As the Nuggets season passed the trade deadline is their season really dead? Well, the Nuggets did send us a message. Now we just need to figure out what that message is.
With the passing of the trade deadline and the Nuggets making a move for Taurean Green instead of Ron Artest the one thing we can be sure of is that Denver’s brass did not think that the presence of Ron Artest would increase their chances of winning a title this season.
The question then becomes did they stand pat because they think this current group can win it all right now or did they stand pat because they think that this team would not win it all this season no matter what?
I have written before that when the Nuggets traded for Allen Iverson that they basically labeled this season as their best shot to become a contender. They have the highest payroll in team history and a roster chalk full of ability from top to bottom. When it came time to decide whether or not to bring in a player like Ron Artest the Nuggets looked at the current group and decided the talent is there and the mix seems to be improving.
It will be interesting to see what the ramifications of the inactivity at the trade deadline are for this team. Melo openly campaigned for any trade to be made (I am sure he is thrilled with the acquisition of Green) whereas AI said he wanted to stick with the team they have. One benefit is the passage of the deadline has to have a positive affect on Kleiza. Over the previous two weeks Klieza’s stats slipped while playing under the knowledge he was a phone call away from moving to Sacramento. Starting with the 41 point game against Utah he scored in double figures nine out of ten games with his one sub ten point game being a nine point effort, but over his last six games he missed scoring in double figures in three of them and averaged under nine points a game during that span. Now, all that is behind him and he can simply focus on getting better and helping the Nuggets.
Whether the Nuggets players wanted some help or not it is time for them to show some pride and prove that the faith from management in this team was well founded. That means no more losing to weak teams on the road. No more giving quarters away to Utah or San Antonio or Phoenix. The pressure is on AI, Melo, Camby and Kenyon as veterans who claim they want to win a championship to have that desire materialize into effort and passion on the court.
The players may agree with the Nuggets leadership that this team is good enough to win a title, but I disagree. Even with the heightened competition in the West, it is clear that Denver has a better shot this year than next. My reasoning for that is because Camby and AI are not getting any younger and together have remained remarkably healthy so far this season. Can you expect them to perform at a higher level in the future than they are this season? The team will obviously have to get better to reach the goal of a championship, but how much better can they get when AI and Camby are on the downside of their careers? It would require a huge step forward by other players on the roster or more money to be spent to bring in even more talent.
Right now this team may be the most talented ever assembled in Denver, but it is not a true contender. When the rumors of a potential Artest deal leaded out I stated that I was in favor of bringing him on board despite the potential for a locker room bloodbath and even at the cost of Kleiza. Why? Because this season is not about showing progress, but about winning a championship. If the Nuggets end up getting to the second round only to lose was this season really that much more of a success than the previous four? I wanted to see the Nuggets acknowledge that this is the year they are going to make a push and do all they could to compete, which would have required making a trade to improve the team at the deadline.
At this point I have to believe the most likely scenario for this team is once again a first round playoff exit. Which of the other seven playoff teams would the Nuggets be favored against in a seven game series where they do not have home court advantage? Most likely the Nuggets will draw the Lakers, Spurs or Suns. Things are tight enough that anything can still happen from a seeding standpoint, but even though the standings are packed closer than 16 clowns in a 1973 VW Bug it is clear that the Lakers, Suns, Hornets and once Tony Parker returns, the Spurs are the class of the conference. Utah is right there and Dallas is still very tough, but I think even with Kidd they are a level below everyone else. Denver is close to all of these teams in the standings, but they are clearly far from performing at the level of the other top teams in the west.
We all want to see the Nuggets do well and we all want them to win a championship. I think almost everyone will agree with me that the chances of that happening this season range from unlikely to remote with unlikely having expired at the trade deadline. We cannot completely discount the Nuggets chances of doing well in the playoffs, but for all intents and purposes their championship hopes for this year are indeed dead.
I guess form here on out we should just settle in for an exciting finish to the season and prepare ourselves for what may be the most compelling offseason in Nuggets history.