It's been a weird offseason.
I normally think of myself as a pretty even-keeled person. I have my ups and downs like anyone else, but generally don't stay at one end of the emotional spectrum for very long. Yet after losing what appeared to be a very winnable series to the Warriors, watching Iggy meekly slink away to be the Tonto to Stephen Curry's Lone Ranger, then witnessing the disintegration of the front office... it was hard to find a lot of positives for what looked like an organization in chaos.
While there have been times at which I've felt the franchise was coming off the rails, I breathed into a paper bag long enough to consider that maybe what I feared most was simply the uncertainty of change. "Who the hell is Tim Connelly?" I asked, at one point in the early tumult of finding Masai Ujiri's replacement. But, after looking at his extensive scouting background, I now believe that Connelly is going to serve as an excellent replacement for Masai's veteran surveying (despite ongoing questions about Josh Kroenke's involvement). In fact, I believe that many of the most contentious moves of this offseason will end up benefiting the Nuggets in the long run.
Training camp is less than two weeks away. We'll get our first glimpses of a team that's seemed in constant flux in the last few years. In the meantime, there's (at least) four big reasons we can all start building our irrational confidence in this team:
4. The acquisition of Darrell Arthur (and the drafting of Erick Green via trade with Utah)
Perhaps the move which most divided Nuggets fans this offseason, the draft day trade of Kosta Koufos for Darrell Arthur and the 55th overall pick (Joffrey Lauvergne) is one which continues to inspire debate. While it's clear that Kosta Koufos contributed a good deal of value to the Nuggets as a backup center, ultimately, that's all he really is - a backup center. One which was abused in the playoffs two consecutive times by two consecutive Andrews: Bynum and Bogut. I will miss Kosta's reliablly mundane production. However, that production can and will be replaced by both JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov, who each have their own issues but can clearly be considered to have a higher potential ceiling than Koufos. Meanwhile, Arthur brings athleticism, hard nosed defense and (gasp) an outside jumper! Finally, while the Nuggets move to down-trade with Utah was widely derided as a "cheap" measure, the Nuggets managed to thieve 2012-13 NCAA leading scorer Erick Green. While it's true that Green will be a project and certainly could bust, to get a player with his potential as the 46th overall pick is great value with amazing upside.
3. Letting Andre Iguodala walk
I still feel strangely... slimed.... by Iggy choosing to walk for less money to the team which just eliminated the Nuggets in the playoffs. All season long, we thought that his aloof nature and frequently disinterested play was just him "getting used to the offense", coaching system and integrating with his new teammates. After the events of the playoffs, however, in which Andre Iguodala forever branded himself to Nuggets fans as "The Mole"... it was clear that it was more than just aloofness. It's not hard to connect the dots from the way in which Iggy was traded to the Nuggets in the Dwight Howard megadeal to his poor commitment to the team. He simply looked at the Nuggets as a waypoint and never really as a stop, despite his own words to the contrary. We were a stepping stone. That's okay, because the Nuggets stepped away from an onerous stone of their own by refusing to overpay for a player who will forever be a second banana. Iggy's defense will always be superlative, but he won't ever be the player to lead a team to the next level.
In the meantime, we have a player showing rumblings of amazing potential in Evan Fournier, who could eventually approximate a great deal of Iggy's game - and shoot better while doing it, to boot.
2. The signings of Nate Robinson, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson
Frankly, I'm amazed that the Nuggets were able to grab all three players on such reasonable deals. All three players provide the Nuggets with much-needed floor spacing through their capacity to hit an outside shot with regularity, something which was sorely lacking with Iggy and Brewer hoisting up brick after brick on last year's team. Nate Rob finally gives the Nuggets another speedy, talented point guard that can keep the pressure on teams while Ty Lawson rests, instead of plodding forward with Andre Miller. His heart and drive are second to none, and he will be a huge boost off the bench for this team. Foye is one of the NBA's deadliest three point shooters, and can get hot in a hurry. Hickson was the 7th best rebounder in the league, and while at times a defensive liability, will not be asked to play out of position as a center as he was in Portland. All three players will immediately contribute in significant ways to this squad, and their skillsets seem to be much more complimentary towards a team seeking a new way forward.
1. Hiring Brian Shaw to head coach
I could not be happier with the hiring of Brian Shaw. The Nuggets could have gone with a retread head coach, but instead are taking a chance with Shaw, widely regarded as one of the best assistant coaches in the league over the past few years. His signing has been lauded around the league as a great hire by the Nuggets front office looking to capitalize on his leadership talents. In his time with the Lakers and Pacers he was routinely showered with praise by players and colleagues, and is given credit for helping turn Roy Hibbert into the monstrous basketball golem he is today. I hope against hope that he will be able to do something similar with McGee. It's not yet fully clear how Shaw plans to utilize the perennially high-flying talent on this Nuggets squad, but all signs point to him being a competent leader who will help address some of the biggest problems of this Nuggets team, namely, defense and floor spacing.
At the end of this day, the Nuggets tilled the soil of this organization. 10 consecutive years of playoff flameouts and disappointments - many due to poor coaching and roster utilization - was a long enough period for the former head coach George Karl to prove he could get this team to the top, and he simply couldn't. The Nuggets couldn't offer as sweet a deal to Ujiri, who earned his significant pay raise through masterful guidance of the franchise through the rough waters of the Melodrama.
These changes don't need to mean that the organization is headed for a down period. In fact, the Nuggets have positioned themselves well, with a young team with high potential upside and a promising new head coach without a terrible playoff track record. If it doesn't work out, they're not hamstrung with huge contracts and can quickly shuffle in new pieces.
To me, all signs point to another successful, competitive, exciting year for this organization in which the Nuggets continue to develop their young pieces and get closer to their goal of a Finals run.