Trio of critical questions await Masai Ujiri, Nuggets

USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA draft lottery concluded and the postseason advancing inexorably towards the Finals, the Nuggets and their fans should have three questions at the forefront of their minds.

It's a foregone conclusion that the Nuggets must retain Masai Ujiri as GM. If they don't, all other questions about the Nuggets potential moves are moot.

With the assumption that Ujiri gets a new contract from the Kroenkes, there are three big questions waiting for him...

1. Will Andre Iguodala opt out?

Andre Iguodala is currently signed through the 2013-2014 season with a player option on a potential $16,154,750 salary. There's no question that Iguodala provided a massive upgrade to the perennially below-average Nuggets defense. He was a stalwart throughout the year, asked to defend the opposing team's best player on most nights and he came through more often than not. Despite his ugly free throw shooting and struggles on offense, Iguodala is a heady, tenacious player and his experience was invaluable to a still-maturing Nuggets team. He stabilized the Nuggets when they needed it most, and was a catalyst for the fast break in many situations with his active hands in the passing lanes.

There have been rumblings that Iguodala may wish to test the free agency waters a year early, but with both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard potentially on the move, there are virtually no contending teams with the room for the salary cap hit that Iguodala would probably command on the open market. He certainly wouldn't find any takers willing to offer him a $16 million dollar salary. Unless, of course, Iguodala wants to leave Denver badly enough that he's willing to take a significant reduction in pay to play somewhere else, especially if a potential contract ended up being a long-term deal...

I personally believe that barring any behind-the-scenes issues with the coaching staff, Iguodala will likely be retained. Ideally, Iguodala would opt out of his salary with the understanding that Masai would then offer a long term deal with a smaller per-year salary with the Nuggets as described above - but I still (irrationally, I suppose) fear Iguodala somehow being poached or swayed by another team in the process, should that happen. Even if Iguodala didn't opt out, I wouldn't be upset - I think he truly does justify his worth on the defensive end, despite what a certain Denver hack sports journalist might believe. Andre Iguodala has become the lynchpin of a Nuggets defense that struggles mightily without him, and losing him would set the Nuggets back on the defensive end immensely.

2. What will happen with Corey Brewer and Andre Miller?

It's no secret that Corey Brewer and Andre Miller were badly exposed in the Nuggets first round loss against the Golden State Warriors. Combined, Brewer and Miller took 47 three pointers in the series and hit just 14 of them. I'm going to go ahead and believe that this was due to Brewer and Miller's irrational hero-ball confidence and not part of the game plan, because George Karl letting career 30% and 21% three point shooters shoot that much as part of the game plan is ... well, I guess it isn't that shocking.

In any case, I certainly enjoyed Brewer's frenetic energy and ability to win games through pure hustle, but he is simply not a good enough shooter for the volume of shots he takes - especially in the playoffs. While I understand that Brewer was trying to help make up for the scoring chasm left in the absence of Danilo Gallinari, Brewer did not seem to understand that he would have helped his team far more by getting the ball into the hands of better shooters like Ty Lawson or Wilson Chandler. He gambled very often on the defensive end, resulting in open looks and mismatches as frequently as he forced turnovers. It's been a fun few seasons with Brewer and his goat, but he's likely to get a decent contract offer elsewhere and the Nuggets have an eager Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller waiting in the wings. I'm excited to see both young players get a chance in the Nuggets freewheeling offense.

As much venom has been directed Andre Miller's way - and much of it deservedly so - I still think the Nuggets keep him as the backup point guard. Julyan Stone has looked great at points with this Nuggets team, but he still can't make a shot and doesn't yet have the playmaking bonafides to warrant significant minutes - yet. We all know that Miller is barely capable of guarding the postgame buffet line at this point in his career. Watching Steph Curry torch him again and again was painful. Yet as Karl's "wubbie", Miller will hold a unique pull with the team as long as Karl is the coach. Miller is still one of the best playmakers and lob passers in the NBA, which helps maximize the value of the Nuggets extreme athleticism and length. It's on Karl to recognize his defensive deficiencies going forward, and should the Nuggets again get burned by Miller's defense in a playoff situation, the blame should rest squarely on Karl's head.

3. Should the Nuggets search for a head coach begin now?

I respect everything George Karl has been able to do as a head coach. He's won over 1,000 games, taken this Nuggets team to the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, and guided the franchise through rough waters during the Carmelo Anthony saga.

It should be clear to anyone, though, that he's nearing the end of his coaching career, even after setting franchise records for home wins, consecutive wins, and total wins. After enduring two separate bouts with cancer and the strain of 25 seasons coaching 5 different franchises, Karl's passion and fire for coaching has seemingly started to gutter. Karl's admitted that he tries to take a more relaxed approach to his coaching, that he doesn't work himself up the way he used to. Certainly understandable for a man who has been through as much as Karl has. I just do not feel that approach is conducive to success in the playoffs, and Karl's record in the postseason backs that up.

I can't help but feel that Damocles' sword hangs over his head. If Karl again fails to guide this team out of the first round this coming season, the Nuggets will have virtually no choice but to let him go. If that is the thinking in the front office (and I must believe that Josh Kroenke and Masai are preparing for that eventuality), they need to start vetting candidates as soon as possible, starting yesterday. Lots of potential coaching hires both within and without exist, and even with the almost assured drop-off in the transition to a new coach and style, it would give the organization a fresh start against 10 years of the same old swan song.

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