This hauntingly apt delineation of human desire was uttered by the titular anti-hero of “Mad Men,” Don Draper, in a not-so-subtle metaphor for his own perpetuating unhappiness. For those who don’t watch, “Mad Men” is an AMC show that chronicles the death rattle of 1960’s culture through the eyes of either growing chameleonic or increasingly obsolete admen. It doubles, however, as commentary on the timeless endeavors of the human experience, one being the endless pursuit of happiness. Don, like nearly all the characters on “Mad Men,” suffers from perpetual disillusionment with his own status quo. No matter where he is in his life he always wants more, and the crux of the show revolves around life returning him with regressing amounts of less. His continuous failure to stop and be content where he is sends him careening toward a progressively vacant, self deprecating, and most of all, unhappy existence.
Sports fans live mostly in this Draper-esque world, where we constantly look at where our teams are and keep wanting more, mostly to the detriment of our own well-being. And that’s OK. The ultimate goal is a championship so what’s wrong about striving for it? But there is a fine line between striving for more and blatantly ignoring what you have. Somewhere along the way, the status quo of winning seasons and playoff berths year in and year out became not enough for Nuggets fans. The ever elusive second round became the narrative and the postseason failures eventually morphed into an indictment on George Karl.
Every loss served to feed the growing narrative that Karl “just couldn’t coach in the playoffs” and, inevitably, this confirmation bias began continually reaffirming itself. It didn’t matter that each season brought a new team, a new story and a new reason for a playoff loss. It didn’t matter that in more than half of the Nuggets’ postseason losses, they were the significant underdogs. It didn’t matter that the pre- and post-Melo teams were so drastically different from each other (as were the expectations attached to each), that it was unfair to lump both together as though they were related. All that mattered was George Karl represented the status quo, and Nuggets fans were tired of it.
Karl was a veteran coach, through and through, and as such he had many of the typical vices that afflict coaches in this vein. He was obsessed with “win now” and the rookies on his team payed the price for that philosophy with their development and their playing time. Karl had little time for projects such as JaVale McGee, and refused to start him against management’s wishes. He had a torrent love affair with Andre Miller that to this day remains unexplainable. His offensive system usually boiled down to some variations of “run” and “run faster” while certain situations occasionally shed some unfortunate light on his shaky rotations.
And yet he hasn’t coached a losing team since 1988 and was at the helm for many of Denver’s greatest moments as a franchise. He’s won over 1,000 games in his career and was as successful with Carmelo Anthony on his team as he was without him, if not more so. He guided the Nuggets to their best season in history, and did it with a team constructed solely of players he helped develop and cast-offs he made fit better in Denver than anywhere else. He was continually handed flawed rosters yet he made the most of them, helping these teams to overachieve more often than not, only for the weight of his own hand-crafted fan expectations to crush him in the playoffs.
So now things have finally changed and for the first time since 2005 the Denver Nuggets are going to be coached by someone other than George Karl. With the architect of last season’s roster let go and the leader throughout the years now fired, the status quo is officially gone. But where does it leave Denver?
Tanking isn’t an option. Even if Iguodala departs and Gallinari takes a leave of absence the entire season the roster is still nowhere near bad enough to out-lose the dredges of the league. Those who think this is merely a minor blow-up, a lateral move the Nuggets are making on their way to true contention, are sadly mistaken. Letting the orchestrator of a 57-win roster go and firing the head coach who got them there is not the move of an ownership who believes in the makeup of the team; its a move of one who believes they need to rebuild.
But what, exactly, are they rebuilding? And how are they going to go about it?
This team is now a rudderless ship who’s lost its captain, and instead of completely sinking (which is usually preferable), its headed straight for a giant iceberg of mediocrity. This time next season Denver could very well find itself in the dreaded Bucks/Jazz territory of the last couple years, on the periphery of the playoff hunt with a semi-gifted roster and no direction.
The much maligned status quo is gone and that pesky monotony of mid to high playoff seeds every year (albeit the painful postseason losses that usually followed as well) is in the wind. The future is uncertain for the first time in a while and this has lead to rejoice in significant portions of Nuggets Nation. But in this futurity lies an abyss, a void that could send Denver toiling through the mires of mediocrity under a more ownership-freindly coach and a more “cost-effective” plan for years to come. I hope you’re happy now, because the more happiness you will soon crave may not come so easily.
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