At long last, in June of 2016 the city of Cleveland should claim its first professional sports championship since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964. Assuming LeBron James and his band of Cavaliers stay healthy, I believe the 2015-16 NBA Season will be their year. Call it a gut feel or a well informed guess, but given that James almost single-handedly defeated the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors last June, I foresee James winning his third NBA title in seven tries when the 2015-16 season concludes.

Exactly who James and the Cavaliers face in the NBA Finals will be much more intriguing, as yet again the NBA’s Western Conference is as stacked as ever – especially with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers substantively upgrading their respective rosters. Throw in a former MVP in the (presumably) healthy Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and an improved Anthony Davis for the New Orleans Pelicans, and it’s fitting the 2015-16 season begins around Halloween … because the West is really @#$%& scary!!

Which, of course, is where our beloved Denver Nuggets reside.

From 2004 through 2013, our Nuggets were regular Western Conference playoffs participants, appearing in 10 consecutive post-seasons (a streak second only to the Spurs during that time). Now nearly two-and-half-years removed from their last playoff appearance, Nuggets fans are wondering when such a streak may begin again. And while I can virtually – and unfortunately – all but guarantee that that streak won’t begin again next spring, the Nuggets and their fans have a lot to be optimistic about. Fans should expect to see better and more competitive basketball (including more passing, as my colleague Adam Mares pointed out on Sunday), but better / more competitive won’t equal the 45-plus wins required to land the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Which leaves Nuggets fans in the same predicament they were in last season when Melvin Hunt took over as interim head coach for the ineffective Brian Shaw for the final 23 games of the 2014-15 season: do we want our team to win or do we want our team to get the highest possible lottery pick?

Before we reignite the never-ending "lottery vs. improvement" debate, let's take a look at how the 2015-16 NBA Season might shake out for both conferences and where the Nuggets end up in that context …



If you've read this far, you're not the least bit surprised that I pick Cleveland to finish first atop the weak Eastern Conference (even though the Cavaliers finished second in the conference to Atlanta last season). Even without training camp holdout Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers should reign supreme with the return of a healthy Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the underrated Anderson Varejao. And the re-signing of former All-Star Mo Williams will do wonders for Cleveland's bench. The 2016 NBA Championship is the Cavaliers to lose.

Cavaliers / Nuggets Connections: As we discussed in May, former Nuggets Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith had a substantive impact on the 2015 NBA Playoffs and were critical to Cleveland’s run to the NBA Finals in June. But while Mozgov really stepped up in the NBA Finals, I was shocked that the fear-no-evil Smith wasn’t more assertive. Regardless, the Cleveland brass thought enough of the inconsistent Smith to bring him back for another finals run.

Adam's Pick: 1st | Jeff's Pick: 1st | Mike's Pick: 2nd


After surprising the entire NBA with a playoff run in 2014, the Raptors surprised no one in 2015 and seemed to wilt under the weight of higher expectations. To combat any future wilting, this past off-season the Raptors added toughness and post-season experience with DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph while also getting athletic (if raw) former top draft picks in Anthony Bennett and Bismack Biyombo for virtually nothing. The Raptors will be a tough out this season.

Raptors / Nuggets Connections: Besides former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri now running the show up north, Ujiri paid (a LOT) to steal Carroll – a former Nugget for all of four games several seasons ago – from conference rival Atlanta. But if you look beyond the statistics, Carroll was the glue of the Hawks‘ vaunted defense last season and will be sorely missed in Atlanta.

Adam's Pick: 7th | Jeff's Pick: 5th | Mike's Pick: 5th


While the Hawks are going to take a step back with the loss of Carroll, you don't win 60 games in the NBA and fall backwards too much. That said, like the 2014-15 Raptors the 2015-16 Hawks aren't going to sneak up on anyone (especially while wearing those flashy new uniforms, which I actually like by the way).

Hawks / Nuggets Connections: Former Nuggets forward Darvin Ham is one of the countless former Nuggets who serve as assistant coaches in the NBA.

Adam's Pick: 4th | Jeff's Pick: 3rd | Mike's Pick: 3rd


Even though the Bulls lost one of the (arguably) best coaches in basketball in Tom Thibodeau, sometimes a fresh voice in the locker room is all a team needs and the Bulls now have that in Fred Hoiberg. While Hoiberg has never coached an NBA team, he did play nine NBA seasons (including four in Chicago) and recently served as head coach of the Iowa State University Cyclones. Normally I’m not a big fan of college-to-pros coaching hires, but given his nine years’ NBA playing experience Hoiberg might be an exception.

