While the NBA's elite - the Lakers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic - have been engaged in the basketball version of a Cold War arms race this offseason, the Nuggets have thus far stayed put. In fact, the buzzword coming out of the Nuggets camp has been "continuity."
"There is a value in continuity," said Nuggets vice president of basketball operations (and the current NBA Executive of the Year) in a recent interview with the Rocky Mountain Independent's Chris Tomasson. And while talking to Hoopsworld's Travis Heath during NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nuggets head coach George Karl noted that: "Change doesn't always make you better. In fact, I think there should be some things written that change a lot of times doesn't work." Karl predicated his statement by pointing out how young three of the Nuggets top four players are (Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Nene) and that each has much improving to do.
Warkentien and Karl are both right and wrong. How's that for a political answer?
Before diving into whether or not the Nuggets should focus on continuity or change, let's run down Denver Stiffs' version of current NBA "Power Rankings" for the top-1o teams in the league...
1) Los Angeles Lakers
2) Boston Celtics
3) Orlando Magic
4) Cleveland Cavaliers
5) San Antonio Spurs
6) Denver Nuggets
7) Portland Trail Blazers
8) Dallas Mavericks
9) Utah Jazz
10) New Orleans Hornets
Many fans will put the Nuggets on par with or ahead of the Spurs, but I don't see it as their rosters are presently constructed. Lest we forget than an injury-raddled Spurs team tied the Nuggets in regular season record last season and just added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess (who the Nuggets will help pay $3 million for) while giving up virtually nothing. But considering that the Nuggets haven't made a "big move" yet (my apologies to Arron Afflalo and Malik Allen), finding themselves third in the Western Conference isn't a bad place to be right now.
So in order to catapult ahead of the Spurs and get within reach of the Lakers, will it be continuity or change for Denver? Due to simple economics (well, if you're Stan Kroenke writing luxury tax checks, it's not that simple), continuity will be winning out over change this season.
In some cases, when you have a solid young nucleus as the Nuggets do, radical change can be a detriment. We saw what happened when the 2007-08 Phoenix Suns shipped out Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal and almost overnight morphed from a championship-caliber team into a playoff bottom feeder. The Suns then doubled down on stupid when they jettisoned Raja Bell and Boris Diaw (two key components to their prior success) for Jason Richardson. Going back to that 2007-08 season, the Chicago Bulls added the aging, overpaid Ben Wallace to their 49-win, young-and-gun squad and saw their win total dip by 16. And remember when the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks wheeled and dealed for the two Antoines/Antawns; Walker and Jamison? Those deals turned a Western Conference Finals participant into a first round loser just one year later.
Fortunately for Nuggets fans, our team isn't in need of radical change. If you get a chance to revisit the four trades I proposed for the Nuggets a few weeks ago, you'll note that each puts a preference on continuity over change. In not one single trade proposal did I suggest that the Nuggets part with any of their key young players such as Melo, J.R. or Nene. But that doesn't mean a little change couldn't help and, according to Tomasson, Warkentien alludes to change in the form of "a marquee move" coming down the road. Making non-July "marquee moves" are something the current Nuggets brass has done consistently since taking over the reins from Kiki Vandeweghe several years ago.
Not to sound like a broken record, but the change the Nuggets need is to move Nene to his natural position, power forward. To do this, the Nuggets need to bring in a solid but not too expensive center, such as the Pacers' Jeff Foster or the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol. Back in February, Heath reported that the Nuggets had "substantial dialogue" regarding acquiring Foster before the trade deadline, and has since written that Foster, Gasol and Drew Gooden are on the Nuggets radar this summer. But as noted in great detail in my trade proposal column, the only way the Nuggets could get someone like Foster would be to trade Steven Hunter's salary plus Linas Kleiza. But such a combination might not be rich enough for a team like the Pacers.
In summary - and if for no other reason than the salary cap/luxury tax restraints dictate it - the Nuggets will be well served keeping their core in-tact while trying to add a true center, rather than swing for the fences for an aging, costly veteran at the expense of someone like Nene or J.R. (Melo is presumably untradeable right now). If some way, some how the Nuggets ended up with Foster or Gasol in powder blue and gold this fall, I'd put the Nuggets at least on par with the Spurs and if I were a Lakers fan, I'd be a little nervous.