Ap-graham_mediumDenver Stiffs takes a close look at what the “experts” foresee for our Nuggets, makes some predictions of our own and sets the table for what’s expected by the end of 2009-10.

As if you didn't think I was a big enough loser yet, I'm going to share with you a story from my childhood.  When I was a kid, I'd conduct an annual exercise around this time year.  I'd have my mother drive me to a few newsstands where I'd buy every possible NBA Preview magazine: Sports Illustrated, Sport magazine (now defunct), Inside Sports (also defunct), Street & Smith's (now owned by Sporting News), Sporting News, Petersen's, Lindy's and even gambling guru Jim Feist's annual NBA Preview.  I'd also keep the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and USA Today's annual NBA Previews handy, typically written by Mike Monroe, Dave Krieger and David Dupree, respectively.  

Once I collected all the magazines and newspapers, I'd create a spreadsheet by hand – I'm 34 years old, so there was no internet or even Microsoft Excel when I was kid – listing all the teams on the X-axis and all the "experts" names on the Y-axis.  Then, in the spreadsheet boxes I'd write down the order that the teams were predicted to finish in by number per conference and average them out, thinking this would somehow predict how the Nuggets and the rest of the NBA would finish each season.  

Yes, I was a dork and yes, I had way too much time on my hands.  

In hindsight, this was a ridiculous exercise because back in the day these magazines had to be printed for distribution so early, that they would often miss key roster moves over the summer. For example, in the summer of 1993 many of these magazines still had Michael Jordan playing for the Bulls, rendering their predictions and forecasts worthless entering the 1993-94 season. Can you imagine reading an NBA Preview today that didn’t have Shaquille O’Neal on the Cavaliers? That’s what it was like back then. But hey, I was (and still am) an NBA degenerate, and just couldn’t help myself.

Had I done this exercise last year, the Nuggets would have averaged just over a nine.  Meaning, every so-called NBA "expert" had the Nuggets finished 9th and in some cases 10th in the Western Conference by the end of the 2008-09 season.  I (not so boldly) predicted the Nuggets to finish 8th and very much like this year's Rockies and Broncos, last seasons Nuggets proved everyone – including me – completely wrong by finishing second.  Seven spots ahead of what the "experts" collectively predicted.  And thus, 2009-10 was deemed an incredibly successful season as it obliterated the expectations, which brings me to my next point.

As silly as this exercise might seem, this is how expectations are set, for better or for worse, by the media, fans and organizations.  Jobs are kept and lost based on these expectations.  

If you remember a while back, I had written a detailed column on what determines a good coaching job and it all came down to expectations. My thesis was simple: a “good” or “bad” coaching job is determined based on whether or not a coach’s team exceeds, meets or does worse than what was expected of them entering the season (assuming the team is relatively healthy and management doesn’t sandbag the coach by carving up the roster to save money). Hence why I thought George Karl did a great job last season – remember, they far exceeded what was expected of them – and a poor job the season before when the Nuggets were expected to finish second, third or fourth and instead plummeted to eighth in the conference.

So what's expected of our Nuggets in 2009-10?  The fans seem to be expecting something between a repeat Northwest Division Title and Western Conference Finals appearance and a second place division finish and a second round playoff loss.  When you see Nate and my rankings below, we represent the spectrum of fan with some accuracy, I believe.

But unlike the fans, entering 2009-10 the "experts" are much more mixed on the fate of the Nuggets.  I'm seeing them ranked everywhere from second to (egads!) eighth in the Western Conference.  But certainly no one is pegging them for 2010 NBA Champions.  Here's a rundown of where the "experts" are predicting our Nuggets to finish…

2nd in Western Conference

Bethlehem Shoals, Sporting News
Travis Heath, HoopsWorld

3rd in Western Conference

Jemele Hill, ESPN.com
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com
Mark Stein, ESPN.com
John Galinsky, FoxSports.com
Inside Hoops Preseason Power Rankings

4th in Western Conference

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com
Jon Barry, ESPN
Chris Broussard, ESPN Magazine
John Hollinger, ESPN.com
Jalen Rose, ESPN
David Thorpe, ESPN.com

5th in Western Conference

Chad Ford, ESPN.com
The Baseline, Sporting News

6th in Western Conference

Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated

8th in Western Conference

Bill Simmons, ESPN.com

It should also be noted that Chris Colston and Jeff Zillgitt of USA TodayKen Berger of CBSSports.com and Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports Ball Don't Lie have the Nuggets finishing second to Portland in the Northwest Division, but don't seem to have made conference predictions yet.  And AOL Fanhouse's Chris Tomasson previewed the Nuggets without making a prediction for where they'd finish.

Here are Nate and my 2009-10 predictions for the Western Conference…

Nate's Picks

1.) Los Angeles Lakers
2.) Denver Nuggets
3.) Portland Trail Blazers
4.) San Antonio Spurs
5.) Utah Jazz
6.) Dallas Mavericks
7.) Los Angeles Clippers
8.) Phoenix Suns
9.) New Orleans Hornets
10.) Oklahoma City Thunder
11.) Houston Rockets
12.) Memphis Grizzlies
13.) Golden State Warriors
14.) Minnesota Timberwolves
15.) Sacramento Kings

Andrew's Picks

1.) Los Angeles Lakers
2.) San Antonio Spurs
3.) Portland Trail Blazers
4.) Denver Nuggets
5.) Dallas Mavericks
6.) Utah Jazz
7.) New Orleans Hornets
8.) Los Angeles Clippers
9.) Phoenix Suns
10.) Oklahoma City Thunder
11.) Memphis Grizzlies
12.) Houston Rockets
13.) Golden State Warriors
14.) Minnesota Timberwolves
15.) Sacramento Kings

So there you have it.  Between the "experts", Nate's and my predictions and what I've read in the comments on this site leading up to the new season, I think it's fair to say that the Nuggets are expected to finish at least fourth, if not third, in the Western Conference in 2009-10.  Finishing fourth also means that at least one playoff series win is expected and hopefully two (i.e. another Western Conference Finals appearance).  Anything worse than fourth and a playoff series win will deem the season to be a disappointment, and if the Nuggets somehow (oh please, hope, hope, hope) make it to the NBA Finals, then they'll have greatly exceeded everyone's expectations for the second season in a row.

I can’t wait for the season to begin. Go Nuggets!!


Photo courtesy Francis Specker, AP