MIAMI -- So the NBA Coach of the Year was fired on Thursday and could wind up going to the team that is pushing out a coach who led it to the Western Conference finals.
Why didn't the Nuggets and Grizzlies just put their heads together and work out a trade? George Karl and Andre Iguodala to Memphis for Lionel Hollins, Zach Randolph and a lottery-protected pick in 2017?
Seriously, could the coaching business get any more bizarre?
(And, right away, I'm sorry I said that. Because it almost certainly will.)
After the Nuggets were ousted by Golden State and GM Masai Ujiri left for Toronto, Karl found himself on an island -- and we're not talking about the Bahamas. He had one year left on his contract with a team option for the next three years. Despite Karl's long history of success in Denver -- which was nonetheless blemished by first-round losses in seven his eight seasons -- that's a lengthy commitment to make to a coach when the front office is in transition.
According to a league source, Karl had pushed for the deal to be "reworked," and the point of contention had mostly to do with contract length. And while we might never know the full story of how those specific discussions went down, we know this: If an NBA coach doesn't have leverage immediately after being named the best in his profession, then there is no such thing as leverage in the coaching business.
With Karl and the Nuggets at an impasse, Denver ownership decided on Thursday that it was "best for everyone to start fresh," a person briefed on the matter said.
What happened in the hours after Karl was informed on Thursday morning that he was being let go were even more bizarre. The Nuggets immediately reached out to the Grizzlies for permission to interview Hollins, who is being allowed to speak with other teams despite coaching Memphis to the Western Conference finals. The Grizzlies, in turn, have expressed interest in hiring Karl.
Why not work out a deal whereby the teams could try out the new guy until the All-Star break, and if they're unhappy, just switch?
Hollins and Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw have emerged as the Nuggets' top targets to replace Karl, league sources said, though CEO Josh Kroenke is armed with a list of other names of potential candidates. The Pacers on Thursday granted the Nuggets permission to interview Shaw, who already has been targeted by the Clippers and Nets.
Shaw, Hollins and Karl also are at the top of the Clippers' list of candidates, league sources said. While there were conversations between the Nuggets and Clippers about Karl, a person familiar with the situation said LA had not asked permission to interview Karl while he was still employed by Denver.
After losing Ujiri to the Raptors, the Nuggets' front office also is in flux. The Kings have requested permission to interview VP of basketball operations Pete D'Alessandro for the team's vacant GM position, sources said. The Nuggets do not appear inclined to grant permission while their coaching search is unfolding, however. Also, Denver ownership is exploring the possibility of elevating D'Alessandro to GM as Ujiri's replacement, sources said.
Meanwhile, Karl's ouster means there are five head coaching vacancies with only three weeks to go before the NBA draft -- and there has yet to be official word on whether Rick Adelman will be back on the bench next season in Minnesota.