This summer has been unlike the previous one's for yours truly. Far too much working and far too little leisure time, and with a lack of leisure time comes a lack of time spent here at Stiffs and pontificating about success or bemoaning the lack thereof. Don't get me wrong, I was around for the fallout of the entire administration save for Josh Kroenke. I argued to the death that Masai Ujiri was a very solid GM, but was in no way to be considered great, indispensable, worth $15 million dollars (crazy) or anything more than above-average. I agreed with the line of thinking that Iguodala was a help on the defensive end without question, but he was overrated and thus was going to be overpaid. I did not expect the Nuggets to get spurned by Benedict Andre the way they were though, and the fact that he took less money to go to Golden State speaks volumes about his desire to be in Denver and his belief in the ability of the team. I, for one, do not believe that Ujiri staying or leaving had anything to do with Iguodala's decision, it's my opinion his mind was made up the minute the clock hit zero in game six. I have argued tirelessly in support of George Karl and I did not expect him to be fired, but looking back on it now I fully agree with that decision. George had nearly a decade with the team, the players had all been changed, the GMs had been changed, the philosophy, yet for almost nine full seasons only two things did not change: failure in the playoffs and the coach. Here's a telling stat for you, during his tenure with the Nuggets Karl coached in eleven playoff series, eight out of eleven times his teams went down three games to one. I've always said that second only to a game seven, game four is the most important game of a series, either one team is down 3-0 and the series is for all intents and purposes over, or at the end of the game the series will either be 3-1 or all tied up. The difference between being up or down three games to one and being tied two two is great, the odds of coming back from a three one hole are very very long, just ask George Karl, who lost all eight with the Nuggets in that situation...but I digress. The summmer was spent being far too busy for me to be able to give the Nuggets my usual attention. More than that though, something about last year, maybe because I really truly believed Denver had a chance to lose to the Heat, something just stung more about that defeat to the Warriors. I questioned do I really have the energy to do this again, almost three decades of playoff let downs and rebuilding.
Nonetheless, Nuggets fans persevere, meanwhile the shakeup was complete, a real live house cleaning. Josh Kroenke went young, new age, progressive and given the average age of NBA executives, hired a relative whiz kid in Tim Connelly. Analytical, ambitious and yes, cheap. Before you lash out in a fit of boldface uppercase rage, remember that we said the exact same things about Masai Ujiri when he was hired. Does everyone remember that the Nuggets actually wanted some other guy from Phoenix (because their player development and roster building has been fantastic)? With Tim Connelly the Nuggets ushered in a new era, one filled with a new highly regarded "young" coach, filled with promise of a new dominant Javale Mcgee who carries a revolutionary inhaler, a roster filled with depth, young talent, and rotations with no fewer than nine possible power forward point guard combinations. Out with the switch, in with the triangle, out with the greek players, in with the greek executives. About the only thing they didn't change is the uniforms and the core. So consider me an optimist, because while I wake up in cold sweats thinking of a Nate Robinson Ty Lawson defensive back court, I also still see the names Lawson, Gallinari, Faried, Chandler and McGee on the back of Nuggets jerseys and were bound to have a moment where they are all healthy right...right? I will say this, if that core ever does get fully healthy at the same time it would be a matchup nightmare for any team, speed, shooting, defense, length, athleticism, rebounding, its all there. The only thing missing? fundamentals, here's hoping Brian Shaw doesn't use the mental telepathy approach to development ala George Karl and JR Smith.
So on the eve of the season, here are five things I'll be watching:
1. Javale Mcgee:
I'm a big Vale fan and I'm not talking Ugg boots and yoga pants with double 1/2 soy lattes (is that a single soy latte?). I believe there is only one player currently on this team that, should they develop into an all star talent, can make this team a title contender and that player is Javale Mcgee. Is his asthma really a major issue? Can he put it all together? Time will tell with the big man but the Nuggets have made it clear that they are all in with him and I think all the fans should be too. Help us Javalae McGee...you're our only hope.
2. 2012 Ty Lawson or 2013 Ty Lawson?
Its hard to argue that as currently constructed there is a player more dynamic on the offensive end for Denver than Ty Lawson, but there is also probably none more infuriatingly inconsistent. You never know with Lawson whats going to happen, especially in the final seconds of the game. Is he going to drain the game winner and do the Bernie or moonwalk his way straight into a traveling violation? You just never know. True to his form, Lawson was at best mediocre to start last years campaign and then ended up playing at a top 5 PG level to end it. I'll be watching to see if Ty is ready to make a Paul George like step or fall the way of JR Smith unfulfilled potential.
3. We're not seriously going to have three point guards and three power forwards in the rotation are we?
There is a large portion of me that has no idea what Tim Connelly is doing or thinking, well really there is no part of me that knows that but I can take a guess. When it comes to personnel distribution though, I seriously have no idea. If Lawson, Robinson, Miller, Hickson, Faried and Arthur are all going to get time that leaves rotation spots for Mcgee, Chandler, Gallinari and what you would have to assume would be Foye, but then what about Mozgov, or Fournier? When Gallo returns the Nuggets will have 12 rotation worthy players and only 10 rotation spots (its so rare to see a coach run a rotation larger than 10 guys, many only use 9, and I don't see Brian Shaw breaking that trend). A deal has to be in the works here somewhere.
4. Can the Nuggets prove the doubters wrong?
Honestly I could care less if Denver wins 50 games this season. I care about two things: make the playoffs, win your first round series. The prognosticators left and right have only doom and gloom for our nuggets, as does the 24 year old kid who does sports on the 10am news, but I think they're wrong. I think this Denver team still has its key pieces and has made small but smart improvements to the roster. I think we've got another trade in use, one that could help tip the scales in our favor again. After all, if we are one c-level star player removed from being a fringe finals contender I don't think it would be all that difficult to engineer a deal for another one.
5. Will my preseason playoff prediction be even close.
Every year I make a post somewhere, usually in the comments of a random OT post, that I can look back on to see how terrible I was at picking the playoff seeding before the season started, so without further adieu, here it is:
5. New York
1. Oklahoma City
2. San Antonio