George Karl out in Denver -- Does he vault to the top of the Clippers list?

Stephen Dunn

The Nuggets decided not to extend Karl, instead firing him, making the reigning NBA Coach of the Year a coaching free agent. The Clippers have wanted to pursue Karl all along -- is he the front runner for the job now?

I guess they weren't kidding when they said that George Karl's situation in Denver was "unsettled". Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Karl has been fired by the Nuggets with a year remaining on his contract. Karl didn't want to enter the season as a lame duck (and who can blame him) but negotiations on an extension went nowhere, and, here we are. According to Woj:

With one year left on his contract, Karl was pushing for an extension and ownership was unwilling to make the commitment. With a sense that Denver could be facing a season of acrimony, CEO Josh Kroenke decided to part ways with Karl.

This does two things to the Clippers coaching search. First and foremost, it puts the reigning Coach of the Year, one of the more successful and respected coaches in the NBA today, on the job market. It also, however, puts another playoff team out there searching for a coach. And who might the Nuggets pursue to take over a team that won 57 games last season? The early rumors point to Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins, already shortlisted for the Clippers and the Nets.

So this is all setting up a game of musical chairs for the cherry coaching jobs. There are currently four pretty talented teams (that's counting Memphis) looking for new coaches and Hollins, Shaw and now Karl are all candidates for those jobs. The Clippers may have a slight head start in Karl's case, since they were prescient enough to be making backchannel inquiries before the bombshell that he was available. Does that make him the frontrunner for the job? Does it make the Clippers the favorites to land him?

That's all speculation at this point. Perhaps Karl will decide to take a season off. Perhaps he doesn't feel the Clippers are a good fit for him. His teams have always played at one of the fastest paces in the league, while Chris Paul strongly prefers to walk the ball up the floor, after all. But he's been successful wherever he's gone, with lots of different personnel, and he's widely respected. If nothing else, if the Clippers could land Karl it would be a major marketing coup for a team that has rarely pursued big names for their coaching staff.

This makes things VERY interesting.

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