Last year, on New Year's Day, I wrote a column about New Year's resolutions for the 2014-2015 Denver Nuggets. This year, I was planning on doing the same, and hopefully not making it too much a retread. Joyfully, my colleague Andrew Feinstein reached out, hoping to write something similar for this year and doing a damned fine job of the same. Andy nailed that much better than I could have, and I was relieved to be thinking about a different approach for this year's wrap up. Why do I bring all of that up? When I went to last year's resolutions, a few names stood out on the list:
Arron Afflalo. Alonzo Gee. Erick Green. Ty Lawson. JaVale McGee. Timofey Mozgov. Nate Robinson. Brian Shaw.
Oof. All gone. What a difference a year makes, huh? But why does it make a difference, aside from having forgotten JaVale McGee was still a Denver Nugget a year ago? Last season's Nuggets were 13-19 (.406) heading into New Year's Day, and this season's squad finds themselves at 12-21 (.364) at the same juncture. And though a lot of hand-wringing still abounds amongst Nuggets Nation faithful, there's also much more optimism surrounding this year's team. Here's a look at some of the highs and lows of what 2015 brought to your Denver Nuggets:
Jusuf Nurkic was showing himself to be a solid young talent, and Denver was still losing enough to realize they were going nowhere fast in a very competitive Western Conference. By the time the first week of January was out, the Nuggets had traded fan favorite Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a pair of first-round picks. On the upside for Mozzie, he is now playing alongside LeBron James, and had a couple of terrific games in last seasons' NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Sadly, Mozgov was neutralized in the series when the Warriors went to small ball with fan not-favorite Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup, netting them the series, and Iggy the Mole-V-P. But in January, Nurkic was making many fans amongst the Nuggets faithful.
Less than a week later, Nate Robinson was on his way as well, traded for veteran guard Jameer Nelson. Jameer has had streaky play since his arrival, much like NateRob had brought to the court for the Nuggets. What has been vastly different since the trade is the off-court conversation, where Nelson has proven to be a valued leader and reconciler of the team. There are a number of reasons this season's team is handling their tumultuous times differently than last, including coaching and expectations. But Nelson has also played a key role in keeping the team on course and positive since before the season even began. Still a key trade for the team this past year. By mid-January, the Nuggets had reeled off a five-game winning streak, and had a few of us getting our hopes up. Damnit.
By the end of January, Denver was 10 games below .500 at 19-29. They'd lose the first four in February as well. Sorry, was that a spoiler? Anyway...
So, while losing those first four in February, Denver started shopping Arron Afflalo, right about the time Afflalo started wondering things like this:
The Nuggets won one against the Los Angeles Lakers right before the All-Star break, but the rest was tumult. National writers were wondering what had happened, the fan base was either in an uproar or abandoning ship outright, and the trade deadline saw the departure of Afflalo and McGee, with young buck Joffrey Lauvergne and some dude named Will Barton joining the fold.
The single win in L.A. was sandwiched between five- and six-game losing streaks for Denver, most of which occurred in February. A 1-9 record for the month sunk the Nuggets to 20-38 (.345), nearly guaranteeing a losing season by March. The team's effort was being questioned, as the players often seemed to be openly rebelling or quitting amidst conversations they and Shaw seemed intent on having via the media. That six-game streak seemed to be the final nail in an early-March coffin, as...
A loss in the first game in March saw the ouster of Brian Shaw as head coach, along with some of the bench coaching staff. In his place came player- and fan-favorite Melvin Hunt. Hunt changed up the style of play and communications for the team, playing nearly .500 ball (9-13, .406) through the end of the season.
The team split it's first four games for hunt, then reeled off a four game win streak and had people talking about the turnaround at 6-2 under Hunt. During that streak, Barton started showing himself to have been a valuable trade piece, Denver was beating some excellent teams along the way, and I dropped 4,000 words on strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess. Might have gone a little overboard, but... The man is a stud, people. Happy days were here again. Right?
Well, mostly. Denver started openly resting players when it became apparent they'd not be making the playoffs, and needed to understand the strengths of the young assets they had. Still, Denver finished March at a healthy 8-8, their only .500 month of the season.
April saw a rougher patch of games for the team, with some great nostalgia mixed into the month. Nuggets great Dikembe Mutombo was elected into the Hall of Fame, and legendary guard Fat Lever had a night of his own, being honored at the Pepsi Center.
George Karl made his return to the Pepsi Center, and Denver wrapped up the month at 2-6, finalizing their season at 30-52, adding insult to injury by wrapping it all up in a loss at Golden State. A collective sigh of relief for the end of a tough year, and a coaching mystery to be answered, including several fans and players hope to retain Melvin Hunt.
May brought early Nuggets draft conversation, and the first clear calls for the trade of Ty Lawson. Lawson had had a career season in many ways, and still had had enough off-court troubles and borderline-insubordinate commentary to warrant a conversation around what he might bring in return for a trade.
