championships in ‘02, the Denver Nuggets team, Milwaukee really got close to the Finals. Is there a spot that you say ‘This is the squad where I look back and I’m kicking myself because we really left something on the table?’
Karl: I think what comes to mind is the year I came down with cancer in 2010 [with the Denver Nuggets]. I was the All-Star coach that year so we obviously had the best record in the league. And I thought in January, we were playing great basketball. And then I announced my cancer right after the All-Star break, and I tried to coach the rest of the year but I made it only two-to-four weeks. I’m not saying I was the reason we fell apart, but I thought that team, because we were in the Conference Finals the year before, I thought that team was ready to take the challenge past the Western Conference and get to the NBA Finals.
Greene: The squad, personally speaking, I think one of the anomalies that I saw, just witnessing up close was after the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York, you guys, the Denver Nuggets, went on a huge run. I remember asking you a question at the time like ‘Is this one of the most fun environments that you’ve had?’ Those two, three weeks right after [the trade]. You guys were on a winning streak and it just seemed like everyone was getting along great. What was it about that and, as a coach, when you lose, arguably, your best player?
Karl: Well, people forget that we played about 35 games with Melo on our team that year, and every day we had to answer, ‘Is he gonna be traded?’ ‘When is he gonna be traded? ‘Is he gonna be traded?’ I think everybody got tired of that situation, and finally, when the trade was made, I think there was an expectation and opportunity to go out and play. Two or three guys went from being maybe a 20 minute player to now playing 30 minutes a game and having a lot more responsibilities. And because of the way the season went, when the trade happened it was like a celebration for us. There was a challenge for us to show the world that we’re okay. I think that was a compliment to the players, Ty Lawson became our starting point guard at that moment. [Danilo Gallinari], and Wilson Chandler, we got them in and joined the crew. It was pretty interesting how good they were, how young they were, how excited they were. We got Raymond Felton in the trade, and he would go on to play really well. We still had a pretty good basketball team, and I think the combination of us having the excitement showing the world that we’re okay, I think we played at a really high level and it was a lot of fun. I think the last two or three years in Denver after the Melo trade was probably as connected as a team as I ever had.
Greene: I’ve got one last question for you coach and I appreciate the time. This is a different one, right now. You’ve been around the game a long time. Who is the best basketball player, in your eyes, that the masses haven’t heard of? Whether it’s been because of an injury that you’ve seen, whether it’s been from them not taking their craft seriously, is there somebody that you just look back and say ‘This guy had all of the goods but just couldn’t connect all of the dots?’
Karl: Well the guy that comes to mind when you talk that way is Arvydas Sabonis. I mean, Sabonis was an incredible 6’11 athlete, could run the court. Early in his career, he had some injuries, and his injuries turned him into a low post center. But he was an amazing young player, his first six, seven years as a wing player, as a runner. I think 1988 was the year that the Russians beat the USA team for what we felt was the first time fairly. In ’92 we got the Dream Team because the NBA wanted to be involved. I think Sabonis is the one guy not because of attitude, but probably because of injury, never became a great player. But at one time, I think people thought he could be one of the greatest players in the NBA.
NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court
Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.
In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.
Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.
Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.
But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.
“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”
Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.
For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.
“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”
Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.
For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.
“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”
Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.
To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.
“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”
Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.
Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.
“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”
While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.
This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.
“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”
Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.
NBA PM: Clippers In A Hole, Hoping For Spark From Beverley
The Clippers are in an early season free-fall and are hoping Patrick Beverley can help get them back on track.
The Los Angeles Clippers came into the season with the intention of turning the departure of Chris Paul into a positive. His departure led to the team netting the small forward it had always lacked in Danilo Gallinari, a replacement point guard in Patrick Beverley and a number of other new faces. With the massive turnover in key players, the hope would be that the Clippers would take this new mix of players and build around the franchise centerpiece, Blake Griffin, and thrive in a new era of Clippers basketball.
For now, at least, those offseason hopes have been dashed. The team is in the midst of a horrid skid where they have lost their last eight games and 10 of their last 11 going back to October 28. After losing the first two games, the team is playing their third of a five-game road trip tonight against the New York Knicks. When the team returns, they will host the Los Angeles Lakers who have been playing well as of late. Although the season is still young, the team is currently 13th in the Western Conference, nestled between the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings, and behind the Lakers. Not good company to have if your goal is to make the playoffs.
