Make no mistake, there is never a good time to be stricken with cancer.
Denver Nuggets coach George Karl understands that more than most people. He has previously beaten prostate cancer and now has been stricken again, this time with a treatable form of throat cancer. He began treatment last week and the rounds of chemotherapy and are expected to last nearly seven weeks.
Karl will have to miss some games and practices while undergoing treatment, something that might seemingly hinder the Nuggts in their bid to overtake the Lakers for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference. Denver has the second-best record in the conference at 37-19, 4 ½ games behind the Lakers, who are 42-14.
However, Karl has great faith in his coaching staff. Assistant coach Adrian Dantley will serve as the acting coach in games Karl is forced to miss. Tim Grgurich is a long-time NBA assistant while John Welch and Chad Iske round out the staff.
"As I told them, colonels can run the military just as much as generals can," Karl said. "That's what the challenge is going to be for my assistants."
Dantley is ready for the task of filling in as needed. Karl will miss road games against the Warriors on Feb. 25 and Timberwolves on March 10 and there is a chance he will sit out some others.
"We just keep it business as usual," Dantley said. "We want guys to focus more. Of course, we're going to have to do more work when he's out. So everybody is going to have to do more than they normally do if he's not there. Each person has to step up a little bit more, do more work."
Karl's first game after the Nuggets announced he had cancer came last Thursday and they notched an impressive victory, beating the Cavaliers 118-116 in overtime on the road. It was an emotional win, to be sure.
"This boosted his spirit up a lot," Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said. "In the back of our mind, we know his situation. We're playing for him."
Karl said he wants to coach as many games as he can because it helps him take his mind of his physical problems.
"It's going to be my sanctuary to do what I like to do and forget maybe the things that are always going to pop into your mind," Karl said of coaching.
Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James gave Karl a hug before last Thursday's game. Karl said it is indicative of the support he is received from around the NBA.
"It's been very nice, a lot of players, a lot of coaches, a lot of ex-players have been in touch," Karl said. "The basketball family has a way of being angry competitors towards one another but when there's trouble and there's pain, it unifies pretty quickly."
Knicks are cap kings
Most of the trading at last week's deadline had as much to do with teams cleaning salary-cap space in order to pursue a bumper crops of free agents expected to hit the market this summer as it was improving their current rosters and playoff positioning.
From the standpoint of cap space, the Knicks were clearly the deadline winners. They came away with more than $30 million freed up to pursue James and perhaps another star like Heat guard Dwyane Wade, Raptors forward Chris Bosh or Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh cut $9.5 million with a three-team, nine-team trade at the deadline that sent the 2010-10 contracts of Jared Jeffries ($6.8 million) and rookie forward Jordan Hill ($2.7 million) to the Rockets for a package of expiring contracts that included guards Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez. There is a chance that the Knicks might use some of their $30 million on re-signing McGrady if he shows the form that has made him a seven-time All-Star.
Walsh started cutting payroll on Nov. 21, 2008 when he lopped off $21 million by trading Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford. It seems certain, though, that Walsh's next move will be to finally add to the payroll rather than subtract.
"I've been waiting to do that," he said.
In addition to the McGrady trade, the Knicks also made a deadline deal in which they shipped guard Nate Robinson and rookie forward Marcus Landry to the Celtics for guard Eddie House and two D-League players, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker.
"What Donnie kind of laid out for me, he has executed almost perfectly," Knicks coach Mike D'Antonii said. "I think that's what's reassuring."
What becomes of Z?
To a man, the Cavaliers were happy that they traded for Wizards forward Antawn Jamison last week, even if they have gone 0-3 since the deal. However, they were not happy that center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was shipped to the Wizards to make the deal happen.
"It definitely hurts," James said. "Z is the guy who has been here since I've been here. I definitely wish him and his family the best. I'm OK with the trade. I'm not OK with losing Z."
The Wizards are negotiating a buyout with Ilgauskas, who is in the final season of his contract. NBA rules prohibit players who are traded and released to re-sign with their former club for 30 days. While there has been much speculation that Ilgauskas will wait a month then re-sign with the Cavaliers, that is not a given as the Mavericks have significant interest in him and the Nuggets and Hawks are also said to be thinking about making an offer.
"He's part of the Wizards right now," Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry said. "I don't know what their intentions are. I don't want to comment on their team or on their players."
In addition to Ilgauskas, the Mavericks also have interest in a couple of free agents with NBA experience, shooting guards Von Wafer and Rashad McCants.
Cavaliers get Magic's attention
The Cavaliers' trade for Jamison certainly drew the attention of the Orlando Magic. It was Orlando who beat the Cavaliers in last season's Eastern Conference Finals and then downed them 101-95 on Sunday.
Jamison seemingly gives the Cavaliers the power forward to match up with the Magic's Rashard Lewis. In the Magic's six-game victory over the Cavaliers last spring, Lewis averaged 18.3 points.
"They made themselves better," Lewis said. "They wanted to match up with me, or down to me, but I'm not their matchup problem. It's the big fellow (center Dwight Howard)."
"They already were the best team in the East, by far, and this makes them stronger," Magic forward Matt Barnes said. "But we're not going to hold our heads down. We're still confident we can beat them."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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