DENVER (AP) — George Karl lost his star, his leader and nearly a third of his roster in the blockbuster deal that dismantled and disrupted his perennial playoff team.
The Denver Nuggets coach hasn’t lost his exuberance.
Karl is relishing the thought of figuring out on the fly just how to put the pieces back together following the three-team swap that sent All-Star Carmelo Anthony and floor leader Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.
In spite of the shakeup, Karl vigorously insists the Nuggets can remain in the thick of the playoff hunt over the final 24 games of the season.
“I might be crazy, but I think we can make the playoffs and I also think we can be a threat to win in the playoffs,” said Karl, who ducked out of Wednesday’s first practice with his new cast early in order to make an appointment. “I’m sorry. I just think our guys are good enough to grow up fast and to learn quick and to get excited about playing the game.”
Karl has been spending plenty of time in the film room since the 13-player deal, not scouting upcoming opponents but getting to know the players he inherited.
To mesh this team together, Karl needed to see just what he was receiving from the Knicks in Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov. Denver also acquired Kosta Koufos from Minnesota, and the center attended practice Wednesday as well.
No longer do the Nuggets have that bona fide scorer, a superstar such as Anthony who averaged 25 points a game.
And gone is the leadership skills of Billups, a hometown hero who was only reluctantly included in the trade.
Now, the team has an abundance of wing players and size. The trick will be quickly integrating the newcomers into the mix.
To facilitate that, Karl is even contemplating using a lineup of all the Knicks players Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, just to give them a degree of familiarity.
A good idea?
“Maybe so. Just to get comfortable with each other, get comfortable with the system,” Felton said. “But we still need to play with some of the other guys, too, though.”
Karl scoffed at the notion the Nuggets need a big-time scorer to make their eighth straight postseason appearance.
Give him the pieces and he’ll find the points.
“If we keep winning, someone will become a star,” Karl said. “I’ve always said that, been amazed by agents and players that think that statistics get you paid. What gets you paid, and gets you in a good place, is winning.”
The former Knicks received a sneak preview of their new team when they arrived at the Pepsi Center in the second quarter Tuesday and watched the short-handed Nuggets cruise past the Grizzlies.
After the game, they greeted their teammates and settled into their new locker room, peacefully reclining in swivel chairs with all the drama wrapped up.
“It’s been pretty nuts, getting lots of phone calls, hearing all the rumors, I’m just glad all the mess is over,” Felton said. “It was a whole bunch of nonsense for the last month dealing with that in New York. I’m glad that craziness is out of the way.”
The work on the floor has just started. Gallinari & Co. went through their inaugural practice Wednesday, huffing and puffing up and down the court in the thin air.
“That (altitude) got into me pretty good,” Gallinari said. “I’ve got to get used to it.”
Felton and Mozgov showed their burgeoning chemistry, combining on several alley-oop passes during the 90-minute practice session.
Chandler turned in some nifty moves, too. He’s a player that’s been referred to as “Melo Light,” a label he shrugged off.
“Melo’s an All-Star player, an elite player. I can’t fill his shoes,” Chandler said. “I can just do my best, try to do what I can for the team.”
The reshaping of this team has started.
So has the reselling of the team to the fans.
Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri said they didn’t have much of a chance to change Anthony’s mind on splitting town. He simply preferred the Big Apple to the Mile High City.
However, Kroenke and Ujiri attempted to orchestrate a deal that didn’t include Billups, a Denver native and fan favorite.
It didn’t work.
And for that, Kroenke apologized.
“Ultimately, I had to make the most difficult decision of my life,” he said. “I apologize for the process. It was done to preserve our future. I know it’s going to be tough not seeing Carmelo and not seeing Chauncey out there.
“I think that our fans will hopefully be pleasantly surprised with the guys we’re bringing in because I think not only are they valued by us, but a lot of teams around the league as well.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)