Bulls / Nuggets Connections: (Brief) former Nugget Aaron Brooks is still on the Bulls roster, but the key Bulls / Nuggets connections is second-year shooting guard / small forward Doug McDermott, whom the Nuggets drafted at 11th a year ago and immediately traded for the 16th (Jusuf Nurkic) and 19th (Gary Harris) picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Word around the league is that Hoiberg will give McDermott a much longer leash than Thibodeau ever did, which could theoretically release McDermott to have a positive impact for the team.

Adam's Pick: 3rd | Jeff's Pick: 4th | Mike's Pick: 1st


Wizards head coach Randy Wittman is like the bizarro George Karl: crappy regular season coach but an awesome post-season coach. Wittman has coached his Wizards to back-to-back playoff first round upsets and I wouldn’t be the least surprised if they do it again in 2016. But don’t expect more than 47-ish wins from the Wizards this season.

Wizards / Nuggets Connections: Nene Hilario has been anchoring the Wizards' power forward position ever since the Nuggets sent him to Washington, DC in 2012. And very much like the team itself, Nene seems to care a lot more when the playoffs begin than when the regular season begins.

Adam's Pick: 2nd | Jeff's Pick: 6th | Mike's Pick: 4th


A new logo, new uniforms, a new arena on the way, the return of Jabari Parker and the signing of Greg Monroe collectively point to a lot of optimism in Milwaukee this season. And while the Bucks should easily best their 41-win total from last season, I just don’t see them moving up the conference standings higher than five.

Bucks / Nuggets Connections: Longtime George Karl assistant Tim Grgurich (or “Grg”) will be assisting Bucks head coach Jason Kidd this season.

Adam's Pick: 5th | Jeff's Pick: 8th | Mike's Pick: 6th


Despite trading for the solid point guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline last season, the Heat missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years. That won’t happen in 2016. A full training camp with Dragic plus rookie Justise Winslow and an always improving Hassan Whiteside could be the supplement that the oft-injured but still effective Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade need. And lest we forget that Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s head coach, is one of just five active NBA head coaches to claim a championship ring.

Heat / Nuggets Connections: Chris Andersen, yes 37 year old Chris Andersen, still claims a roster spot for the Heat. Years removed from his best years in Denver where he thrilled Nuggets fans as the Birdman, Andersen should be able to give the Heat a few productive minutes in what will probably be his final NBA season. But when/if we write up the Nuggets Fan Favorite Hall of Fame column, you have to believe the Birdman will be near or at the top!

Adam's Pick: 8th | Jeff's Pick: 2nd | Mike's Pick: 7th


Celtics‘ GM Danny Ainge’s 15-year “rebuild / future draft pick hoarding” plan continues but it leaves the Celtics to another season as an Eastern Conference playoff bottom feeder and an easy first round out to the Cavaliers. Ainge made some interesting tweaks to his roster over the summer, but didn’t do enough to get his squad out from the conference playoffs basement.

Adam's Pick: 6th | Jeff's Pick: 10th | Mike's Pick: 9th


Michael Jordan’s love affair with big, white Stiffs continued this past summer when he drafted Frank Kaminsky 9th overall and signed Tyler Hansbrough to a one-year contract (His Airness clearly never learned his lesson from drafting Adam Morrison second overall and Cody Zeller fourth overall in previous drafts). But beyond Kaminsky and Hansbrough, Jordan’s Hornets did add some interesting complimentary pieces like Jeremy Lin, Nicolas Batum and Spencer Hawes and should be better than last season’s edition of the newly (and rightly) re-branded Hornets.

Adam's Pick: 10th | Jeff's Pick: 7th | Mike's Pick: 10th


I have no idea what Pistons head coach and president Stan Van Gundy is doing in Detroit. And I don’t think Van Gundy knows, either. I loved Van Gundy as a head coach in both Miami and Orlando, but he is living proof of why head coaches shouldn’t be team presidents. The Pistons roster is pretty bare and will result in another missed post-season in Detroit.

Pistons / Nuggets Connections: Pistons backup point guard Steve Blake enters his 12th NBA season and will be making his 10th NBA stop … including his eighth different franchise, the Nuggets being one of them as he wore the powder blue and gold for 49 games in the 2006-07 season.

