Before kicking off their 2012 training camp tomorrow morning, Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke, vice president Masai Ujiri and head coach George Karl will field questions from the local media (and, as teased at Nuggets.com and on Denver Stiffs on Friday, they will be making a major surprise announcement at 10am). Part of the media contingency will be yours truly and my esteemed colleague Nate Timmons.
And whether we ask these or someone else does, here are 5 questions we want answered tomorrow morning. Did we forget any?
1) What is the status of Ty Lawson's extension?
Within the past year, Ujiri has been able to lock up small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, center JaVale McGee and backup point guard Andre Miller to long-term deals. But what about his starting point guard? It's getting to be do or die time on a contract extension for Ty Lawson, whom the Nuggets have until October 31st to re-sign to a contract extension (Lawson is still playing under his first rookie contract).
Unfortunately for Ujiri, like the McGee situation he has a very small sample size with which to base his judgment on Lawson. Even though Lawson started throughout the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, he didn't show a level of consistency that his team can count on until the last 10 games or so plus the playoffs, during which he played splendidly (except Games 4 and 5). So even though Lawson will command near-All-Star salary numbers, is he going to be worth it? Ujiri and the Nuggets' brass will have to decide quickly and the clock is ticking.
2) What is the status of Masai Ujiri's extension?
Speaking of contract extensions, what about the guy who built this current incarnation of the Nuggets?
By any objective measure, Ujiri has done a great job. From successfully navigating the franchise through the nightmarish Melodrama to stealing Kenneth Faried in last year's draft to convincing the Wizards to take on Nene's onerous contract in exchange for a budding star in McGee, Ujiri has earned long-term job security. And it would be nice to see Ujiri taken care of sooner than later.
3) What should be expected of this team?
Coach Karl bristles when know-nothing fan bloggers (like me) and arrogant, never-played-the-game media types set expectations for teams before seasons begin. To that, I say: "fine."
Then let's let Karl (and Kroenke and Ujiri) tell us what's considered a benchmark for success this season. Is it a four-seed and a playoff series victory? A five-seed? What exactly? They must internally have a metric of success for where they think this team should go to set expectations properly among the fans.
4) Is Timofey Mozgov really starting?
In a weekend interview with Karl, the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman got the Nuggets head coach on record eluding to Mozgov starting over McGee ... at least at first. This comes from something Karl has told us before, which is that (in Karl's opinion) McGee plays better with Miller than with Lawson, and thus Karl is more comfortable playing McGee alongside Miller.
But one has to hope that after investing $44 million into McGee, the young seven-footer will earn a slot in the Nuggets' starting five. Typically, when you start a future Denver Stiffs Hall of Famer like Mozgov at center it's because a) you don't have a better option at center and, b) you need a guy to beat up the opposing team's starting center before small ball takes over when the benches clear.
Neither is the case with the Nuggets this season.
5) Is this a no excuses season?
Two seasons ago, Karl and his players masterfully overcame the Melodrama, won 50 games and played a tough first round playoff series against the Thunder. Last season, Karl and his players overcame having no training camp, a squirrely lockout schedule, an abundance of injuries and a major late-season trade and still won the equivalent of 47 games (had their been 82 games played) and fought the Lakers to a first round playoff Game 7.
This season - assuming the roster is relatively healthy throughout - the Nuggets shouldn't face any such adversity and thus, more will be expected. Major roster moves don't appear to be on the horizon (although with Ujiri at the helm, I guess you never know) and the team will get a full training camp together with everyone healthy on Day 1.
That said, the NBA schedule makers not-so-kindly granted the Nuggets 14 of their first 20 games on the road. Will this be used as an excuse if the Nuggets stumble out of the gate? Or, as Karl told us last season, can we again judge this team based on the first 20 and last 20 games?