George Karl out in Denver; was NBA Coach of Year for Nuggets

DENVER — The starless Denver Nuggets just lost their biggest name on the bench.

George Karl was ousted Thursday less than a month after winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award. His tenure with the Nuggets is over after 8½ seasons.

The longtime coach is following general manager Masai Ujiri out the door in Denver after Ujiri, the league’s executive of the year, recently left to become GM of the Toronto Raptors.

“So, we lost a GM now and a coach, what’s next?” tweeted Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried.

Karl had just a year left on his contract, which may have played a role in this decision. Calls and emails to Karl’s representatives were not returned Thursday.

But Karl did take to Twitter, posting on his certified account: “I want to thank Nuggets fans for their support over the past 8 yrs. The karma on the street was incredible. Denver will always be home.”

There are quite a few teams currently on the lookout for a new coach. The Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers also have head coaching vacancies and the Memphis Grizzlies have given coach Lionel Hollins permission to speak with other teams.

“George has been an instrumental part of our success over the past decade, and we appreciate everything he did to keep us among the top teams in the Western Conference,” team President Josh Kroenke said in a statement. “He is a Hall of Fame coach whose legacy in Denver will last for years to come. George is a legend in the game of basketball and I could not have more respect for him as a person and coach.”

His players shared that feeling.

“I had a great relationship with him and I was honored to be coached by him,” forward Danilo Gallinari told The Associated Press in an email. “Hopefully the management now will do smart choices.”

Karl guided the third-youngest team in the NBA to the third-best record in the Western Conference with a franchise-record 57 wins, but the Nuggets were bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The news of Karl parting ways was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Recently, reports have surfaced that the Clippers might be interested in talking to Karl about their vacancy. All this week, Karl was evasive when he showed up at the team’s facilities to watch potential draft picks work out for the Nuggets. Karl declined interview request after interview request as he made his way from the gym to his car.

Karl is the latest to pack up and leave the team. Last week, the Raptors lured away Ujiri, a rising star among the league’s front office ranks. Ujiri earned respect for his handling of the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York and his ability to assemble a relatively starless roster that still managed to be a formidable foe in the West.

Ujiri helped assemble Karl’s kind of team this season, one featuring a deep roster full of up-tempo and unselfish players. Only, the year ended in an all too familiar fashion for the Nuggets — another early exit.

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