Adam's Pick: 9th | Jeff's Pick: 13th | Mike's Pick: 11th


Given that the Nuggets have the right to swap draft picks with the Knicks in the 2016 NBA Draft, I’m sincerely hoping that the Knicks finish in the Eastern Conference cellar. But one could make a semi-reasonable argument that a healthy Carmelo Anthony combined with the additions of Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and rookie Kristaps Porzingis will make the Knicks better than the 17-win team of last season. The good news for Nuggets fans is that Derek Fisher is still the Knicks head coach, so a sub-30 win season remains likely in the Big Apple.

Knicks / Nuggets Connections: Anthony gave the Nuggets seven-and-a-half of the best NBA seasons he'll probably ever have and made his deal with the devil to become a Knick long ago. With his former Nuggets teammate Afflalo now playing alongside him, it will be interesting to watch how those two shoot-first, 30-plus year old players work together again.

Adam's Pick: 13th | Jeff's Pick: 11th | Mike's Pick: 14th


The 10th through 13th spots in the Leastern Conference are a tossup, but I’m giving the Magic a slight edge over the lowly Indiana Pacers only because the Magic brought in the dictator Scott Skiles as head coach and he’s always good for a one to two season turnaround before he wears all of his players out.

Magic / Nuggets Connections: Orlando is now home to former Nugget Evan Fournier, who was traded to the Magic before last season in a deal that brought Afflalo to Denver for a second stint inside the Pepsi Center. The acquisition of Afflalo had Nuggets fans thinking playoffs again, but in hindsight the trade was a bad one as Fournier improved while Afflalo did nothing for Denver and was ultimately given away to the Portland Trail Blazers for an overly protected first round draft pick.

Adam's Pick: 12th | Jeff's Pick: 12th | Mike's Pick: 12th


Other than Paul George, I don't think I recognize any of the names on the Pacers roster. Interestingly, the Pacers roster features three "Hills": Jordan, Solomon and George. The 2015-16 season is going to be forgettable in Indianapolis and this ABA holdover franchise rebuilds … again.

Adam's Pick: 11th | Jeff's Pick: 9th | Mike's Pick: 8th


I hope the Nets enjoyed their brief run as an eighth-seed in last season’s NBA Playoffs, because they may not taste the post-season for a long time. A really, really long time. Their 2016 and 2018 first round picks are owed to Boston and the Celtics have the right to swap 2017 picks, too. So whenever you think it’s a tough time to be a Nuggets fan, just think about the Nets.

Nets / Nuggets Connections: Former Nuggets Quincy Miller and Dahntay Jones are both trying to crack the Nets regular season roster.

Adam's Pick: 14th | Jeff's Pick: 14th | Mike's Pick: 13th


There must be a nice spot pre-reserved in NBA heaven for 76ers head coach Brett Brown, who will embark on his third consecutive season as the leader of the forever-tanking 76ers at the behest of management. Despite nabbing Jahlil Okafor in last summer’s draft, the 76ers are still reeling from missing out on Parker and Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 NBA Draft and seem destined for another sub-20 win season.

Adam's Pick: 15th | Jeff's Pick: 15th | Mike's Pick: 15th


Andrew: Cavaliers

Adam: Cavaliers

Jeff: Cavaliers

Mike: Cavaliers



Unlike other professional sports, champions in the NBA rarely have post-championship hangovers unless the roster is old … which isn't the case with the 2015 NBA Champion Warriors. Returning virtually the same roster as the one that won it all last season, it's hard not to be bullish on the Warriors to repeat as Western Conference Champions in 2016.

Warriors / Nuggets Connections: Salt was poured into the collective wounds of Nuggets fans when former Nugget-turned-Warriors Andre Iguodala won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP Award. After all, it was none other than Iguodala who former Nuggets head coach George Karl identified as a "mole" after the sixth-seeded Warriors upset Karl's third-seeded Nuggets in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. A playoff series loss for Denver that led to a downward spiral still being felt today in Nuggets Nation.

Adam's Pick: 1st | Jeff's Pick: 1st | Mike's Pick: 2nd


It doesn't seem fair, but the 2014 NBA Champion Spurs were able to add perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and solid veteran David West to their front court this past summer, all but guaranteeing them a great shot at their seventh NBA Finals appearance during the Tim Duncan / Gregg Popovich Era. My only hesitation in picking them first overall is that the Warriors are younger and play more in-tune with the modern NBA style of smaller and faster basketball.

