As the Nuggets sit in second position in the West and are primed to make a real run at the NBA Championship, a variable in the equation was discovered today—head coach George Karl’s health.
Karl announced to his team before their practice Tuesday that he’s been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. The first was prostate cancer in 2005 that he has fully recovered from; this time around it is a variation of neck and throat cancer.
Karl called a press conference at 7 p.m. MT and described not only what he’s going through but what will happen in the coming weeks for his team.
Karl, visibly shaken, started by saying, “About six weeks ago, doctors found a lump on my neck. It’s been diagnosed as neck and throat cancer. I informed my team today.
"My desire is to do whatever I can to stay with my team throughout the treatment that I have to go through. The treatment began today. In general, it’s a six-week treatment.”
And even in the face of hearing about having cancer, George Karl’s mind remained on his basketball team.
“Basically, my belief is that my team is a championship team and I want to do anything and everything I can to help them to continue on the quest that we want. I don’t think the challenge has changed; I think most of the guys last year know of the challenge we have ahead.
"There could be a possibility that I could miss games and practices depending on my pain and fatigue levels.”
“I hope to be as close to 100 percent to start the playoff run come April.”
So, with six weeks of treatment staring him in the face, Karl just wants to coach. Well, that, and to be healthy once again.
The 22-year veteran NBA coach continued, “I think I’m very blessed to have a great family and an organization that has supported me though all this, and great friends. And a great team.”
Fighting tears, he said, “And I will need all of them. I don’t think I’m a guy that needs sympathy, but I need support. I think the major desire for me is to kick this cancer’s butt and stay with a team that can win a championship.”
In the meantime, while Karl undergoes treatment daily or every other day for the curable cancer, he will definitely miss some games and likely even more practices. When Karl is unable to attend games, he will pass off the coaching to his assistant coaching staff.
“My staff is the best basketball staff I’ve ever been with. I’m very excited for them to take more of a responsibility; they’re ready. Very seldomly [sic] will they get that opportunity in the regular season."
"Basically, we’ve upgraded our preparation to what we call playoff mode. All of them will have more responsibility and most of them will be directed and coached by Tim Grgurich when I am not there. Like I’ve said, Tim is the best assistant in the history of the National Basketball Association.”
But while Grgurich brings 40 years of basketball coaching experience to the Nuggets, Karl said he would not be the acting head coach. Instead, Adrian Dantley, the ex-Jazz great who had his jersey retired by Utah last year, will be taking the helm.
Karl gave the details of who exactly will be doing the coaching during this presser as well, “A.D. (Adrian Dantley) will do the head coaching. Grgurich doesn’t want the limelight. Gurg is fantastic. I do about 10 percent of the tutoring for my coaches and he does the most of it.
"Chad (Iske) will do offense/defense, Jamal (Mosely) will do special situations. Again, it’s an opportunity for them that I actually got excited about. If the dudes over there will cooperate a little bit, not give the hard ball they give me a little bit.”
Those “dudes” he was talking about were J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, and other Nuggets’ stars that were at the press conference in support of their coach.
Karl also touched on the success Denver has had in this current 2009-10 season, while always looking forward to the end goal.
“We’ve had a good season. We need a better second half. There’s [sic] some things we can do better. We started practice today, I feel like we had a great practice today. Tonight, it was serious.”
“To win a championship, we know we all have to get a little more serious.”
To end the presser, Karl stated the importance of putting family first even though these professionals are so used to putting their beloved basketball ahead of everything else.
“The last couple weeks (of treatment) could be difficult and I have to put myself and my family first. I’m very confident in my doctors and that I’ll battle this. Cancer is a hell of a competitor, but I’m ready for the challenge.”
“I still wake up with an “Oh S#!7” reaction, but there’s…” then he tried to fight tears again saying, “Cancer is a bitch, even if it’s a curable one. We’ll have to give it the best shot we have.”
In the press conference Karl seemed beaten and beleaguered, but not broken. He was stalwart, fighting back tears multiple times, but stayed the true and undoubted leader of the Nuggets.
And while the news of Karl’s health is terrible, it could be a huge negative for Denver’s basketball team as well.
Karl has molded this team from a wealth of raw talent and attitudes into a proven competitor in the last five years—losing his guidance could be detrimental.
Denver could fall from their lofty second place position in the West, especially during the oh-so-important stretch run in late March and early April—when Karl will be missing the majority of games.
Then come the most crucial contests in the playoffs.
Then again, maybe this whole ordeal is for the best. Karl hinted about coming out of this situation a better and stronger person, possibly the same will be said about his team.
Denver may be more determined now than ever to prove they are one of the best teams in the NBA, while winning some big games for their beloved “Gipper,” George Karl.
In any case, the thoughts and prayers of Denver, Nuggets players, and anyone involved in the NBA are with Karl and his family on this fright-filled February night.