The team is coming off of an overtime loss to the Cavaliers in Cleveland and a 102-87 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that had been closer than the final score indicates. Yet, Head Coach Doc Rivers didn’t mince his words when judging the team’s performance against the Hornets.
“Overall this is a tough stretch to go through,” Rivers stated. “I thought we were selfish as far as moving the ball and playing together.”
Rivers didn’t hold back and made it clear how unhappy he was with the team’s effort.
“This was the first game that I wasn’t happy as a coach,” Rivers stated. “I can take losing even poorly if we play right. I just didn’t think we played right tonight.”
Coach Rivers is frustrated and with good reason. Only Griffin and bench sparkplug Lou Williams made their mark on offense with 19 and 25 points, respectively. DeAndre Jordan was the only other Clipper to register in double digits with 10 points.
Offense overall isn’t exactly the issue for the Clippers. Per nba.com, the Clippers’ offensive rating is 105.9, good for 10th in the league. However, the team’s assist percentage is 28th in the league at 51 percent, echoing Coach Rivers’ concern regarding selfish play. Look no further for proof than Jordan, whose shooting percentages have dropped from 71.4 percent to 64 percent, his worst shooting since the 2012-2013 season. Jordan depends on others to create for him through lobs, pick and roll finishes, dump offs and opportunistic put backs.
Injuries have helped to create and magnify many of the individual issues the team faces. In fact, all of the key players that have been missing from the Clippers rotation are capable playmakers and passers that can help to create a more fluid offense. Unfortunately, there is no clear timetable indicating when Gallinari and Euro passing sensation Milos Teodosic (only two games played) are set to return. Help is on the way with the Beverley set to return to the lineup tonight against the Knicks after missing the last five games.
On offense, Beverley is averaging 12.5 points, three assists and 3.9 rebounds. These are acceptable statistics that only partially indicate his worth to the team. Beverley had had success taking (5.3) and making (2.1) three-point shots at nearly a 40 percent clip (39.6). Beverley does a good job of creating space off the ball, allowing Griffin to be a scorer and a facilitator. In addition, Beverley has had success driving to the rim, where he is shooting 59.3 percent (0-3 feet from the rim), he can score, run pick and roll with Jordan or kick the ball out and keep the offense moving from side to side.
Coach Rivers made his view of Beverley’s value relative to their recent poor play abundantly clear.
“We get Patrick [Beverley] back Monday night,” Rivers stated. “[We can] start playing the right way, we will be all right.”
Beverley had been developing chemistry as a complement to everything the team does on defense as well as offense. Beverley has taken his aggressive defense to the Clippers and by doing so had taken up a shared role as a lead defensive weapon alongside Jordan. The team could use the help on defense where, over the last 11 games, they sport the worst defensive rating (111.3) in the NBA.
Having Beverley’s balance of defense and offense should be a boost to the team. The Clippers have earned a reputation over the years for sniping at the refs and getting flustered when things don’t go their way, which has bubbled up in their recent losing skid. Beverley helps with the intangibles as well including effort and hustle, which may help offset the team’s penchant for complaining.
Another benefit will be the ability of the team to re-insert Beverley back into the starting line-up and place guard Austin Rivers back on the bench. Rivers can be a productive player who brings a scoring punch against opposing second units while being available as a small ball small forward when necessary. Rivers can also be a pest on defense when focused. However, injuries have forced Rivers into the starting line-up where he has been less effective.
In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders, Lou Williams discussed the value of the team’s injured players.
“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s [Beverley] our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy [Teodosic] who was leading us in assists and we have another guy [Gallinari] who’s second in scoring.”
Whether the return of Beverley alone is enough to halt the team’s recent losing streak is unclear. The team is buried deep in the Western Conference and needs to get back on track sooner rather than later before the team falls too far behind to be competitive. As stated, there is no clear indication as to when the team will get Teodosic or Gallinari back. In addition, Griffin has his own history of injuries, having missed at least 15 games a season over the last four years. This year, the team has so far shown an inability to rise above injuries. The season is young but these are perilous times for the Clippers.