Watching the Nuggets bow out of the playoffs early once again got me thinking about the team's issues. The Nuggets had problems scoring the ball down the stretch and they also had a tough time securing the ball and allowed the Oklahoma City Thunder to grab lots of extra possessions. While Masai Ujiri might have to look for outside help in the scoring department this off-season, he already has the rebounders and inside presence the team needs.
Watching the first round match up between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs it was obvious where Lionel Hollins' team had the distinct advantage: inside. The Spurs couldn't match the combination of 7'1'' and 265 pound Marc Gasol and 6'9'' and 260 pound Zach Randolph.
Tim Duncan, fighting Father Time, needed some help and neither 6'7'' DeJuan Blair or 6'10'' (ya right) Matt Bonner could offer the proper support the Spurs needed to fend off the attacking Bears. The Grizzlies ran most of their offense through the talented Randolph and whenever the team needed a bucket they would feed the post and let Randolph do the decision making. Whether it was hitting key shots or passing the ball into the smallest of windows, Randolph played inspired ball and put his team on his back.
The Grizz, the No. 8 seed, moved past the No. 1 seed Spurs (just the fourth time ever an eight defeated a one) and are currently tied with the Thunder at 1-1 in the second round of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Watching Game 1 between the Thunder and Grizzlies it could be seen that the big Memphis front-line combo was again causing problems for their opponent.
The Thunder starting lineup features two 6'10'' big men with a lot of talent, but neither Kendrick Perkins nor Serge Ibaka can match Gasol's size. And Perkins can't handle Randolph's speed when he faces up to the basket. In Game 1 the Thunder did manage to grab 16 offensive rebounds, but they also gave up 17 offensive boards to the Grizzlies in a losing effort. In Game 2 the Thunder only grabbed 7 offensive boards to the Grizzlies 13, but OKC did manage the win behind a good shooting performance from the home team.
As that series shifts to Memphis, the Grizzlies got the all important split and took control of the home court in the now best of five series. The Nuggets really needed to get that split in the opening round and after they failed to accomplish that they had to hold serve at home - again proving to be a task that couldn't be carried out.
The Nuggets are facing all sorts of questions this off-season, but once they get back to business and lace 'em up the real question will be: will the two seven-footers in uniform earn minutes and will one of them earn a starting spot?
While it's not totally safe to predict that both Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov will be in Nuggets uniforms next season, they both are under contract and each guy has enough talent to have a shot to be the starting center in Denver. Nobody is sure if Kenyon Martin will return to the team and even if he does, does that mean he is going to start? He has stated recently that winning means more to him than starting, so would taking a bench role in Denver be something K-Mart would accept or was he referring to joining a contender that already has it's starting big men in place? We shall see.
And this week we also found out that Nene might be looking to opt out of the final year of his original 6-year and $60 million contract that is set to pay him roughly $12 million in the 2011-12 season. The Brazilian player talked about not feeling appreciated in Denver and you don't have to look much further than the extension Carmelo Anthony was offered and Nene was not to see what he was talking about. Along with not getting an extension, Nene has also openly griped about playing the center position and taking a beating down low.
Karl cannot assure Nene that he will move to power forward next year and who knows if Karl even is thinking about moving him out of the center spot. My feeling is that Nene is hoping to be shown some love by the team and once that happens he'll happily ink a fair contract to stay in Denver. I just don't see Nene really wanting to leave the team he's been with since he entered the league and he shouldn't be able to get a better deal from another team.
I have been a fan of K-Mart's since his days at Cincinnati and would love to see him finish his career with the Nuggets, but at the same time - I'm not sure that's the best thing for the team. I don't see Martin re-signing here and Karl not starting him. Martin's leadership on the court has been great and he always plays his heart out, but it might be time for both parties to go in a different direction. I would like to see Kenyon have a shot to win a title and while I'd love for that title to be with the Nuggets I'm not sure that having him in Denver will be the thing that pushes this team over the top. If K-Mart would agree to come off the bench for the Nuggets and if Karl would actually do that as well, I think it would be a smart move, but I don't see that being a reality.
I am definitely in favor of seeing Mozgov or Koufos earn the starting center role with the Nuggets. And losing Martin might be the only move available to force Karl's hand to make the switch with Nene to power forward and to put a seven-footer into the starting lineup. There is always a trust factor with coaches and their players, but sometimes you have to give the keys to the car away and just let the kid start driving. Mozgov and Koufos need minutes and they need to get behind the wheel.
The Moz goes 7'1'' and weights 250 pounds - he needs to add some muscle to that frame of his and an off-season with Steve Hess is just what the doctor ordered. Mozgov will turn 25 years-old in July and his teammate Koufos will be only 23 years-old in February 2012. The 7'0'' and 265 pound Koufos showed some good things when given minutes and is probably ready to take the bulk of the backup center minutes. The moves of Moz and Kouf into the rotation will also help Chris Andersen. Birdman played center this past season for the Nuggets and found his running mate on front line to be "Big" Al Harrington. The 6'8'' Harrington is much better suited to play small forward and hopefully will not see much time as the Nuggets' power forward next season.
I am already excited to see the lineup of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Nene, and Timofey Mozgov/Kosta Koufos, but I'm getting way ahead of myself.
The Grizzlies are showing the casual NBA fans that big is still best in the post-season. The Celtics had the right formula with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins and the Lakers have been conquering the Western Conference and NBA with their twin tower lineup of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (with a little Lamar Odom) for the past four seasons.
While teams often fall in love with speed, the Nuggets' future can best be seen with what the Grizzlies are doing right now. Go big or go home - the Nuggets have been doing the latter for too long.
On to the links ...
J.R. SMITH'S INK: "I GOT A HELL OF STORY GOING ON" - Jack Jensen, Dime
Reader Calvin Brodus posted this in the GN thread yesterday, but wanted to post it again. Love the tattoo tales of the NBA - no matter how random the ink.
Fredette picks Octagon as NBA agent - Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports
The group currently has NBA stars: David West and Rudy Gay and helped Chris Paul early on.
The Thunder even up with Memphis 1-1, 111-102 - Royce Young, Daily Thunder
A little recap of last night's game in OKC. Serge Ibaka suffered a knee injury, but thinks he'll be fine - more evaluation today.
Celtics Collapse, Heat In Full Control - Jeff Clark, Celticsblog
A quick bullet point list from our SB Nation friend. The Celtics are down 2-0 and looking older than ever.
LeBron James scores 35 as Heat take 2-0 series lead over Boston - David Dwork, Peninsula is Mightier
The SB Nation Heat blog wraps up last night's Game 2 with some bullet points of his own.
The Lessons of Nathaniel Jones - Rick Reilly, ESPN.com
The tale of the five young men who ruthlessly murdered Chris Paul's grandfather ... and Paul's tale of forgiveness. Great read by Reilly.
Celtics getting pushed around by Heat - Jackie MacMullan, ESPN.com
The "Around the Horn" familiar face gives here take on the Miami vs. Boston series.
Kings season-ticket holders can renew for 2011-12 season - Carla Meyer, The Sacramento Bee
The team will be around for at least one more season in Sac-Town.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter