Here is a quick recap on the Denver Nuggets’ season and playoffs. Followed by a peek into the future.
The 2012-2013 Denver Nuggets had their greatest NBA season of all time with a 57-25 record including a 38-3 home record. They led the NBA in scoring (106.1 ppg) and were 2nd in rebounds with 45 per game. The highlight of their season was a 15 game win streak that helped them clinch the 3rd overall seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets emerged as a fun team to watch thanks to their lack of a superstar that led to a team dynamic that the NBA had never seen before. You never knew who would shine in a game. This season should be remembered as Ty Lawson’s coming out campaign as he proved himself the future of the franchise. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler proved their worth as role players who could get hot at any moment. Andre Miller brought a much needed veteran presence to the locker room and thrived off of his amazing alley-oop passes. Kenneth Faried further embraced his role as a rebounding machine but also improved his shooting and defending game. Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee became an unexpected dynamic duo with Koufos starting most the season and McGee coming in as relief. Danilo Gallinari proved himself extremely valuable to the team by being the perfect complement to Ty Lawson. Evan Fournier provided a glimpse into a bright future as he was surprisingly impressive for a rookie.
The Denver Nuggets entered the postseason with optimism. They were a bit beat up but were confident they could take out the streaky Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately they underestimated their opponents and lost the series 4-2. This is the 9th time out of the last 10 seasons that the Denver Nuggets have failed to get out of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
As the Nuggets’ season was coming to a premature end I found myself questioning what exactly went wrong and what the Nuggets could have done about it. It is easy to blame the coaching of George Karl or the absence of Danilo Gallinari. Unfortunately the problem is deeper than that. The Denver Nuggets are a worse team than the Golden State Warriors. It is that simple. The Nuggets overachieved in the regular season while the Warriors underachieved. Once the playoffs started, their roles flipped and everything came crumbling down for the Nuggets. The Nuggets were outplayed, outwitted and outlasted.
The Warriors played with an old-school cockiness, daring the Nuggets to get emotional. The Warriors pushed, clawed and attacked hoping to force the Nuggets to bite. They wanted to get in the head of the Nuggets and force them to play with their emotions and not their heads. The Warriors were determined to get a Nuggets player to punch Andrew Bogut. They wanted something emotional to happen so they could rally around it and take out Goliath. That is why Mark Jackson spoke about the Nuggets playing dirty. That is why Mark Jackson had his team play dirty. Mark Jackson wanted a John Starks headbutting Reggie Miller moment. The Nuggets never bit. They never let their emotions get the best of them. And that was the problem.
The Nuggets didn’t have the confidence on their side. They were missing their swagger, missing their emotion. The team does not have an emotional leader. Often in the NBA the star of the team is the emotional leader. Think Kobe’s jaw or Jordan’s glare. The Warriors had Steph Curry’s showboating and Andrew Bogut’s Hulk impression. Ty Lawson is a leader that encourages. He doesn’t get you pumped up, he gets you to play smart. Andre Iguodala has proven that he wants no part in a star role. Wilson Chandler also shows no interest in the lead. Javale McGee is too crazy to take seriously. Andre Miller tries but his slow down style of play doesn’t match his intensity. Corey Brewer is a guy that makes mistakes when he is emotional. Kenneth Faried is the key. When he brings the emotion the team takes on a new look. He gets the crowd pumped when he takes down a rebound! He is the part that keeps the machine running. Unfortunately he was beat up and never really played like he had all season with the exception of Game 5.
Blame the Nuggets’ low energy, blame their lack of emotion, blame their loss of chemistry. Do not blame George Karl’s coaching or Danilo Gallinari’s injury. You can blame Karl’s lack of being an emotional leader. Maybe he should have fought the refs more. Maybe he should have gotten kicked out of game 3 or 4. Maybe he should have gotten his team to rally around Mark Jackson’s comments. But the truth is he got this team to overachieve. He raised your expectations and got the fans excited for a postseason run. The reality is that he did it using a mediocre roster. Corey Brewer, Javale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Wilson Chandler are all hit or miss players. They are all project players that run on emotion and momentum. There is not much for a coach to do when your team is shooting 34% in a do-or-die game 6. The team simply did not want it as bad as the Warriors. They had already reached their achievements for the season. They were content with their 57 wins, and their 38 home wins and their 15 game win streak. They reached their peak too early while the Warriors hit their peak at the perfect time. It was a perfect storm and the Denver Nuggets got washed away.
First of all I would like to apologize to 13-year-old Kevin. You see, poor 13-year-old Kevin had to suffer through years of basketball embarrassment as a Nuggets fan. To give some perspective, at the end of the 2002-2003 season the Nuggets, fresh off of drafting the Nikiloz Tskitishvili with the 5th overall pick, finished with 17 wins. Which was roughly 17 more wins than that team should have won. It was a very painful time for basketball in Denver and I think he would have been thrilled to know that the future held 10 straight seasons of playoff basketball. He would be very upset that I am busy complaining about losing in the playoffs.
Anyway the good news is that the Nuggets are a young team that is run by a GM that has proved himself to be quite the basketball mind in Masai Ujiri. Unfortunately his contract is up and our first focus should be on retaining his services. Once we officially bring back Ujiri then Nuggets fan need not worry. This man knows what he is doing and we should trust in him. We are extremely lucky to have his keen eye for talent and his shrewd negotiating. He knows what he is doing.
After that the Nuggets need to look at their impending free agents. Andre Iguodala has a player option for the next season that he can waive and become a free agent. Fortunately for the Nuggets they can offer AI more years than any other team if they desire. Unfortunately for them AI is extremely unpredictable and will probably cost a fortune to resign. AI brings a unique talent to the team. A shut down defender that goes about his business. He is infuriating at times because fans can see his potential to be a marquee star and it is obvious that he is not interested in that position at all. That held him back in Philadelphia and led to his exit. The Nuggets embraced his desire to be a role player and he has proved his worth but he needs to work on his unacceptable 57% free throw rate. I think the Nuggets have to resign AI at any cost. He is a proven veteran that brings more to the table than he takes away. And you never know when he is going to have an All-Star like game.
The other two free agents are Corey Brewer (unrestricted) and Timofey Mozgov (restricted). I don’t see Mozgov returning with Koufus and McGee breaking out as a dynamic duo at center. Two funny stories about Mozgov. The infamous Carmelo Anthony trade almost never happened because of the Knicks’ reluctance to include the young center at the last second. Yes, Timofey Mozgov, who never had a real role on this Nuggets team, almost altered the future of two franchises. And the other story? Right before that trade I actually ran into Timofey at a craps table. He was with fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko who was playing for the Utah Jazz at the time. I recognized AK47 but not Mozgov and only realized later that he was a future Nugget. I also found out later that this happened:
He married his girlfriend at a drive-thru wedding in Vegas while wearing a track suit. I am not sure whether I saw him before or after the marriage but he was not wearing a track suit.
Wow, sorry that was quite off track. Anyway the next big question is Corey Brewer. This is a very difficult decision. Brewer went from a small role player that had a few good games to a vital cog in the Nuggets machine. He found his stroke around the same time the Nuggets went on their winning streak. He lost it soon after and stumbled in the playoffs. His poor play in the playoffs could mean the Nuggets might be able to get him for pretty cheap. And he seems happy to have found a place that accepts his play for what it is. I think we resign him but I also think we need to put him on notice. The coaches need to sit him down and tell him exactly what they need from him. Focus on his strengths (momentum shooting, quick steals) and teach him how to avoid his mistakes which usually occur when something goes wrong like a bad shot or a bad foul and he tries to make up for it by taking another bad shot or bad foul. He needs to learn to let things go and move on. His head gets in his own way at times.
So far that means everything will stay the same. Well 2013-2014 is a make or break season for the Nuggets. Specifically for George Karl. If they lose in the first round of the playoffs next year then Karl has to go. Sorry but it is true. He gets one more chance and that is it. For that reason they need to make the following changes.
