DENVER (AP) — The job requirement for the next head coach of the Denver Nuggets is pretty simple and straightforward: Must let the team play at an uptempo pace.
You know, the way George Karl used to do when the Nuggets perennially made the postseason before he was fired.
That’s a winning brand of basketball in the Mile High City — during the regular season, anyway.
And that’s what Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly vowed to return to after the Nuggets missed the playoffs for a second straight season. They fired head coach Brian Shaw — brought in to implement more of a half-court style to go deeper into the playoffs — in March and turned the reins over to interim coach Melvin Hunt, who went 10-13 as he allowed Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and the rest of the Nuggets to pick up the tempo.
“We’re looking for a coach that understands how we’ve been successful in the past and how we’ll be successful in the future, with fast basketball and playing with pace,” Connelly said Thursday.
The players are campaigning for Hunt, who provided a lift after taking over for Shaw on March 3. Connelly said the organization will consider all options but added that what Hunt did was “fantastic,” especially considering the circumstances.
Connelly also said that no one on the roster is untouchable on the heels of a 30-52 finish. Not Lawson. Not Faried. Not Danilo Gallinari.
“Is it a chance for us to be brutally honest, rip the Band-Aid off and say, ‘Are these three, four, five, six, seven guys we can build with, but we need to add specific pieces?’ Or, do we have to kind of reassess the team as a whole,” Connelly said. “The cupboard is not bare by any stretch.
“But we also don’t want to fool ourselves into thinking that we have what it takes. If we did, we wouldn’t be here.”
On a snowy morning in Denver, Hunt made his way to the Pepsi Center to spend a few moments with the players before they scattered for the offseason. They reflected on a year that went sideways and may be remembered most for the “1-2-3 … Six weeks” chant — interpreted by some as a countdown to the end of a season gone sour — just before Shaw was fired after 1 1/2 seasons.
No matter what happens from here, Hunt said he will cherish the opportunity to lead this squad. He also knows he can coach in this league.
“For sure,” the longtime assistant coach said. “I feel good about what we accomplished.”
Then again, Hunt is a disciple of Karl, who now coaches for the Sacramento Kings.
Shaw replaced Karl after Denver won a franchise-record 57 games in 2012-13, only to be bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Nuggets were looking for someone who could advance them further in the playoffs.
Instead, the team won a combined 66 games the past two seasons.
“Brian was put in a tough situation. He’s unfairly been criticized for a lot of things — one of those things was pace. We did play fast,” Connelly said. “He understood coming in here that teams that in the past that had success played fast.
“Now, certainly it looked different and maybe we didn’t have as much success as we did previously. But that’s one of the first questions we’ll ask all of the potential hires is do you understand the history of Denver basketball and how we can build off of that.”
Faried definitely likes the sound of that.
“With the pieces in place that we have here, we’re a running team,” he said.
Especially with a speedy point guard in Lawson, who set the franchise single-season assists mark (720) in 2014-15. Still, it’s been a tumultuous season for Lawson.
In January, he was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence. A month later, Lawson skipped the first practice after the All-Star break when he missed his flight back from Las Vegas.
“Everybody has learned something during this season,” said Gallinari, who averaged 12.4 points as he returned from a knee injury that kept him out for around 18 months. “Once you learn something, it’s always a good thing. That means you’ll do better next.”
Faried couldn’t agree more.
“I’ve been motivated for next year since after the All-Star break,” Faried said.
By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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