The NBA head coach is perhaps the most futile and superficial leader of any of the major American sports. I mean what purpose does he really serve beyond drawing up a few plays, arguing with a referee here and there, and giving a compelling halftime speech?
He is the ultimate figurehead, prominent in stature, yet lacking any meaningful power. But, even a figurehead serves one significant purpose: a source for inspiration.
Following the Nuggets embarrassing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night, bringing their road record to a pedestrian 7-8, George Karl offered the following justification for his team's inconsistency on the road this season:
"I think our road record is OK. We've had very good wins on the road, we've had some disappointing losses, but it's still probably I don't know how many teams are above .500, but I bet it's not seven or eight. We're in a good place."
I don't know about anyone else, but this hardly sounds like the battle cry of a team battling for NBA supremacy.
I am getting tired of hearing about how it is ok to be mediocre on the road. Relying on their domination at home (12-1) will not get them to the NBA Finals. There will inevitably come a time in the playoffs where the Nuggets will have to grind out a tough victory on the road in order to steal a series, and based on the gutlessness they have demonstrated to this point, they certainly do not seem fit for such a challenge.
Last year, the Nuggets established a new standard to which they are now held accountable. Fans are no longer content with simply making the playoffs, or even advancing to the second round. These cannot be considered moral victories the way they would have been last season. The only thing that will make this season a success is a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Nuggets made a statement in the offseason when they didn't make a play for any major free agents. They essentially said, "we are good enough to beat the Lakers the way we are currently constructed and don't need any major changes."
While I don't agree with this statement, I certainly admire its brashness. But, bravado can only get you so far. Now the time has come to either put up or shut up.
Sure, there have been extenuating circumstances surrounding some of their losses. Floor leader Chauncey Billups has missed the last two games with a left abductor strain (don't worry, I had to look it up too), and emotional leader Kenyon Martin has been a scratch in two of their defeats due to injury as well.
But it's not like they have been falling prey to world beaters either. Six of their eight losses on the road have come to teams with a record under .500. These are exactly the types of games that will come back to haunt them when it comes time to establish the seeding for the playoffs.
The difference between the third seed and the second seed could prove to be the difference between defeat and glory. Last season's success was due in large part to favorable matchups in the first and second rounds, and by the looks of things the Nuggets will need similar matchups this season to stand a chance.
So coach Karl can either continue to lay the framework for the acceptance of mediocrity, or he can challenge his team to demonstrate some testicular fortitude. His attitude has clearly been contagious and the Nuggets on court demeanor at times has been reflective of his ho-hum reaction to their struggles.
I would contend that one of his few meaningful responsibilities as head coach of the Denver Nuggets is not being fulfilled, and before they offer him the contract extension they are reportedly in negotiations about, they instead hold him accountable for the early season disappointment.