Get rid of Andre Miller. I love Miller. He helped develop Carmelo Anthony, he was a key trade piece in the Allen Iverson trade and he was huge for us this season by bringing a veteran presence and dishing out oops to our big guys. But he has to go. He is a drug to George Karl and it is bad for the team. Miller brings the team’s tempo to a standstill and offers no help on the defensive side. Despite this Karl cannot help himself and he plays Andre too much. Besides he has never won a first round playoff series. We can’t have that mojo bringing us down. And now that Evan Fournier is emerging we have no need for three point guards. Thanks for everything you did for the Nuggets, Miller, but you gotta go.
Get a big name free agent or trade for a star. I enjoy the Nuggets playing a team oriented game. I understand that they don’t need a star. But it also would not hurt to get more star power in the lineup. Some free agent names that come to mind Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, David West, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard. Chris Paul is amazing and would be spectacular as a Nugget but we have Lawson and Paul is expensive so it is not going to happen. Josh Smith would give us another scorer but he will demand a lot of money and headaches. Speaking of headaches, Dwight Howard is a ticking time bomb and I highly doubt he wants to spread his star power in Denver. That leaves Al Jefferson and David West. Jefferson is a center but could play a power forward role that could take our team to the next level. David West is a power forward that is still averaging 16 ppg despite his age. If John Elway was running this team he would go for David West. He is a veteran that can still produce and should be cheaper than others in the market. He can score like a small forward and rebound like a power forward. He provides what we are missing from Kenneth Faried (offense) and what we are missing from Wilson Chandler (consistency). He would allow Karl to do whatever he wants with his lineup. It would be quite scary for opponents to know what to expect. Look at what the roster would be and imagine who you would start:
Guards: Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer, Evan Fournier, Andre Iguodala
Forwards: Danilo Gallinari, David West, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Andre Igoudala (can play either)
Center: Kosta Koufos, Javale McGee
That would be fun. Especially with AI and West’s abilities to play different positions. Of course West is in his thirties so this would be a win now move.
Trading for a star is trickier because we would have to give up players to gain a player. And stars are not easy to come by. And while I dare not travel down the road of what we would have to give up ( I would only count Lawson as untouchable) here are three intriguing ideas. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Paul Pierce. Pierce is highly unlikely but with the Celtics first round exit and a possible Kevin Garnett retirement the Celtics might want to start off fresh and ship off their star. He is getting up there in age but he brings an intensity that is unmatched and he knows how to win in the playoffs. Unfortunately I doubt he would be keen on the idea. Griffin might seem out there since the Clippers would demand a lot for their star but there have been reports of his immaturity causing trouble in the locker room. Apparently Griffin and Chris Paul don’t see eye-to-eye and the Clippers might have to choose between the two. He would bring star power to the Nuggets but would not have to be the star every night. And finally, Kevin Love. My dream scenario. We already have a rebound monster in the Manimal but Kevin Love can also score. He would bring a new dynamic to the Nuggets and he is the perfect kind of star for Denver. This is unlikely too since we are division rivals but the Timberwolves decided to not give Love a max deal because they wanted to save it for Rubio. That probably didn’t sit too well with Love who deserves the max and deserves to be the star on a team. Maybe if he is disgruntled enough he could force his way out of Minnesota.
To recap, get rid of Andre Miller and bring in one of the following: Josh Smith, David West, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin or Kevin Love. With Love or West being my realistic dream scenario. The beautiful thing about this team is that we do not necessarily need any of those players but they sure would help. Otherwise we get another year of developing a lineup that is flawed but has potential. Lots of potential. And that isn’t too bad. I know it is frustrating to follow this team but it is also extremely fun. It’s a high-risk team that can make the fans extremely optimistic about the future one game and extremely pessimistic the next. It is like dating an alcoholic, you never know what version you are going to get. But it is all meant to be fun and this team is definitely that. So while we bitch and moan about another playoff exit please think of 13-year-old Kevin and how ashamed he would be of you.