My also brought news of Jusuf Nurkic's patellar tendon tear, explaining pain he'd been battling through much of last season. A surgery then has Nurkic very near a return in the upcoming week... but sadly not in time to be a part of 2015.
June saw an early-month interview with Danilo Gallinari in Italy's La Gazzetta, in which he discussed leadership and his hopes for the team, as covered by Stiffs' Jeff Morton.
June also brought in top prospects for draft workouts, a second interview for a coaching candidate named Michael Malone, and the return of Petey D, also known as Pete D'Alessandro back to the Nuggets front office.
Five days after D'Alessandro's return, Malone is named head coach, and practices clarity from his first introduction to the media, something he's been steadfast about since, no matter the circumstances. Were we quite done for June? Oh no...
Late June brought the draft, and with it, rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Though Mudiay has had some ups and downs in his Nuggets start, he's already looking like a steal for the position he was in. But that's another spoiler. The drafting of a point guard had some writing on the wall...
July brought early hoops and many returns. The early hoops in the form of the Las Vegas Summer League and the many returns in re-signings.
Denver started chats with Darrell Arthur about a return early in the month, and wrapped up Will Barton quickly thereafter. A week later, Denver renewed the deal of Nelson and signed Nikola Jokic, with Nelson's deal virtually ensuring the departure of Ty Lawson.
By the third week of July, a deal was done with the Houston Rockets, getting Lawson on to what seemed a mutually desired split, and handing the reins of the team to an untested 19-year old rookie. Might the ride be bumpy to start? It all made for great conversation amongst Nuggets Nation.
Two of the best pieces of news in July involved the small forward spot. The first, the extension of forward Wilson Chandler and his love letter back to the city. The second followed a week later in the extension of Gallinari.
August saw a piece of history made in the first-ever NBA Africa game, as directly reported on by Stiff's-own Andrew Feinstein. HOF inductee-to-be Mutombo playing in his rainbow throwback. Momentous. Momentous Mount Mutombo.
Closer to home, the Nuggets debuted their new uniforms, and then the Stiffs attempted to fill the remainder of the month with deep thoughts on poetry, nostalgia, dunking, and the like. The long, dry summer of the Denver Nuggets.
September brought drama of all sorts: the good, the bad and the Stiffly. The good: Gallo playing lights-out ball for his national team. The bad: Lawson rumored to have been chatting with Houston well in advance of the trade, and the Stiffly: even Stiffs drama in the departure of friend and site co-founder Nate Timmons.
September also brought a stable of great new writers to Denver Stiffs, and the unveiling of the Nuggets new court design, as covered by Zach Mikash. The signing of Mike Miller and Media day wrapped up the month with a live stream for Media Day here on DS.
Early October saw a lot of preseason ball and tons of new content on DS, including Stump the Stiffs, and the return of the weekly Stiffs List. The Nuggets had a hard-fought preseason, winning four of their seven games.
To wrap up the month, Denver decided to keep Erick Green as their 15th man, and oh yeah... won their first game of the new season against the Houston Rockets and Ty Lawson.
The team promptly turned around and dropped a game to Minnesota at home, beginning a troubling trend for the season. Even with last night's road loss, Denver's winning percentage is far better on the road (7-11, .389) than at home (5-15, .333). I'll have to go back through some seasons to see if that's ever happened before, given the advantage that altitude has always been for this home team. A quick check of even the pitiful 1997-1998 Nuggets squad that went a painful 11-71 (.134) saw 9 of those 11 wins on their home court. On the upside, scientists have reported that the altitude is not going away any time soon, so hopefully the home team will learn to work it back to their advantage.
November saw the Nuggets open strong (for expectations), getting halfway through the month above .500 (6-5) before crashing back to earth in an eight-game tailspin, seven of which wrapped up November. Several of the Nuggets games in that span featured unfortunately bad halves of play, as called out by Andy.
Early November also saw the tough news that Wilson Chandler's previously-thought minor injury was actually more serious - a labrum tear which would require season-ending surgery. With the still-learning team, and sub-par home record, crowds have been slow to return to the Pepsi Center for all but the marquee games.
December saw a 6-9 (.400) campaign for the Nuggets, with Denver battling the injury bug as much as any team in the league. Couple injury-riddled-and-therefore-inconsistent rosters with a learning curve, apply it to a still-meshing team made up of a variety of skills and skill levels, and... well, here we are. You are here.
We're 40% done with the season, my friends. And we seem to be on the upswing from a bad place in the first half of 2015. That was the high levels I found in combing though the 900+ articles Denver Stiffs put out about the Nuggets in 2015. What do YOU think the New Year will bring, Nuggets Nation? And did I miss out on any earth-shattering events in the Nuggets 2015 Calendar?