I can't shake this nagging feeling that we're watching some alternate-universe version of the Nuggets.
You know, where a 50-plus win team 3 years running, instead of focusing on developing its pieces to fight through a difficult Western conference, and leverage assets for improvement of the team, is distracted by constant trade rumors and "what ifs" perpetuated from the Left Coast, the East Coast and every non-coast in between.
I feel like I'm in some dream where I'm watching the Nuggets plod slowly towards an eventuality that we can all see coming but are helpless to do anything about. Our job as fans these days seems simply to sift through the rumors, see what's good and what's trash, and occasionally make blog posts that get picked up by ESPN on occasion.
At the same time, I don't think that the Nuggets would be in much different a position had Melo inked the extension over the summer. Sure, there'd be more stability in the front office and far less attention paid to our normal major-media-shy team, but I think our W-L would mostly be the same.
Nene: Still having a career year.
Afflalo: Still turning into the player we all know is the next Shane Battier.
Kenyon: Still recovering.
Billups: Still the mental leader, still right there almost every night.
Ty: Still a slowly fading question mark, gradually turning into an exclamation point.
JR: Still a knucklehead.
Harrington: Still old and far too injured to justify his minutes.
Williams, Forbes, Carter, Ely, Balkman: Still the backups, still not worth more than a passing mention.
So what would be different about the Nuggets if Melo had signed the extension?
This year feels so much like a transition year because we are at a crossroads for this team: Melo is leaving, many important contracts are expiring and we're facing a looming new CBA. More importantly than ANYTHING else, in my opinion, is securing the Nuggets future moving forward.
And that is why this is the season that never was: without being able to make significant roster improvements in free agency over the summer, the Nuggets front office torpedoed the team having any real hope of a shot this year to better their chances in coming years. Al Harrington is a broken-down chucker and has done nothing to improve this team's depth. Signing him was an absolute mistake and I think was more indicative of a front office in flux following the departure of Rex and Wark that desperately wanted to sign someone, anyone, to get Melo to stay.
Most importantly, I feel that the Nuggets need to secure their young assets (Ty, Afflalo, JR) restructure the old assets they wish to bring back (Billups, Nene, Kenyon) and jettison everything else in the offseason. EVERYTHING. We know these things:
- Denver is a first round exit at best.
- Denver does not want additional salary.
- Denver wants only young assets to develop (ideally, bigs) and picks
- Melo is leaving.
It's a tough pill to swallow, but the best thing the Nuggets have going for them is a ridiculous large amount of cap space heading their way going into a new CBA. That puts them in an excellent position to leverage their cap room to target free agents in 2011, 2012 and beyond - as long as they don't make any boneheaded moves (Brewer, Chandler) in haste to "get something for Melo".
Make no mistake, Nuggets fans: the Nuggets as we knew them in the '00s died last year at the hands of Utah. If we don't want to be the Nuggets of the '90s, the team needs to be smart about how it approaches the conclusion of the season that wasn't.