Taking part in Jeff Clark's season previews for CelticsBlog seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, but with the Carmelo Anthony situation still unresolved ... the Nuggets remain under construction. Let's take a weird look at where things are as training camp is underway.
Note: We will have plenty of more coverage on the Nuggets upcoming season as things shake out over the next several weeks, so stay in touch with Denver Stiffs as Andrew Feinstein, Jeff Morton, and I still have to debate among ourselves about how this season will look.
Team Name: Denver Nuggets
Last Year’s Record: 53-29, lost in first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz (4-2)
Key Losses: Linas Kleiza or L.K.'s NBA rights (Raptors), Joey Graham (Cavaliers), Johan Petro (Nets), Malik "Tacos" Allen (Magic).
Key Additions: Al Harrington (Knicks), Shelden Williams (Celtics)
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
On paper, Nuggets ownership transferred from Stan Kroenke, who purchased the St. Louis Rams of the NFL, to his son Josh Kroenke. In accordance with NFL policy, Stan had to relinquish ownership of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche in order to take over a now somewhat promising, thanks to Sam Bradford, NFL team.
The 30 year-old Josh Kroenke now finds himself in a much larger and more public role with the Nuggets and Avalanche. So, while my 28 year-old self is trying to figure out if I should have Special K or eggs for breakfast, Josh is trying to decide if trading his franchise player is the Nuggets' best decision.
Along with "new" ownership, the Nuggets cleaned house in the front office by not re-signing well-respected basketball minds Mark Warkentien (vice president of basketball operations) and Rex Chapman (vice president of player personnel). In their place is 39 year-old Masai Ujiri, who is the new vice president of basketball operations, leaving his role as Bryan Colangelo's assistant general manager with the Toronto Raptors after three years.
Closer to the court, assistant coach Jamahl Mosley joined the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff and coaching legend, and buffer between George Karl and J.R. Smith, Tim Grgurich also wont be back on the Nuggets bench. Karl has always bragged and cared for his assistants, so it'll be interesting to see who he picks to join him on the bench this season.
All the above people mentioned that wont be back with the team have all played major roles in the Nuggets success in the Melo Era. The younger approach in the front office intrigues me, but also with a lot of shake ups comes players wondering what direction the team is headed in.
The Nuggets surprised their fanbase when they used their mid-level exception. Yes, we were also very surprised that we used the MLE to sign Al Harrington, but the fact that Denver used the MLE at all was a pretty big shock for a fanbase that was beginning to think that cost-cutting moves were here to stay. The move was a curious one as Harrington can play small forward and power forward, while the team was still without a true center.
Currently, George Karl and Chauncey Billups have been speaking positively of Shelden Williams and the big man should have plenty of opportunities to play early as both Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen will start the season in street clothes thanks to some off season surgery. Is it a good thing that I'm talking myself into Williams magically transforming himself from bust-to-boom?
Oh and did I mention that there was a blockbuster trade discussed between the Nuggets, Jazz, Charlotte Bobcats, and New Jersey Nets the weekend before training camp started? Has anyone even heard of the rumored deal? I don't think it got a lot of coverage by any kind of medium. Well, the deal apparently involved Carmelo Anthony, Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Favors, Boris Diaw, and some other moving parts. It hasn't been a distraction at all in Nuggets camp and I don't think anyone even brought it up to Melo at his first press conference, but I could be wrong.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
As funny as it sounds, the Nuggets biggest strength has always been defense. When the Nuggets are flying around defensively and creating turnovers, clogging the lane and getting blocks, and rotating properly they become the most explosive team in the NBA and one that will run teams right out of the thin air at the Pepsi Center.
This season with K-Mart in no hurry to return to the lineup (he actually said this, check it out) and Birdman Andersen also on the shelf the Nuggets defense will be very shorthanded. Al Harrington maintains that he's going to be defensive minded, like he was with the Indiana Pacers back in the day, and Williams should help defensively, but they are both new and need to gel in a hurry.
With Melo on the team, the Nuggets have never had to worry too much about scoring points. But they do get into lulls where the team stands around too much instead of working the ball to the open man and that's when they get into trouble. With the addition of Harrington, I'd love to see what the team is capable of when healthy ... but I don't know if Denver fans will get that chance as the Melo trade hangs over the locker room.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Direction. What direction is this team heading in? The franchise player is in limbo along with a number of other players and even head coach George Karl who is in the last year of his deal. If things shook out just right for Denver after the season they could erase roughly $57.2 million from the roster by letting Melo walk, K-Mart walk, J.R. Smith walk, Arron Afflalo walk, tearing up Billups' team option season, and having Nene opt out of his player option season.
But the more likely scenario is probably tearing up Billups' contract and re-signing him, maybe re-signing K-Mart at a reduced price, having Nene take his player option season, trading J.R. Smith, re-signing Afflalo, and either re-signing Melo (not looking promising) or trading Melo for some type of package.
Oh ... on the court weaknesses! Sorry, when your team is facing so many questions it's hard to even think about what the mess could look like on the court.
The Nuggets have really struggled on defense over the years with player rotations. For some reason the team falls in love with double teaming, switching every screen in sight, and rotating about as well as your grandma with a hoola-hoop.
4. What are the goals for this team?
George Karl has talked in the past about some of his most difficult coaching challenges. Well, if Denver decides to hang onto Melo for a good portion of the season, which it's looking like they will, then Karl is going to have one heck of a time trying to keep this team together.
Who knows how happy Karl is working on a one-year deal ... he also has to worry about keeping K-Mart focused, keeping Melo focused, and somehow keeping J.R. Smith focused as all three-guys are in contract seasons. They say that winning cures everything, so if Denver is winning I could see the team maybe coming together and making things work. But if things start to fall apart because the team is losing ... we could see some disasters in planning the likes of which only Wile E. Coyote could sympathise with.
So, the goal ... KEEP IT TOGETHER! That's a weird thing to say for a team with a pretty stable nucleus that's coming off back-to-back-to-back 50+ win seasons.
5. Do I want to see Melo stay or Melo go?
An easy one to answer ... of course I want to see Melo stay in Denver. There has been some talk about Melo becoming the next John Elway in Colorado. The only difference ... Melo was drafted by his team here and Elway demanded a trade from the Baltimore Colts before ever suiting up for them. So, Melo could do something even more special.
The biggest concerns remain:
A.) Does Melo want to be a Nugget?
B.) Are the Nuggets going to show Melo the blueprint they will maintain for success?
The Nuggets still have a great nucleus around Melo with a nice mix of veterans and up-and-coming guys, but Melo needs a little more help and I'm not sure if Al Harrington is the guy the team was looking for ... but it is a nice start. Playing alongside Ty Lawson, Afflalo, and Nene gives Melo some great promising guys, but the Nuggets could use a dominating center/power forward in the Pau Gasol or cheaper Marc Gasol mold. Melo seems to be wanting to play either in a bigger market or with more impact players and the Nuggets need to make some moves to either accommodate his desire to leave or bowl him over with an opportunity he can't pass up.
It's going to be a long season for Nuggets fans.
Predicted 2010-11 Record:
With the injuries to start the season the banking on Melo staying in Denver all season I'm going to say the Nuggets go: 47-35 next season.
If Melo leaves ... 47 wins will be a tall order.