Seeing the unbridled focus of the Lakers and Celtics throughout this postseason, I'm worried that our Nuggets don't possess the single-mindedness required to get to the promised land. And this summer isn't going to help.
First, I wish we could transport Kobe Bryant's ruthless focus into Carmelo Anthony. During his Game 6 postgame interview with TNT's Craig Sager, Kobe seemed more pissed off at Sasha Vujacic's fourth quarter stupidity - "I'm going to kill him" he said with an expression that never wavered - than being elated for making his third straight NBA Finals appearance (seventh overall in his stellar career). Will Melo ever call out J.R. Smith for his stupidity, in front of a microphone or behind closed doors?
I wish Kenyon Martin would take a page from Kevin Garnett's book and realize that playing basketball on the NBA level is a gift and a privilege, and not something to be taken for granted. K-Mart has some of KG's intensity in him, but he doesn't place it in the right direction, often putting the Nuggets at jeopardy in crucial game situations.
I wish Nene would learn how to keep the ball high above his head upon catching a pass a la Pau Gasol. Gasol's active and "high" hands put him in a position for easy put-backs, pick-and-rolls and quick layups and dunks. Nene's insistence on gathering himself after the catch costs him all these scoring opportunities inside.
I wish Chauncey Billups could adopt Ray Allen and Paul Pierce's offseason and regular season workout regimen. All aging veterans to be sure, but Allen and Pierce seem to be able to save their energy for latter part of the season while Billups wears down when the Nuggets need him most.
And finally, I hope that the Nuggets have had the ample doses of humble pie that the Lakers and Celtics key players have had over their careers which, when turned into fuel, propels one to a championship. After winning three straight championships thanks largely to Shaquille O'Neal and a pathetically weak Eastern Conference, Kobe had to lose two finals, be bounced out of the first round twice and miss the playoffs once before re-ascending to a championship. KG, Pierce and Allen had to endure seasons upon seasons of playing on crappy teams before being a position to win it all. And now that they're in that position, they certainly don't take it for granted. In fact, had KG been healthy last season we may very well be on the cusp of three straight Lakers/Celtics Finals rather than our second in three years.
I wish for all those things, but I fear that the summer ahead for our Nuggets could do more harm than good.
This past week, we learned that Carmelo Anthony is finally getting married to his longtime fiancée LaLa Vasquez and the whole production - and believe me, it will be a production - will be televised and broadcast by VH1. I'll save my rant that pro athletes shouldn't get married until they retire (just ask Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and countless others) for another time, but what's best for LaLa probably isn't what's best for the Nuggets. Melo should spend every spare minute of his summer remembering that he got humiliated in the first round of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, this time by a team missing two starters and playing with multiple second round draftees. And that humiliation should be abated with even more jump shots, workouts and game tape sessions than he's conducted in summers past. Instead? Melo will presumably be picking out wedding invitations for the entire world to see...something that will take longer than normal thanks to the VH1 component. This wedding could be a disaster for Melo's growth as a basketball player.
We also learned this past week that Chris "Birdman" Andersen will be undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn patella tendon and is "expected" to return fully for next season. We all hope for the best with Birdman, who seemed a step slow almost from the start of the 2009-10 campaign. Birdman will be turning 32 on July 7th, meaning he's entering the latter stage of his career where his athleticism will begin to escape him and he won't be able to rely on it. To compensate, Birdman must develop a mid-range jump shot and other tools to remain an effective player and, fair or not, this surgery could be a setback for those needed endeavors. Why do I get the feeling that Birdman will be using the 2010-11 season to get in shape rather than be in shape before the season starts?
And of course, Chauncey Billups will be doing the honorable thing for our country by trying out for the next US Men's National Team. It's hard for me to be against Billups doing this, but it's unfortunate that he has to try out against the likes of Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and O.J. Mayo to get there. A player of Billups's stature should get a veteran's exemption like Jason Kidd received for the 2007 Tournament of the Americas and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. But nevertheless, Billups is being made to try out and then, if he makes the squad, he'll be on the hook to play in the World Championships in Turkey in late August through early September. No one needs more off-season rest than Billups, and it looks like he'll get anything but.
Beyond Melo, Birdman and Billups, I have no idea what the summer plans are for K-Mart, J.R., Nene and the other players. K-Mart may also be due for surgery on his knee, having put it off to come back for the 2010 playoffs. The others? Who knows.
But counting on the current roster to miraculously reinvent themselves this offseason and come into the 2010-11 campaign with renewed vigor is a fairy tale. Especially with the numerous distractions likely to undermine their offseason efforts. Management and the coaching staff need to bring something new to the table for next season. Management in the form of a deal - even if it's "addition by subtraction" by trading away K-Mart and/or J.R. - and coaching with some new voices on the bench to support George Karl. I love Denver Stiffs reader "Nz Nuggets" idea of bringing in defensive specialist (and fiery personality) Gary Payton on board the coaching staff to teach the players about defensive and overall toughness. If only we could have "The Glove" circa 1996, then at long last the Nuggets might be competing for a championship.
Instead, for the 33rd time in the NBA's 64-year history, either the Lakers or Celtics will be hoisting up an NBA Finals trophy.