On Saturday, Aug. 24th, Ben Golliver from the Point Forward (Sports Illustrated) came out with his offseason grades for the Denver Nuggets. He handed out a big fat "F" to Josh Kroenke's franchise with the following explanation:
This grade is not given out lightly, and it's aimed not only at this offseason's individual moves but also the organization's decision to not do whatever it took to keep things rolling. The "star-less" approach to contention only works with outstanding chemistry and a shared vision, and it seems both have been compromised beyond repair. Now, we all wait to see how far the Nuggets slide in the West's packed playoff picture.
I had a chance to meet Golliver in Las Vegas after knowing him, via emails and phone calls, for years. He was one of the first people I talked to about blogging after taking over Pickaxe and Roll on SB Nation - at the time Golliver was writing for Blazersedge, still does, and is one of the hardest working journalists/bloggers I know.
The picture Golliver paints in his assessment isn't a pretty one or one that Nuggets will like, but he does bring up many points that we've heard echoed here on Denver Stiffs this offseason. Why all the change? Take this snippet:
Before we dig into the specifics, let's reinforce the big-picture impact of what went down over the last few months by comparing Denver to Indiana. Both teams finished with the No. 3 seed in their respective conferences. They both stockpiled their wins with distinct styles of play, possessed well-respected coaches and general managers and enjoyed their most successful regular seasons in years (Denver's 57 wins represented a franchise high; Indiana's 49 wins marked the first division title since 2004).
Once the playoffs began, the two teams diverged: Denver, without an injured Danilo Gallinari, caught a bad break by drawing a scorching-hot Warriors team and was eliminated in the first round. Indiana, with both Paul George and Roy Hibbert emerging at the right time, came within one win of the 2013 Finals.
With time to reflect on their respective seasons, both organizations should have reached the same conclusion: If we retain the key members of our rotation and make tweaks around the edges, last year's success should be repeatable.
It's crazy to look back and see that Indiana only won 49 games in the regular season. At the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season, if I were to take a poll on which team outside of the Miami Heat had the brightest NBA future - I'd be willing to bet that the Indiana Pacers would have received the majority vote. Their playoff success completely and totally overshadowed their 49 wins.
The Pacers and Nuggets were discussed as mirror images over the last season as star-less teams that went with depth over a "big three" approach, out of necessity. The Nuggets won eight more games in the regular season than the Pacers, but it's the playoffs that set Indiana apart.
Should we draw the same conclusion as Golliver above on, "If we retain key members of our rotation and make tweaks around the edges, last year's success should be repeatable."?
It sounds like such a simple statement, but we in Nuggets Nation know it's really a very complex question.
The domino effect took place after Ujiri's departure and we are left to wonder what would have happened if he would have been retained. We are left to wonder what would have happened if Danilo Gallinari never injured his knee. We are left to wonder if George Karl really would have altered his playing and coaching style - like he said he would do after the season ended. We are left to wonder if retaining the team that won 57-games would have led to the promised NBA land.
Arguments can be made around each and every turn with the Nuggets offseason. There is no doubt that it is one of the most interesting debates in Colorado sports and perhaps will be one of the most talked about topics for years to come. Nuggets fans still look back and wonder about Doug Moe's firing, about Bernie Bickerstaff letting Dikembe Mutombo walk, how the franchise could have retained Carmelo Anthony, and more. The debate that is sports lends itself to asking what may have happened if circumstances were different.
The only thing we know for sure is that the Nuggets are going in a new direction with plenty of new faces. While part of me will wonder what would have happened, I'm also excited for the Brian Shaw era, to continue to see what Tim Connelly will do, and to see how Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, and Darrell Arthur will play. The only constant in sports is change. We will see how the Nuggets play this season and how the team is formed in the coming years.
Again we are faced with change, but don't fear change - it's all we have.
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