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Oklahoma City Thunder: Nuggets try a different system

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm •  Published: January 22, 2013

George Karl’s experiment continues. He’s still saying you can win an NBA championship without a superstar or three.

Karl’s Denver Nuggets are 25-18, good for sixth in the Western Conference, but Denver has played a tough schedule. It wouldn’t be crazy to say the Nuggets will check in at No. 4 or No. 5 when the playoffs start in April.

But Denver won’t be considered among the West favorites, certainly not in the company of the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers, despite the Nuggets’ overtime win over the Thunder on Sunday night.

Since the Nuggets trade of Carmelo Anthony 23 months ago, Denver has remained competitive with a deep and talented roster, but a roster void of all-stars. The Nuggets have gone out in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years – to OKC in five games in 2011, though it was a competitive series, and to the Lakers in five games in 2012.

But hope floats with Karl.

“I thought we had a damn good year last year,” Karl told me the other day, when the Nuggets came through Oklahoma City. “The experiment is still in the process. We’re still in the stage of figuring out the pieces. But I like my team a lot.

“Trying to win with a lot of good players rather than having one or two great players, I think you can do it. I think you can do it in the NBA. There have been teams that have done it in the past. The Pistons did it in Detroit.”

Nine Nuggets are averaging at least eight points and 18 minutes a game. Their best player probably is backup point guard Andre Miller, and Karl agrees. If it’s not Miller, it’s probably second-year forward Kenneth Faried. Neither was with the Nuggets during the Denver-OKC playoff series in April 2011. But Denver also sports a franchise point guard in Ty Lawson and a U.S. Olympian in Andre Iguodala, Plus there’s leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, defensive whiz Corey Brewer and big men Javale McGee and Kosta Koufos.

“If we continue to have a winning record and have a breakthrough in the playoffs, someone will label one of our guys a superstar,” Karl said.

Said Thunder coach Scotty Brooks, “They have a bunch of good players. They have players that can come off the bench and have 20 (points). Players that come off the bench and impact the game with their hustle and 3-point shooting. They have a very good team. They compete year in and year out.”

So, about that NBA title? Karl is right. The 2004 Pistons did win without a superstar, though the likes of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace received elevated status after that championship.

But that’s it. There’s really not another example of an NBA champion who won without a superstar.

“It’s hard to win,” Brooks said of the title. “Follow the history … there’s a lot of great teams and a lot of great coaches that have never won a championship. Utah, Jerry Sloan, 25 years of being at a really high level.

“It’s hard to win a championship. You have to have good fortune, you have to have good players, you have to have some luck. They have the opportunity to have that this year. They have good players, they’re going to need some luck and some good fortune, just like we do.”

It’s wrong to compare the Thunder’s and the Nuggets’ chances as anything close to equal. The Thunder has superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That’s almost always the ticket to NBA glory, despite the Denver experiment.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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