The Denver Nuggets seemed to be a sideshow story for just about all of last season. Ever since the summer of 2010, where we all know what went down, no one would stop talking about the prospect of Amare, CP3, and Melo joining forces a-la the Miami Heat. When Carmelo Anthony got married last offseason, they supposedly had a toast to bigger and better things in New York. The drama never stopped after that moment.
The Denver Nuggets organization had made it clear that they wouldn’t be left high and dry like Lebron left the Cavaliers. The NBA knew that Carmelo Anthony was available in trade talks. Anthony developed many, many suitors; The New Jersey Nets, the New York Knicks, The Los Angeles Lakers, and at the beginning even my Washington Wizards were said to be involved.
That played the Nuggets into a 33-25 record as of February 24st. After that day everything changed for this organization. The Nuggets shipped Carmelo Anthony and hometown hero Chauncey Billups out to the New York Knicks for Danillo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, and a few future draft picks from the Knicks and Warriors. (Those picks were acquired by New York previously.)
From there, Ty Lawson became what you would call the star of the show in Denver. Since the trade he averaged about 16 points and 7 assists leading that Nugget team to a 17-7 record. After the trade Lawson virtually doubled his assist totals and also upped his scoring average by a few points. The team turned into a very cohesive bunch contrary to popular belief.
The subtraction of Carmelo Anthony allowed the offense to play much more fluidly. Carmelo was what I’d like to call a volume stopper. What I mean by that is that the offense is primarily run through Anthony for better or for worse. He’s a volume scorer, when he’s hot he will win you some games; however, his tendency to put up bad shots at inopportune times will hurt the team sometimes. He doesn’t always trust the pass which is the Achilles Heel to his game.
Take out Anthony and throw in capable scorers like Gallinari and Chandler, increase Afflalo’s minutes, and go more to the league leader in FG percentage in NeNe. To that mixture, add two starting point guards like Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson to run the show. What do you have? An efficient, ball sharing offense. They also committed way more to the defensive end. Since trading Anthony the Nuggets were #2 to the Chicago Bulls in defensive efficiency.
That just goes to show that team chemistry can go a long way. These were guys who all had knocks on them. Ty Lawson was too small, Raymond Felton was always out of shape, NeNe couldn’t finish down low and wasn’t defensive enough; that gave the guys some extra motivation. George Karl played off of that and molded a true team. You look at the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, they are built of a similar mold.
They went on to lose 4-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder who was just flat out more talented than the Denver Nuggets at almost every position. That’s really nothing for them to be ashamed of. Plenty of people, including myself, wrote them off after Carmelo Anthony was traded away to New York. I thought it would be too much for them to recover from. Not to mention them losing Chauncey Billups, the team’s undisputed leader and Ty Lawson’s mentor, at the same time. We all had plenty of reason to doubt.
There was not much disappointment in the corner of the Nuggets; however, there was some speculation over the horizon.
The NBA lockout presented its own problem, but the Nuggets had plenty of players who were able to opt for free agency this summer. Names like Wilson Chandler (RFA), and NeNe Hilario (UFA) should ring a bell. They are two of the key players on the Nuggets roster. Chandler was coming into his own as a combo guard/ forward and NeNe was proving that he was one of the best centers in the NBA, hitting 61 percent of his shots from the field.
The lockout has brought the Nuggets nothing but trouble. A few weeks ago, Ty Lawson announced that he would be signing a contract with Lithuania based team BC Zalgiris. He does have an NBA opt out clause in that contract; however you don’t know what could come of this experience. He could choose to stay over in Lithuania, I doubt he would but it’s a possibility, and he could also get injured if worse comes to worse.
Also Wilson Chandler, who was a free agent to begin with, has signed over in China. The Chinese Basketball CBA doesn’t allow an opt out clause for the NBA players that choose to come over, so there will be no Wilson Chandler in the NBA this season until possibly late in the year. That means the Nuggets would have to win to see him in their uniform once again unless there is no 2011-2012 season.
NeNe has been playing basketball internationally with his Brazilian national team, and could choose to play basketball somewhere internationally also.
Kenyon Martin, JR Smith and Aaron Afflalo are also free agents. I don’t expect Martin and Smith to return to the Nuggets. They’ll lose valuable defending ability and scoring presence in those players. They’ll be hard to replace. However, it is possible.
They’ve picked up some notable pieces in the draft for whenever the season starts. They’ve got Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton in the fold waiting for their opportunities. They may get them sooner than expected.
Faried is a rebounding machine out of Morehead State. He drew many comparisons to Dennis Rodman because of his height, defending ability, and rebounding ability. His height could be a potential downfall because he is only about 6’7. He rebounds with the best of them and should be able to pull down 11-13 in the NBA per night; however, I think he’s a bit overrated on defense. He can guard the 4 position well, but I think that his height may hamper that ability in the NBA. He’s a monster rebounder though; his college averages were 17 points and 14 rebounds. I think he’ll fit right in.
Jordan Hamilton will have an easy transition into the NBA with the Nuggets also. He was a scorer at Texas who had that “I play when I want to play” rep in college. Well, in the NBA, you can get cut for that and I’m sure Coach Karl will let him know that when they speak. He’s capable of being a 13-17 point scorer in the NBA per night, and that’s what the Nuggets would be missing if JR Smith chose to leave Denver for a more high profile team like Chicago.
There is no telling what next season will look like for the Nuggets whenever they play games. There is a strong possibility that some of their core guys can jump ship, but they may choose to return also. If they return, I think that the unit they have will be more cohesive than ever. They’ve got a good thing going in Denver; hopefully they’ll be able to keep it.
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