DENVER (CBS4) – For the final home game of their season the Denver Nuggets beat up on their old coach.
George Karl was a nervous wreck on Sunday. It was the first time he had stepped onto the court at the Pepsi Center since he was fired by the Nuggets two years ago.
Things were a bit strange Sunday for the Nuggets players who were on the team then, for Nuggets interim head coach Melvin Hunt — who was one of Karl’s assistants on the Nuggets bench — and for Karl himself, who was sitting on the opposing side.
Karl was hired in February as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
“When (the Nuggets) fired me I said to them, ‘I don’t think you understand how crazy this is going to end up.’ I remember saying those exact words to Josh (Kroenke). I said ‘You don’t understand what is going to happen.’ My love for what we had was a connection, I have been in the league a long time and that team had a connection that no other team I ever coached had,” said Karl before Sunday’s Kings-Nuggets game.
Karl predicted that walking into Sunday’s game as “the enemy” would be very hard.
After the game, CBS4’s Vic Lombardi caught up with Karl.
“When they announced your name you got a lot of cheers. Were you a little nervous about the reaction?” Lombardi asked.
“Yeah,” Karl said.
Karl got a little bit emotional hugging Hunt and others in the Nuggets organization before the game.
Hunt told CBS4 he often “channels his inner George” when he’s leading the huddle for his team.
“(Karl) has this little cool thing that he does where draws up a play and he kind of rests his hands over it like ‘It’s done.’ You know, ‘I got it,’ ” Hunt said. “I find myself when I draw up a play I give them that pause so they can see it. And so tonight when I did it for the first time I kind of laughed at myself because I was thinking about George.”
Hunt, who has been the interim head coach since March, should be in the running to be the Nuggets next head coach, according to Karl.
“I would think so,” Karl said. “There are some great candidates out there who have coached in the league before. There’s got to be a philosophical decision: who you want to go with? Who do you want to ride? Who do you want to build around?
“And Melvin has the basketball IQ, the skills to be a head coach in this league. He’s one of these guys that just needs the opportunity.”
Several players told CBS4 after Sunday’s game they think Hunt would be a good choice to lead the team next season.
Karl said he feels like he’s been given great opportunities to coach NBA teams, and that he “loves the city of Denver.”
“This will always be a very fond place for me, and it will probably be my home for the rest of my life,” he said.
The Nuggets have two games left in their season.