Adam's Pick: 4th | Jeff's Pick: 4th | Mike's Pick: 1st


Equipped with (ugly) new uniforms, the Clippers re-loaded this summer after a devastating second round playoff collapse last season to the Houston Rockets. Perceived to having not been mentally tough last season, the Clippers upgraded the team’s mental toughness – and then some – by adding Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. Not only do those three come with strong personalities, but they all overlap at the three-spot. So it will be a challenge for head coach Doc Rivers to fit everyone one, but Rivers has the experience and gravitas to pull it off. And thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clippers topple either the Spurs or the Warriors in the conference finals.

Adam's Pick: 2nd | Jeff's Pick: 3rd | Mike's Pick: 3rd


Stealing Ty Lawson from the Nuggets this past off-season was a low risk / high reward move for the Rockets, a 2015 Western Conference Finals participant. Unfortunately for the Rockets, adding Lawson (plus rookie Sam Dekker and shooting guard Marcus Thornton) won’t be enough to topple the three teams atop this list.

Rockets / Nuggets Connections: Lawson and the Nuggets ended on bad terms, with Lawson taking to his social media outlets over the summer to make disrespectful remarks about his former employer(s). But the perennially immature Lawson will now be the Rockets problem and despite his undoubted talent, I don't foresee Lawson hoisting a Larry O'Brien trophy in Houston or anyplace else.

Adam's Pick: 3rd | Jeff's Pick: 2nd | Mike's Pick: 4th


With former NBA MVP Kevin Durant sitting out all but 27 games last season, only to watch his Thunder squad miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, one has to believe he has been anxiously awaiting the start of the 2015-16 season for quite some time. Throw in Durant’s impending free agency in 2016 and I foresee an “F— YOU!” season coming from Durant, which should scare the entire NBA. Unfortunately for Durant, and his MVP-caliber teammate Russell Westbrook, Thunder management wasn’t able to surround them with enough extra talent to compete for the 2016 NBA Championship.

Adam's Pick: 5th | Jeff's Pick: 5th | Mike's Pick: 7th


The Grizzlies rarely get mentioned as a real contender for Western Conference supremacy but pundits and fans alike should keep in mind that these guys won 55 games last season, tied with the Spurs and only one win less than the Clippers and Rockets. The Grizzlies are no joke but didn’t do enough in the off-season to inspire predicting them higher than sixth.

Adam's Pick: 7th | Jeff's Pick: 6th | Mike's Pick: 6th


This season might be the one during which Anthony Davis cements himself as the NBA's best player. Unfortunately for Davis, he a) plays in the Western Conference and, b) his franchise has surrounded him with high-priced role players rather than build around him patiently through the draft. The result will be another lower-tier playoff seed and another first round playoff exit.

Pelicans / Nuggets Connections: Former Nugget guard Nate Robinson was just signed by the Pelicans to shore up their oft-injured back court. Because why only play for seven franchises in 10 years when you can play for eight in 11?

Adam's Pick: 6th | Jeff's Pick: 7th | Mike's Pick: 5th


I might be the lone wolf in the wilderness on this one but I’m not sold on the youthful Utah Jazz to snag the eighth playoff seed yet. Give me George Karl, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo and a full training camp and there’s just enough crazy plus talent there to make the Kings my sleeper pick for the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Rondo should thrive under Karl’s free-for-all “system” and the additions of top rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and veteran Caron Butler don’t hurt either. I like the Kings in 2016.

Kings / Nuggets Connections: In addition to Karl himself, the Nuggets second winningest coach in franchise history, the Kings brought in former Nugget Kosta Koufos to shore up their bench. Over the summer, Karl lost his longtime standby point guard Andre Miller to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adam's Pick: 9th | Jeff's Pick: 9th | Mike's Pick: 12th


The young Jazz were one of my favorite stories to follow last season but they’re not going to sneak up on anyone this season and the loss of Dante Exum for the season will slow down their collective progress somewhat. It will be interesting to see how close Utah gets to that 8th playoff seed this season or if they’ll be more like the 2015-16 version of the 2014-15 Phoenix Suns: a young, exciting team that couldn’t handle bigger expectations.

Jazz / Nuggets Connections: The Nuggets originally drafted the “Stifle Tower” Rudy Gobert in 2013, but never intended on keeping him and instead moved Gobert on draft day for cash and the second round pick that became Erick Green.

