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Karl debuts against team that fired him in '03

George Karl had been involved with basketball
since the seventh grade, so not having it in his life for nearly
two years left him with an empty feeling.


Now that he's headed back to the NBA, Karl has a greater
appreciation for what the game has meant to him.

Out of the NBA since the Bucks fired him 2003, Karl was back in Milwaukee on Thursday to take over as coach of the underachieving Denver Nuggets. He's expected to on the bench Friday night, making
his debut with the Nuggets against his former team.

"The last 18 months was the first time I was not with a
basketball team for 38 years," said Karl, who spent the past year and a half as an analyst for ESPN. "I now realize how fun
and what a privilege it is to be with a basketball team."

The Nuggets hope his enthusiasm rubs off.

One of the favorites in the Western Conference at the start of
the season, Denver hasn't lived up to the expectations that came
with adding All-Star power forward Kenyon Martin to a team that had
reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, the Nuggets got off to
a horrible start and haven't really recovered. Coach Jeff Bzdelik
lost his job Dec. 28, and Denver has been only marginally better
under interim coach Michael Cooper, entering Friday's game 17-25
and 12½ games out of first place in the Northwest Division.

Karl brings plenty of credibility, ranking 13th all-time with
708 wins and leading his teams to five division titles and 13
playoff appearances in 16 seasons. He has also had experience
turning around underachieving teams.

Karl, who is 53, helped Seattle reach the playoffs in 1991-92 after a 20-20
start cost coach K.C. Jones his job, and led the Sonics to three
60-win seasons in five years, including a trip to the 1996 finals.

"He's clearly one of the best coaches in the NBA, has always
been so and his record exhibits that," Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe
said. "We are very excited to have him with us."

Karl can be feisty and confrontational, but it might be just
what the Nuggets need.

With a lineup that includes Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Miller and Marcus Camby, Denver certainly doesn't lack talent. What
the Nuggets seem to need is motivation.

Things got better under Cooper, who will stay on as an
assistant, but Denver still only won four of 14 games and had
trouble closing out the close ones. Injuries have taken a toll, but
there were too many times when players stood around on defense or
failed to run hard on the break.

Karl isn't likely to stand for lackadaisical effort. He's had
clashes with players at just about every stop in his coaching
career, particularly in Milwaukee, but always seems to get the best
out of them. Besides, the time off has allowed him to take a look
at his approach to coaching.

"I feel pretty confident that I'm going to be better because of
what happened in Milwaukee," Karl said. "Hopefully, I'm an intelligent
being who will learn from the mistakes that we made here."

Given that, Karl has already set his sights on getting Anthony
to shape up.

A star as a rookie last season, Anthony has had some growing
pains this year. He had a difficult summer that included a clash
with coach Larry Brown at the Olympics, a fight at a New York
nightclub, then was caught with marijuana in his backpack during
the preseason. (The charge was dropped after a friend said the pot
was his.)

Anthony has had plenty of troubles on the court as well,
struggling with shooting woes and ankle injuries. If the Nuggets
are going to have success, Karl knows it will start with Anthony.

"I'm going to be demanding of certain things that he might not
be happy with, but I also respect that he's a great talent," Karl
said. "He being successful will only make my job successful. I'm
just going to communicate with him, coach him, mentor him, try to
teach him professionalism. I see a great player that has
plateaued."

As for the chance to coach in Denver, Karl described the opportunity to coach the Denver franchise as one of his three dream jobs in basketball -- along with San Antonio and the University of North Carolina, his alma mater -- when speaking to ESPN.com on Wednesday.

"Because of my ABA roots, the Spurs and the Nuggets have been the teams I've dreamt about coaching probably more than any other teams in the league," Karl said. " ... The Nuggets would be a great fit for me ... ."

Another attraction is his previous ties with the Nuggets. He has personal
and business relationships with owner Stan Kroenke, and Nuggets
coaching consultant Doug Moe was his coach with the Spurs.

In addition to his stints with Milwaukee and Seattle, Karl also coached Golden State and Cleveland, along with stops in the CBA and Spain.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.