We have had a lot of good debate the past couple of days regarding the playoff prospects of the Denver Nuggets for the upcoming season. Unlike the presidential election it has all been very civilized. I think everyone has presented very good arguments on both sides of the debate and has further solidified my belief that those of you who comment and post here are some of the most astute fans around.
I have been carrying the torch for the Nuggets lately saying that I think the Nuggets have a very good shot at making the playoffs. My primary arguments have been that Marcus Camby will not be nearly as difficult to replace as the national media thinks and the Nuggets are still as talented, or even more talented, as anyone they will be battling against for the last playoff spots. And honestly, even though being a Nuggets fan has programmed me to be pessimistic, after reading all the negative perceptions regarding the Nuggets a little bit of the momma bear in me rose to the surface and I found it necessary to defend my helpless little bear cub. Now only if I could muster as much concern for my own kids as I do the Nuggets.
There are also some other reasons why I believe the Nuggets will have a good shot at making the playoffs next season.
The west will still be a very difficult conference, but I think the number eight seed will make the playoffs with 44 to 46 wins next season. I believe apart from the Lakers, Hornets, and Jazz there is a lot of instability among the upper middle class of the conference. Houston added the Ron Artest Experience and I think that deal is similar to the Nuggets trade for Allen Iverson. It is a go for broke transaction that no one can know for sure how it will turn out. Throw in the injury histories of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady and who knows what to expect from them. San Antonio has been slipping ever so slightly over the previous three or four years as their supporting cast has grown older and less capable and the ever balding Ginobili is battling what is becoming a chronic ankle problem. Phoenix is no longer the dominant team they were a very short time ago and they have a new coach, a deteriorating Shaq and are lead by Steve Nash who will turn 35 just before the All-Star break.
That brings us to the Dallas Mavericks who finished a mere one game ahead of the Nuggets last season. I honestly believe Dallas is a house of cards right now. They made the controversial Jason Kidd trade knowing that it was a move to improve the team in the present while sacrificing some of the future. Well it looks like they greatly reduced the team’s effectiveness in both the present and the future as they limped to a 16-13 record after the trade last season and were easily bounced from the playoffs by the New Orleans Hornets in the first round. Kidd only solidified the opinion that he is old and fading quickly with his play in the Olympics. Dirk Nowitzki is 30 now and has played nine seasons of participating in anywhere from 76 to 82 games and has averaged about 37 minutes a game over those nine seasons. Both his per game averages and his PER have dropped off significantly relative to where they were during the 2005-2006 season when he lead the Mavericks to the finals. Plus who knows how Josh Howard’s need to repeatedly make a fool of himself will affect the team. Rick Carlisle may be wondering what he got himself into, much like my wife.
Not only will the upper middle class of the conference be weaker next year, but the lower class will be better. Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Sacramento will fall into the categories of improved to much improved. The Clippers may have lost Elton Brand, but they played most of last season without him anyway and the additions of Baron Davis and Marcus Camby (although I have a difficult time buying them as a playoff contender) will clearly make them more competitive.
Out of the teams that finished outside the playoffs looking in last season the only team that I believe needs to be taken seriously is Portland. As I just stated, the Clippers will be better, but not 21 to 23 wins better. Some believe Golden State can compete for a playoff spot, but I do not see it. As far as Golden State goes, say what you want about Baron Davis, but he made Golden State what they were. Sure he took horrible shots, a lot of horrible shots, so many atrocious frightening horrible shots, but he was a leader who embodied their system on the floor. Then take into account they will be without Monta Ellis for at least all of November and perhaps December as well and I think they are undoubtedly going to struggle. (It may seem inconsistent to say Los Angeles will not be considerably better with Baron Davis, and then say Golden State is doomed without him, but it all has to do with the style of play. Davis was perfect for Nellie Ball, not so perfect for Dunleavy Ball. If Nellie Ball is Kung Fu, then Dunleavy Ball is the Scottish martial art of Fuk U as described by Mike Myers in So I Married an Axe Murder.)
As all the teams in the west stand right now, I think the last two playoff spots come down to a three way battle between Dallas, Portland and Denver.
We have already dealt with Dallas. As far as Portland, I could see them finishing with 55 wins and I could see them finishing with 41 again. I believe there will be an adjustment period as they add Greg Oden to their rotation and I also think Oden will struggle too, at least over the first month or two of the season. On the other hand a crunch time lineup of Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden and Travis Outlaw/Jerryd Bayless/Martell Webster sounds pretty formidable.
Keep in mind anything can happen. Chris Paul could blow out his knee on the first day of training camp, Kobe might further injure his pinky and miss most of the season and the Nuggets could send AI packing and all of this high quality analysis will go flying out the window. Right now if I had to make a prediction, I believe the Nuggets and Blazers will make the postseason
No matter what happens, I think we are in for an exciting season and at best another first round exit. (And the typical Nuggets fan pessimism once again rears its ugly head.)