An assistant coach might be canned for a number of reasons. Maybe his play designs were lacking creativity or he was communicating poorly with players. But while those would seem to be acceptable reasons for why Nuggets assistant Adrian Dantley will not return to the team next year, he claims he was fired because of where he was sitting on the bench.
Dantley, George Karl's lead assistant, who filled in as head coach at the end of the 2009-2010 season while Karl was being treated for throat cancer, told Chris Tomasson, writing for Denver Stiffs, that he was fired because he didn't rotate his spot on the bench. He typically sat on the bench in one of the three seats next to Karl -- but early in the season, Karl reportedly asked Dantley to install a rotation with the assistant coaches who sat in the row behind the bench. As a result, Dantley told Tomasson, he spent the final 67 regular season games and the first-round playoff series sitting behind the bench. And why wouldn't he return to his seat in the front row? An excerpt:
>"I didn't rotate... 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 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).''
If this feels like a group of third graders arguing about the new class seating chart because they want to sit next to their friends, it's because it isn't far off. Dantley led the team for Karl while he was sick and proceeded to take the brunt of the blame when the Nuggets lost to the lower-seeded and injured Utah Jazz. He never made excuses, even though Kenyon Martin was hurt and J.R. Smith was operating almost exclusively as "bad J.R."
Now, Dantley has been shown the door right before a potential labor stoppage. Karl was presumably operating from the perspective of "I'm the boss, do what I say." And Tomasson points out that Dantley was a holdover from the glorious Kiki Vandeweghe years and probably more expensive than the younger assistants -- so maybe Karl was just waiting for a somewhat reasonable excuse to let Dantley go.
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But to further confuse a situation already rife with petty finger-pointing, the New York Post's Peter Vecsey reports that Karl told his remaining assistants, "A.D.'s firing was your fault."
I can't say I've spent a single second of my life paying attention to where NBA assistant coaches are sitting -- but do any other teams worry about this? What should have been a routine non-renewal of Dantley's contract has made the Nuggets' coaching staff look like attention-hungry children. Did we mention the Nuggets had a pretty decent draft?
More from our Sports archive: "George Karl at the ESPYs wants gov't to match cancer donations: Your move, Mr. Obama."