Denver Needs To Give Cooper The Reigns Of This Young Team

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 8, 2005

Michael Cooper
Michael Cooper

SAN ANTONIO,TX—– 124 games due to injury and the team is 14-17. That’s the Denver Nuggets up under Michael Cooper. Cooper replaced former head coach Jeff Bzdelik on December 28, 2004. Now one could really question Kiki Vanderweghe’s decision of firing Bzdelik after the club reached it’s first playoff series since 1995 but the elevation of Cooper is more of wondering if the team is ready to really put its best foot forward. According to published reports, the Nuggets are actively looking for a new head coach but I’m wondering why would they be looking if Cooper has proven to be a commodity to receive the head nod of leading the team the rest of this season. So just why is Cooper the head coach at this time? My guess is because the Nuggets front office is looking for a fall guy and if Cooper fails, it won’t because of the team’s lack of ability but because of the injuries that have amassed.

FROM 43-29 TO THE ABYSS OF INJURY When it’s the NBA, if your team is bitten by the injury bug, success is very limited indeed. The Nuggets’ top three players, Vashon Leonard, Carmelo Anthony and Nené has missed forty-six games this season versus fourteen last season. The Nuggets have already used thirteen different lineups so far. Remember I said that this team has had 124 game missed by injured players right and that the forty-six was just a portion? Okay here’s the rest of the MASH unit on the injured report: Mark Pope (30), Anthony Johnson (31), Marcus Camby (6), and various others with a game here and a game there. One hundred and twenty four games is a lot of games for a team to have players be sitting out and the Nuggets are looking that injury bug dead smack in the eye and trying to compete.

No head coach could survive that type of situation and when the season first began, the Nuggets were one of the dark horses to help keep the West uncivilized. Their starting line up of Anthony, Leonard, Miller, Martin and Camby played one game together. The promise that was there never materialized and right now is hard to even fathom until some consistency shows up by the guys that are on the floor. You can’s win ball games when you really don’t have anyone who understands the flow of the game.

COOPER’S HELP IS TO HIS LEFT If Cooper is going to succeed and if the Nuggets want to get back to the playoffs, then both entities will have to look to an assistant coaching core that is at their disposal. Scott Brooks, Adrian Dantley, Jarrin Akana and Chip Engelland are at Cooper’s disposal but what may really help the 12 year NBA veteran is Doug Moe, who is the Nuggets coaching consultant. For the players having Brooks, Cooper and Dantley on the coaching staff should be a benefit for them as a young squad. This team has a coaching staff that is experienced in a variety of positions and even their general manager is an asset to them if they understand how to tap the talent.

For Cooper in order for him to succeed at this level, he’ll have to forget about the WNBA and focus on a group of young men who already think they are superstars. Now is Cooper getting the same aggravations that his former Lakers’ teammate, Magic Johnson, faced during his tenure as a head coach in this league? I don’t think so. When Magic took over the Lakers at that time, he had guys like Nick Van Exel who figured that it was all about the bling and other things and not about taking care of business. For Cooper it is probably more of trying to keep this young team focused on what can still be accomplished even though the odds may be totally against them.

NUGGETS SHOULD GIVE COOP A CHANCE IF PLAYOFFS ARE REACHED Okay so the question to be asked is whether I think that Cooper can lead the Nuggets to the playoffs despite their injury-riddled season so far? If Michael Cooper figures out some way to lead this team to the playoffs, the Nuggets need to extend his coaching contract and make him the head coach for a minimum of four seasons. They should do it if this team doesn’t make the playoffs. One of the things that really get to me is front office personnel trying to second-guess a situation. First of all Bzdelik shouldn’t have been let go so early in this season but that’s water under the bridge. Yet for this front office to sit and dangle a carrot of promise in front of Cooper on the pretense that he will get heavy consideration is just complete cow manure. It is like they want him to fail so that they have a reason to bring in George Karl or something. If the Nuggets really want to improve their winning ways, maybe what the should do is to stop trying to play coaching retreads and give Cooper the shot at a head coaching position.

Vandeweghe needs to really evaluate just what he has available right now. With Cooper as a head coach, he has the makings of a good coaching staff that has many moons of experience in the NBA. Cooper also comes from Pat Riley and we have seen the lineage that Riley has produced. Several former players have become successful head coaches and Cooper would just be the next in line to possibly add to that tenure. Plus if anyone can say this is what it takes to win championships, it’s Cooper. How can you not count the experience that he brings as a player who has won several NBA titles into this current situation? When a player gets out of line, it’s Cooper who can bring him back in line by reminding him that he hasn’t done a damn thing yet. Respect is automatically given because this Nuggets team is still overachieving at times and definitely underachieving right now.

The Nuggets still have a chance at making the playoffs in April and they have a coach that could help them get there. The problem right now is for this organization to realize that in order for Cooper to succeed, they will have to make his ascension to this position a positive one and not something that is just for show.