The Truth About George Karl Is...
That series put that team on the map as serious title contenders for years to come led by Karl, Payton & Kemp. They went on to win 60+ games 2 out of the next 3 seasons but that first 60 win season would be the 1st of many playoff disappointments for Karl as they lost in the 1st round to the Denver Nuggets. Back then the 1st round was just a 5 game series but it was the first time in NBA history that a #1 seed lost to an 8 seed. I still remember that famous shot of Dikembe Mutombo on the ground holding the ball over his head celebrating....it still hurts just thinking about it. As if that wasn't painful enough, the next year they again went out in the 1st round albeit to a decent Los Angeles Lakers team. But once again a George Karl led team went home sooner than expected. By that time Payton & Kemp had established themselves as 2 of the best young players in the game but they began to hear the talk about being chokers. They finally got out of the 1st round the next year & went all the way to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls. Of course that was no ordinary Bulls team as they had set the NBA record for wins in the regular season by going 72-10.
Now as a fan of the team & with my favorite player playing for them, I had a strong rooting interest in the squad so I followed them pretty closely given that they were on the other side of the country. With a swarming trap defense led by the Glove (Payton) & the Reign Man (Kemp) they were very often on national TV. I can still recall feeling like Karl was a good coach but maybe wasn't good enough to get them over the top. It used to bother me watching him on the sidelines almost looking at times as though he was literally going to break down in tears which left me feeling like, "this ain't the guy". His system was great for Payton but his leadership in the clutch always left a lot to be desired for me.
In 2004 he went to coach the Denver Nuggets & once again took a mediocre team & managed to turn them into winners aided of course by the drafting of Carmelo Anthony the year prior to him being hired. Over the next 6 1/2 years with Anthony leading the way, they managed to get out of the 1st round just once, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals. Carmelo showed in his 1 year at the University of Syracuse that he could lead a team to an NCAA Championship, but somehow people still looked at him & placed most, if not all of the blame in his lap. The reality is however, there were a multitude of factors that led to those failures.
I always tell people if you continually have the same problems with various people in your life, at some point you have to realize there's one common denominator in all of your failures...yourself. So while the rosters & teams changed, the results were relatively the same for George Karl. Suffice it to say while some may think the Nuggets made a mistake by letting him go, when you take a close hard look at his track record, the evidence was there that Coach Karl had perhaps taken that franchise as far as his coaching ability would ever allow.