With half the Nuggets roster playing overseas, and three players with no opt-out contracts in China - maybe it's time that the organization embrace that dreaded "R" word. A word that makes long-time Nuggets fans shudder ... rebuilding.
Gah! Excuse me for a second - I just threw up in my mouth a little. Whew. Ok, let's try this again, ahem, rebuilding ... yep, rebuilding ...
I'm so sorry. I just fainted. You can see how difficult the "R" word is for me. Having been acquainted with - and a dedicated fan of - many eras of Nuggets basketball, I can't help but think of the dark, bleak period between 1990 - 2002 that saw the Nuggets finish with the worst record in basketball two times. They also finished with one of the bottom 12 records another eight times, with brief (but shining) playoff runs from 1993-1995. For the most part, it was a horrible time to be a Denver Nuggets fan. One that saw fan apathy and general discontent that nearly resulted in the team being sold to Stan Kroenke's brother-in-law Bill Laurie in the late 1990's. And Laurie might have had plan to move our Nuggets to his hometown of St. Louis.
Fast forward to present day. Having completed a trade that saw Carmelo Anthony (along with Chauncey Billups and others) go to the New York Knicks (and received several young players in return) the Nuggets of last season played with vigor and managed to squeeze out a 50 win campaign against all odds. Even though they lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, Nuggets fans should have been proud of their team and could have had hope for the future.
It was disconcerting when Nene Hilario rejected the Nuggets contract extension in late June (2011). The Nuggets, for better or worse, relied heavily on Nene down the stretch and will miss his athleticism if he decides to take his talents elsewhere next season.
Enter the bloodsucking tapeworm that is eating up this season, the lockout. This lockout has "forced" players such as Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari to sign in Europe. What's worse is the loss of Wilson Chandler to China, and to a lesser extent J.R. Smith to the same country. These contracts are binding and these players aren't available until their season is complete (perhaps March of 2012). The Nuggets had to be shocked by Chandler's decision to play in China as it throws a monkey wrench into the team's plans.
As it stands, the Nuggets don't even have enough players to fill out an NBA roster (seven guys under contract and the two rookies, Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton, yet to be signed). They have young talent, but it's highly doubtful they have that difference making player that you so desperately need in the NBA (the Detroit Pistons 2004 aberration not withstanding). Yes, we are all excited about Faried's potential, and we all want to see what Timofey Mozgov can do once he gets regular playing time (and my man Kosta Koufos providing essential minutes as a backup), yet, the difference maker is lacking. This showed up in spades several times in the OKC series.
This leads me to believe that the Nuggets need to be bad this season. They need that player that only comes at the top rungs of the NBA draft. Yes, you have to navigate your way in the loathed, quasi rigged (hello Dan Gilbert) draft lottery. However, the 2012 draft is stacked. The chances of picking up that one special player increase this season. This is why the Nuggets need to accept rebuilding. And a step further, this is why Nuggets fans need to hope beyond hope there is a season this year. If the year is wiped out the chances are likely the Nuggets will retain a very low draft pick and that will do them NO good. The team needs that extra special spice (like what Carmelo Anthony provided in 2003) to put them over the top.
I hate saying this. I HATE rebuilding. The NBA draft lottery is a joke (as bad as the Nuggets were in the 90's, how is it humanly possible they never finished with the top pick? Unbelievable.). and going through two to three years of sucking while waiting for players to mature is about as enjoyable as someone ripping off your toenails - yet I'm firmly of the opinion that this needs to happen. Take that band-aid and just rip it off. Time to grit your teeth and accept the inevitable.
Hopefully George Karl can buck his trend of not giving young players much of a chance and develop an up-and-coming squad. Hopefully this process won't be like removing your teeth without the Novocaine. Hopefully we can all sit back and say to ourselves that General Manager Masai Ujiri and Team Governor Josh Kroenke did absolutely the right thing. Currently the Nuggets have the lowest payroll in the league, and don't look for it to rise much above the cap floor. Young and cheap are the buzzwords of the new era of Nuggets.
The Nuggets front office duo is on the clock. They can't afford to mess this up.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78