Adam's Pick: 8th | Jeff's Pick: 8th | Mike's Pick: 11th


Dirk Nowitzki, who will finish his amazing NBA career (some day) as one of the best players ever to play at the four-spot, shouldn’t have to end his career on a non-playoff team. But despite the Mavericks annual best efforts, this desirable home for NBA players simply hasn’t been able to build a contender around Nowitzki. And while I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Mavericks secure the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed, it seems more likely that they’ll miss the playoffs for just the second time in 16 years.

Mavericks / Nuggets Connections: After missing out on the DeAndre Jordan free agency sweepstakes this summer, the Mavericks scrambled to sign former Nuggets center JaVale McGee to a contract. But does the talented but enigmatic McGee have anything left to give the Mavericks?

Adam's Pick: 10th | Jeff's Pick: 13th | Mike's Pick: 8th


I’m worried that the Nuggets can’t shoot straight and won’t for the entire 2015-16 campaign, but their core players have looked really good in the preseason and the team overall has looked much better than I thought they would. Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Emmanuel Mudiay all seem to be physically and mentally ready for the tall order at hand in the Western Conference and might surprise the NBA with a few more wins than the Las Vegas oddsmakers (26.5) are giving them. I recently penciled the Nuggets over/under on wins at 28, but now I’m thinking between 30 and 35 wins for the Nuggets this season.

Adam's Pick: 11th | Jeff's Pick: 10th | Mike's Pick: 9th


I'm admittedly reading way too much into the meaningless preseason game I watched Friday night when the Suns came to Denver, but I just don't like the Suns chances this season. The surprise story of the Western Conference in 2013-14, the Suns took a big step backward last season, winning only 39 games and attempting to retool along the way. The retooling continued this summer as the Suns brought in 33 year old veteran center Tyson Chandler to anchor a team with a bunch of youngsters. But even with Chandler handling the center position, the Suns don't have enough firepower to make the playoffs for the first time since competing for the Western Conference Championship in 2010.

Suns / Nuggets Connections: Former Nuggets guard Sonny Weems, who hasn't appeared on an NBA roster since 2011, was signed to a two-year contract by the Suns this summer.

Adam's Pick: 14th | Jeff's Pick: 11th | Mike's Pick: 10th


Kobe Bryant is presumably back. As is Julius Randle. And the Lakers added an exciting rookie in D’Angelo Russell, a former NBA All-Star center in Roy Hibbert and the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man Award Winner Lou Williams. If the Lakers were coached by someone other than Byron Scott, I’d feel better about their prospects for next season.

Adam's Pick: 13th | Jeff's Pick: 12th | Mike's Pick: 15th


I love the Timberwolves roster with its talent, youth and upside. And I love that the Wolves brought the best player to ever wear a Wolves jersey, Kevin Garnett, back to mentor the young kids. All that said, I don't see the fruits of their roster bearing for another season or two, which means that the Wolves are in for another season of many losses and another high draft pick. But down the road, and sooner than we think, the Wolves could be the dominant team in the Western Conference.

Wolves / Nuggets Connections: The ageless former Nugget Andre Miller (now 39 years old!) was signed this off-season to backup point guard Ricky Rubio. Miller and Garnett have combined to appear in 2,895 regular season and playoff games, and Garnett will become just the third player in NBA history to play for 21 seasons.

Adam's Pick: 15th | Jeff's Pick: 14th | Mike's Pick: 14th


Talk about a bare cupboard! After losing the aforementioned Aldridge, Lopez and Batum, plus Wes Matthews, the 51-win 2014-15 Trail Blazers might soon become the 21-win 2015-16 Trail Blazers. It doesn't seem right for one of the NBA's best cities, but Portland's Trail Blazers are going to have to rebuild from scratch around dynamic point guard Damian Lillard.

Adam's Pick: 12th | Jeff's Pick: 15th | Mike's Pick: 13th

Andrew: Warriors

Adam: Warriors

Jeff: Warriors

Mike: Spurs


Andrew: Cavaliers over Warriors

Adam: Cavaliers over Warriors

Jeff: Cavaliers over Warriors

Mike: Spurs over Cavaliers

Unbelievably, most of the Stiffs predict that the Cavaliers will end Cleveland's championship drought and defeat the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals (with Mike Olson predicting another LeBron James heartbreak at the hands of the Spurs).

And we also agree that the Nuggets will finish somewhere between 9th and 12th in the Western Conference. Where do you think the Nuggets will finish? Check out the poll below and we look forward to seeing you all at Stiffs Night Out on Wednesday, the 28th, to kickoff the 2015-16 NBA Season!

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