The Denver Nuggets piss poor play of late seems to be infecting the farthest reaches of Nuggets Nation, as evident by our paltry turnout at Saturday's Stiffs Night Out - by the far the lowest attendance we've experienced to date (by comparison, the last three times we hosted a Stiffs Night Out we had to bring in extra furniture from the outside just give all the Nuggets fans present a seat!).
Perhaps the poor attendance at SNO #11 could be attributed to the holiday season engulfing fans schedules, perhaps it was the opponent (at Memphis? who gives a crap about those guys anymore), perhaps it was the state of this current Nuggets team itself, one that hardly inspires the fan base or themselves alike, or perhaps it was a combination of all three.
But regardless, we're experiencing something in Nuggets Nation that we haven't experienced since the 2000-01 season: abject mediocrity. And out of mediocrity grows indifference from the fans.
Longtime Denver Stiffs reader (and our resident Nuggets historian) Thursty made several great points to me after we watched the Nuggets' embarrassing 120-99 defeat at Memphis together. "The big difference between this year's team and last year's team," Thursty acutely noted, "is that last year's team came to play every night. Say what you want about Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos, but those guys never took a night off. Ever."
That statement right there might be the difference between a legitimate playoff competitor and a mediocre (or worse) team.
With the absence of Andre Iguodala (now playing in Golden State), Danilo Gallinari (recovering from knee surgery) and JaVale McGee (recovering from a leg fracture), our current Nuggets squad objectively lacks the talent of its 2012-13 predecessor. And anyone who thought the 2013-14 Nuggets would be as good as last year's team was fooling themselves (I had them pegged for a respectable 47 wins and a seventh seed in the playoffs). But from a subjective standpoint, it appears clear to me and many Nuggets fans that the players left in the wake of those notable absentees aren't giving an effort commensurate with their outlandish salaries. That's where 21 point losses to the likes of the Grizzlies comes from.
When I launched this website nearly six years ago (can you believe it's been six years?!), I brought a very simple mantra to the forefront that I standby to this day: If a member of the organization, front office, coaching staff or players don't care more about the outcome of the games than we as fans do, they shall lose our rooting interest. And with that in mind, I'm having a great deal of difficulty rooting for this team ... just as I struggled to cheer for those 2000-01 Nuggets.
But unlike the 2000-01 Nuggets - a team that I disliked from management on down to virtually every player on the roster - I actually like the guys running the team today (GM Tim Connelly and head coach Brian Shaw) and I like several players, notably Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller. And also unlike the 2000-01 Nuggets - a 40-win team that Dan Issel built by giving away future first round draft picks - the 2013-14 Nuggets might have a shiny bright light at the end of this darkening tunnel in the form of the New York Knicks' 2014 lottery pick.
Hence the weird season, as I'm not sure what I'm rooting for.
As noted in my last column, it's most unfortunate that the Nuggets traded for Iguodala in 2012 in the first place. By doing so, they not only parted with the talented Arron Afflalo but also one of their two 2014 first round picks (with the lower pick going to the Orlando Magic). Were the Nuggets to have two first round picks in the deep 2014 NBA Draft, I frankly wouldn't care where they ended up in the standings this season. But with only one pick in their arsenal, I've been rooting for playoff experience for players like Chandler, Mozgov and Fournier and for the Knicks to be so awfully bad that the Nuggets somehow end up with a great lottery pick anyway.
The problem with this logic, of course, is that the Knicks - as bad as they are - might have a better chance at making the playoffs than the Nuggets do. You can thank geography for that. The nightmare scenario is that the Nuggets finish with 40ish wins like that 2000-01 Nuggets squad did, the Knicks - despite being well under .500 - sneak into the Leastern Conference playoffs, and the Nuggets end up with the final lottery pick (14 overall) ... well outside the "deep" draft that ends after six or seven picks.
So what should we be rooting for here? Clearly, we should be rooting for the Knicks to lose and lose often - that's a no-brainer. But am I supposed to root for a player like Nate Robinson, who clearly cares more about his 15 ppg off the bench than making his teammates better? Or J.J. Hickson, who seems to care more about procuring a double-double for his stat line than stopping his opposing big man from posting a double-double on him? Or - dare I say - Ty Lawson, who's not even great for your fantasy team anymore thanks to his sudden propensity for turning the ball over?
I guess I'm just frustrated. After all, it was just one month ago that our Nuggets had a seven-game winning streak that included substantive road victories at Dallas and Minneapolis, and they looked like a team that could potentially make some noise in the 2014 post-season.
A month later, these Nuggets look all too familiar to those 2000-01 Nuggets with Lawson playing the Nick Van Exel role of "stat heavy point guard who doesn't produce wins", Randy Foye playing the Voshon Lenard role of "undersized shooting guard whose scoring outbursts are few and far between" and Andre Miller playing the Kevin Willis role of "aging veteran sneaking in one more paycheck before retirement." (Thankfully, this Nuggets team doesn't have an equivalent of Tariq Abdul-Wahad on the roster, whom Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla accurately referred to as "The Nuggets' $43.3 million mistake" during the 2000-01 season.) And I'll spare us the JaVale McGee / Keon Clark comparisons for now.
Truth be told, we've been pretty spoiled by good Nuggets teams since this blog launched in 2008 and most of us understood that in the aftermath of the Iguodala, Brewer and Koufos departures that 2013-14 would be a "transition season" for the Nuggets.
The word transition, however, implies that there's a bigger plan afoot for the franchise. And I doubt six-game losing streaks were part of the plan.