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Preview Suns vs Nuggets: The only way is down

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As the Nuggets continue their freefall to the bottom of the Western Conference standings, dark days have descended in Denver.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Game 57: 2014-15 NBA Season
@

(29-28, 13-16 away)
Series 1-1
20-36 (12-15 at home)
February 25, 2015
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Brandon Knight PG Ty Lawson
Eric Bledsoe SG Danilo Gallinari
P.J. Tucker SF Wilson Chandler
Markieff Morris PF Kenneth Faried
Alex Len C Jusuf Nurkic
Notes
Bright Side Of The Sun Blogs You're here!
None Injuries

None

Phoenix has lost 5 straight games since Feb. 6 and is 2-8 in their last 10
Etc... Denver has lost 7 home games in a row, their longest such streak in 12 years

Tonight, the Nuggets will take on a Phoenix Suns team that has just traded fiery point Goran Dragic and is itself a team in transition without a truly clear direction, clinging to the hope that Alex Len's impressive NBA debut will lead them towards long-term success. Neither team will make the playoffs this season, so this game (like the remaining 25) will be more about player development and building the skills of the team's younger players. We'll hopefully see some good battles tonight between Nurkic and Len, Eric Bledsoe and Gary Harris, Markieff Morris and Joffrey Lauvergne. Ultimately, this one will end up as just another 48 minutes in the dustbin of a forgotten year of basketball.

As the Nuggets continue their death spiral, we've all borne witness to the slow-motion implosion of a team that just a few short years ago had it sights set on its franchise-first Finals berth. Were it not for some unfortunately timed injuries and a subsequent dismissal of George Karl after another disappointing first round exit, this team might still be in that conversation.

Instead, the franchise and the fans are left picking up the pieces of the disaster that is the current incarnation of this team.

Recently, to take my mind off the horrific monstrosity my favorite team has become, I've been watching a fair few episodes of one of my favorite comedies, 30 Rock. One in particular stood out to me, appropriately titled "Into the Crevasse". In it, Jack Donaghy (played superbly by Alec Baldwin) describes his reaction to a difficult situation to his colleague Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey):

Sometimes, the way back up is down.

Let me tell you a story. It's 1994. I went ice climbing, and I fell into a crevasse. I hurt my leg, and I couldn't climb back up. So fighting every natural instinct, doing the thing that seemed most awful to me, I climbed down into the darkness. And that's how I got out. When I got back to base camp, I went and found my fellow climber, the one who had cut me loose after I fell. And I said, "Connie Chung, you did the right thing."

Climb down, Lemon. Climb down.

Besides being an absolutely hilarious episode where Jack goes on to design "The Pontiac Aztek of microwaves" for the embattled GE corporation, it helped me realize the ultimate shallowness of "depth" in the NBA. A recent quote from a Benjamin Hochman article sticks in my mind:

Since 1980, only five times has a team made it to the NBA Finals without a top-six draft pick. Those five? Twice it was the Utah Jazz with Karl Malone and John Stockton. Twice it was the Portland Trail Blazers with Clyde Drexler. And the fifth gets an asterisk - it's the 1982-83 76ers, who had Julius Erving (who came from the ABA) and Moses Malone (who bypassed the draft as a high shooler).

Moreover, every champion has had multiple top-six picks except for the Tim Duncan San Antonio Spurs and the Shaquille O'Neal Los Angeles Lakers.

The only top-6 pick on this team? Danilo Gallinari.

For all this team's vaunted depth since the trade of Carmelo Anthony, they've gone nowhere with it, and will now miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

This season, aside from being an indictment of head coach Brian Shaw (regardless of what you think of the roster, it absolutely is), the Nuggets "climb down" is probably best for the long-term future of the franchise. Until the NBA changes its rules surrounding conference seeding and the draft lottery, if you aren't a team with a core of stars that are competing for a deep playoff run year in and year out, you're better off at the bottom than in the middle. It creates an absurdly perverse incentive for teams to lose - and lose a lot - in order to compete, since it is extremely unlikely for a team to draft a player who will be an NBA-level starter outside the draft lottery, much less a star.

There are no longer any sacred cows on this team to me: the way forward is clear in the modern NBA, and it starts with a high draft pick and taking whatever steps necessary to acquire a superstar. If the Nuggets have to trade Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried to land a big fish, so be it. To those who would cite me the unexpected success of the Atlanta Hawks this season behind head coach Mike Budenholzer (oh, what could have been with Mike as the head coach of this team), I would rejoinder that much of their success can be attributed to the enormous effect of their 2007 3rd overall draft pick Al Horford on the team, anchoring the paint and posting a 15/7 line with a PER of 21.61. How'd the Hawks get him? Well, in the three seasons prior to the 2007 draft, the Hawks posted a combined record of 69-177, never climbing higher than 13th in the conference standings under former head coach Mike Woodson.

After acquiring Al Horford with that 3rd overall pick in 2007, they've made the playoffs ever since.

Sure, the Hawks have had their misses in the draft before then, notoriously drafting Acie Law (11th overall, out of the league), Shelden "Daryl Strawberry's head on the Simpsons" Williams (2006 draft, 5th overall, out of the league) and Marvin Williams (2005 draft, 2nd overall, now with the Charlotte Hornets). Let me be clear: the draft is certainly not without its pitfalls. Yet landing a player like Horford could greatly accelerate this team's return to relevance, and given the Nuggets' historical difficulty in attracting a star in free agency, the draft is likely the team's best shot. Along with firing Brian Shaw after the buzzer on game 82.

Climb down, Nuggets. Climb down.

#reversestandings