Blog Entry

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Posted on: June 26, 2011 4:59 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2011 5:12 pm
Former Denver Nuggets assistant coach Adrian Dantley tees off on his former boss, George Karl. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The NBA coaching fraternity resembles the Free Masons when it comes to tight-lipped secrecy. Rarely will you hear one head coach comment negatively about another head coach, and assistant coaches -- who rotate on a carousel around the league and have precious little job security -- almost never say anything publicly aside from supporting their boss or offering banal observations before or after a game. 

In that context, former Denver Nuggets assistant coach Adrian Dantley's comments about his former boss, George Karl, qualify as an explosion. Dantley revealed in a New York Post column that his contract was not renewed by the Nuggets without warning, meaning he is now out of work. With an impending lockout and the early coaching carousel nearly complete, Dantley is obviously frustrated.

Then, in an interview posted on, Dantley tapped into that frustration, claiming that he was let go because of how he handled himself after Karl was approached by other members of his coaching staff. Those coaches apparently wanted a chance to rotate into the front row of seats on Denver's bench, rather than sit behind the bench. Dantley, keep in mind, was the lead assistant on the staff and was tabbed by the organization to take over the head coaching spot when Karl dealt with throat cancer at the end of the 2009-2010 season.  
"I didn’t rotate,’’ said Dantley, an NBA star forward from 1976-2001 who was named in 2008 to the Hall of Fame. "I wasn’t going to rotate. If they (other assistants) want the publicity to sit up front, I don’t need the publicity… I got no problem not being seen on TV and sitting at the back of the bench.’’

Dantley would not single out any specific assistants. The New York Post reported "one or two lower-level assistants’’ suggested the rotation to Karl.

"This had to do with a whole lot of backstabbing,’’ Dantley said. "I got fired because I wouldn’t rotate. And people felt uncomfortable (about that).’’
Let's unwrap this, because it all seems really petty at first glance. Clearly, Dantley felt disrspected by the idea that he should have to rotate as part of the group of assistants. Given the time he had served, the fact that he was tapped to fill in for Karl when he was out, and the status quo that had existed before, it's definitely reasonable for him to raise questions about why a change to this policy was needed. From Dantley's perspective, nothing was broken, so why fix it?

Karl has been an NBA head coach for 23 years and he's earned a reputation for managing difficult personalities. He's handled much more difficult situations than this. (He coached J.R. Smith.) From Karl's perspective, once he decided to have his assistants rotate, everyone should have gotten on board with the decision. By refusing to rotate, Dantley was undermining Karl's authority, the ultimate no-no in coaching circles. Dantley's action might not have been an "on the spot" fireable offense but you can understand why it would peeve Karl.

The big questions here: Why did Karl decide to institute a rotation in the first place and were Denver's assistants really that desperate and bold to request a seat in front? Those are questions we might never get answers to. But from an NBA head coach's perspective, they aren't that important. When you coach in such a high-pressure, low-security environment with endless available alternatives to fill out your coaching staff, everything is "My way or the highway." Karl apparently issued his ruling and he expected it to be final. Dantley didn't like it and that festered. Karl waited until the offseason and then expressed his authority in full. End of debate. 

The lessons here?

One: Assistant coaches, even long-tenured and respected ones like Dantley, have zero leverage.

Two: This situation seems like it could have been avoided with a few well-timed conversations between Karl and Dantley. In that respect, communication breakdowns and personality conflicts in the NBA are the same as they are anywhere else.

Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: June 28, 2011 5:49 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

I agree 100% with "brisisk".  Had George Karl stayed healthy the 2010 Nuggets would have made much more noise than a one and done in the playoffs.  Adian Dantley was a good player but a so-so coach and he most definitely is not ready for a HC job anywhere.  Good luck to you, AD, but don't be a whiner abouit this alleged backstabbing.  You had a chance on the big stage in 2010 but did not perform.  I really thought AD deserved firing then.

