In anticipation for tomorrow's Game 1 of the Western Conference of the NBA Playoffs between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers, I thought I would talk a little more about Denver's defensive improvements year on year. I've talked about this topi in previous posts, but it's good to hear more back stories of exactly how the Denver Nuggets metamorphism from all fast break all the time to a methodical defensive-minded team actually came about. The Denver Post has the details of how that transformation took place.

Without all the information, most presumed that the changes took place after Chauncey Billups arrived. But George Karl is clear that the shift from an offensive to a defensive mindset took place much earlier:

We’ll start last spring, after the Nuggets were swept out of the playoffs by the L.A. Lakers. Assistant coach Tim Grgurich, Karl’s longtime right hand man, wanted the coach to wipe his hands of emphasizing offensive basketball. Grgurich wanted to turn back the clock to the defense-first system that was a success when the two were winning games by the boatload in Seattle.

“We can’t do this anymore,” Grgurich said to Karl. “We can’t coach like this anymore. It just doesn’t work.”

Karl paused.

“He was saying it for himself, but he was also saying it for me,” Karl recalled. “And I just looked at him and said ‘Grg, you know something, you’re right.’”

Still, for me, the most remarkable part of the change in philosophy was not that it was done in one season, after all we see year over year turnarounds all the time at all levels -- but the amazing thing is that it happened under the same coach -- it happened despite the Nuggets winning 50 games last season. Why are coaches so reluctant to change systems? In my opinion, it's mostly the same reason why people resist change in general, these logical explanations include:

- Ego. Coaches are human, it is human nature to be selfish and stubborn in believing their way is the best way, the only way.
- Fear. Coaches are afraid of failure. Change is the partial realization in the failure of the past and the need for a new direction.
- Perception. Coaches are afraid that they will be perceived as panicking.

Change takes courage. Win-lose-or-draw, I can respect a coach who is willing to take a leap of faith. To have an open mind, and to see the game from a different light -- to acknowledge that what worked yesterday may not work today, or tomorrow -- to admit that change is needed.

If you're looking to make the transition from offense to a more defensive team, take a look at Tom Izzo's DVD on Rebounding and Man Defense. Coach Izzo is the long-time head coach of Michigan State who made it to the championship game at this past year's NCAA Final Four. Discuss this and the rest of your favorite basketball topics at the X's and O's Basketball Forum.