The days of playing “small ball” in Nuggets Nation are over. Or at least they should be…

In a recent interview with the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman, Nuggets head coach George Karl tipped his hand regarding the most likely 2011-12 lineup that Nuggets fans everywhere have been yearning for…

Hochman: If Nene returns, is your lineup Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and Nene?

Karl: I’m not going to write that in stone, but that’s probably what we’re looking at.


Many – including me – have been fearing that Karl would stubbornly stick with Nene starting at center, the spot the 6'9" Brazillian has admirably anchored for several seasons now, even though he is playing out of position there. But now that Karl has come around to the inevitable starting five that best serves the Nuggets, it may be too late. After all, Nene's future in Denver is most uncertain at present and I'm not sure I like his chances of staying when I hear numbers north of $12 million being thrown around for his services.

The bottom line is that a Gallo / Nene / Moz front line absolutely will be able to compete with the Western Conference’s elite front line trios, including the Lakers‘ potent Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Mavericks‘ Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler (if he stays in Dallas) and Shawn Marion, the Grizzlies‘ Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay, the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Spurs‘ Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair, the Trailblazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Camby and the Jazz’s up-and-coming big man foursome of Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors.

But even if Nene Hilario isn’t re-signed and Karl is tempted to play small – as the coach himself routinely admits (and has shown) that he isn’t afraid to do – the Nuggets should stick with their other bigs like Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, Al Harrington and Chris Andersen and stand boldly tall. Because while the gimmickry of two point guards playing beside one another with Arron Afflalo at small forward may win you a few regular season games, it’s not a long term solution nor a blueprint for postseason success. Lest we forget how ineffective the Ty Lawson / Raymond Felton duo was against Oklahoma City in last season’s 4-1 loss to the Thunder in the playoffs (although to be somewhat fair, Afflalo was hurt for that series and Karl had little choice).

Simply put, with very few exceptions size has always mattered in the NBA. Sure, the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons were able to best the 7’1″, 300-pound Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers with the 6’9″ Ben Wallace manning the center position. But that was the rarest of rare exceptions in a sea of evidence to the contrary. Last season’s championship Mavericks were a big team. As were the 2008-2010 Lakers, the 2007-08 Celtics, the 2006-07 Spurs and so on.

Back to the do-we or don't-we re-sign Nene question, within the context of needing to play BIG out west…

I think all my fellow Stiffs are in agreement that we don’t want the Nuggets to overpay for a 29-year-old previously oft-injured, overly sensitive (a $50-million, four-year contract is a sign of “disrespect”? Are you kidding me?!), and fourth-quarter fading power forward. But that doesn’t change the fact that Nene had his best season ever in 2010-11, should be able to replicate, if not exceed, last season’s production by moving to power forward and should be spelled more often with the development of Mozgov, Faried and Koufos plus a healthy Andersen and Harrington. Oh, and the top-tier Western Conference front lines aren’t getting any smaller, especially when Dwight Howard gets traded from Orlando to Los Angeles for Bynum and Odom (you just know that’s happening).

Throw in Nene’s comfort level with Coach Karl and – in the absence of Kenyon Martin – his ascendancy as the veteran leader for the Nuggets’ young big men, and you start piecing together just why re-signing Nene is of the utmost importance.

Just not with max dollars, of course.

On to the links…

Nuggets and the Nene dilemma –
Ken Berger describes why Masai Ujiri and the Nuggets aren't – nor should they be – panicking over the Nene situation and goes as far as to suggest the Nuggets use the 66-game schedule as a rebuilding opportunity.

Andre Miller back to contribute again to Denver Nuggets – The Denver Post
Hochman catches up with former and now current Nuggets point guard Andre Miller who – shockingly – admits to not being in great shape.

Arron is one popular Afflalo – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN
Marc Stein writes about the many suitors for the Arron Afflalo, a restricted free agent.

Everyone’s after Nene and David West, apparently – Ball Don't Lie – NBA Blog – Yahoo! Sports
Kelly Dwyer foresees a Nene re-signing being yet another example of a small market team overpaying badly to keep its own player.

Nuggets' George Karl Q&A: Nene an important cog – The Denver Post
Hochman interviews the Nuggets head coach and goes over everything from Nene's future to the coach's health.

Masai Ujiri improbably climbed ranks to become Denver Nuggets GM –
Ian Thomsen wrote this interesting piece on Ujiri before the lockout ended.