Since: Dec 30, 2006
Posted on: June 27, 2011 5:47 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Unfortunately Coach Karl is losing a good coach who filled in admirably while he was out with health issues...Karl was never a great coach himself,how many NBA championships has he won....with his health his days may be numbered anyways..The owner should be looking for a replacement long term anyways

Since: Sep 5, 2008
Posted on: June 27, 2011 12:17 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Are you kidding me with this story, sitting in the back row, sitting in the front row, what a bunch of crap.  And going to the papers with it is even more crap.  AD should be fired just for telling people about it.  Just like in any other job in teh country or the world, if the BOSS says to do something and you decide not to, it's no big news if and when you get canned.  Case closed, that's why he's the BOSS.  If it made no difference to fAD about the front or back row why didn't he sit in front like he was told?  Sounds to me like HE was trying to make a statement, and it back fired on him.  Talk to RIggleman about making statements, didn't work there either.

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: June 27, 2011 10:11 am

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Again, for those NBA, NFL, and MLB teams who need someone to do this: simply pay me a few hundred grand a year (anywhere that puts me above Obama's no-tax-increase limit, please), and I will take the blame for everything.  I'll sit in the back row.  I'll agree that I signed Jayson Werth to one of the worst contracts in recent memory.  I'll cop to paying recruits (for those university teams that need help here), telling their fathers I'd pay them, or even admit that it was, indeed, I who first conceived of batting the pitcher in the eight hole. 

Are these people really so petty that they cannot rotate seats once their boss decides everyone should, or that they cannot finish out a contract without being guaranteed there will be another one coming?  How long would any of these people last in the "real world"? Dantley and Riggleman may get to find out that, if the CEO says play musical chairs at the annual meeting, you play musical chairs, and you lose to him with a smile, damnit!  I hope they do, anyway; do them some good.

Since: Apr 23, 2011
Posted on: June 27, 2011 7:13 am

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Adrian Dantley was one Heck of a great player in his days and was never one for notariety just came each game did his job (Very well) and made no waves I loved watching him in Utah with the Jazz and he will be picked up as an assistant or a coach soon hopefully by Utah so we can get the benefit of his ability GO A D  3 Yards and a cloud of dust  no fear at all!!!!!!

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: June 27, 2011 12:54 am

Dantley's story

This story is all coming from Dantley. As you noted, coaches do not talk about each other publically. Dantly knows Karl will not set the record straight. So what he says is unverifiable and may have noting to do with his not receiving a new contract. In light of that the doubt is in favor of Karl.

Speaking of new contracts, how does a coach or player act like he had no idea he would not be employed when he is nearing the end of a written contract. There is no need to give notice that it will not be renewed. The contract itself it the notice. The assumption should be that if they want you back they will tell you and offer a renewal.

As you note, Ben, Dantly was completely unable to manage the team last year during Karl's absence. He is not likely to be considered as a furure head coach there. The lead assistant should be able to handle duties while the head coach is out. So in most self-assessments a coach in Dantley's situation might realize that he will not be renewed.

Since: Mar 22, 2011
Posted on: June 27, 2011 12:02 am

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Gotta be more to this story, cause it's too ridiculous as it is presented here. Karl and Dantley hadn't even spoken with each other?

Since: Jun 26, 2011
Posted on: June 26, 2011 11:31 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

I respectively disagree.  In 2010 the Nuggets were playing pretty good basketball when Karl was diagnosed with cancer.  When Dantley filled in for Karl, the team played horrible.  they were obviously disorganized and Dantley looked like a deer in the headlights on the bench.  To cap it off they got destroyed in the playoffs.  He was not ready to be a head coach then, and I doubt he ever will.

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: June 26, 2011 11:25 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

Aguirre really didn't deliver big for the Pistons after the Dantley trade I think that trade ended up being more about freeing up more minutes for an emerging Rodman and eliminating power struggles between Dantley and Isiah or anyone else. Dantley got the shaft that time for sure. I can see why he always seems to have a chip on his shoulder.

Since: Feb 3, 2008
Posted on: June 26, 2011 11:09 pm

Dantley let go by Karl because of 'backstabbing'

My opinion is this. This is exacly what is wrong with the NBA. The days of "I'm right and your wrong" days should be over. But that is not the case in the NBA. I think this really going to give the a huge black eye. And us as fans are sick and tired of it. We defianly would not want see Dantley here in Utah. He has been a cancer stick where ever he goes. And the way he left Utah as a player wasn't exactly smooth.

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