Soak it in Denver Nuggets fans. For the first time in almost a quarter of a century the Nuggets are in the Western Conference Finals.
We will have plenty of time to dig into what went right in Denver’s 124-110 game five victory over the Dallas Mavericks and what they will need to do better in order to advance to the NBA Finals. I promise a proper game recap tomorrow (this time I mean it) and even though there is more work left to do let’s take a brief look at what tonight’s win will do for the franchise.
For all of the abuse he received after the Marcus Camby trade, Stan Kroenke is a very good owner. He loves basketball and wants the Denver Nuggets to win a championship. After paying an exorbitant bill for the 2007-08 Nuggets squad that was demolished by the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 in the 2008 playoffs he understandably demanded that the front office slash salary this season. As I wrote after last season, he would have been insane if he did not slash salary. That team was simply not worth keeping together.
This group of players is proving that they are capable of earning playoff success. As a result I firmly believe Kroenke is going to foot the bill to bring every player the front office wants to hang on to back next season. That means you can count on the Birdman flying high in Denver next season. Some of you might recall that previously I expressed my opinion that Chris Andersen was as good as gone after the season, because I did not think this team was going anywhere in the playoffs. I am happy to admit I was wrong about the Nuggets’ chances in the playoffs and I will be wrong about Birdman not returning to Denver for the 2009-10 NBA season.
That is the good news. The really good news is I believe Kronke will not just spend money to bring back players like Birdman or Dahntay Jones or Anthony Carter to maintain the roster, but he will spend money to actually improve the roster. That brings us to the next big development for the Nuggets and that is that as a conference finalist Denver is going to be a free agent destination.
The Nuggets have proven that they can play a fun style of basketball, they can play defense, players like Carmelo and J.R. Smith are no longer guys you do not want to share the court with and Denver has a leader capable of guiding the team in the right direction who has won it all before. Players who are looking to win a title that cannot catch on with Cleveland or Los Angeles (the Lakers, not the Clippers) are going to strongly consider the Denver Nuggets.
During the season the Nuggets expressed interest in veteran players who were bought out such as Joe Smith and Mikki Moore and at the time I wrote they should not even waste their time talking about those guys because they are not going to be interested in Denver when teams like Cleveland and Boston are on the phone. Now with their success over the previous month Denver has made itself a team that has to be taken seriously when they call. They can and will be a force to be reckoned with in the free agent market, both in the offseason and for the in season veteran castoffs.
Now combine those two points and then add a third. Denver has an owner willing to spend, a team that will be interesting to free agents plus economically teams are hurting and will be looking to not only hold on to their money, but to dump salary this offseason. Perhaps you have heard the phrase in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Well, in the league of the impoverished the team with $5 is king. The Nuggets are not going to have much to spend once they bring back Birdman and whoever else they choose to retain, but they will not need much in order to outbid the few teams who will be looking to spend.
Plus Denver can be a force in the trade market as well as they have some excellent assets to work with. They possess a nearly $10 million trade exception from trading Camby. That exception was included in the Billups trade and “refreshed” thus they can use it until November making it infinitely more useful (originally it was going to expire in mid July). They also have a roughly $3.2 million exception that was acquired in the Chucky Atkins to Oklahoma City deal. Throw in potential sign and trade deals with Linas Kleiza, and the future first round draft pick that Denver is owed by Charlotte and Denver can be a major player this offseason.
I hope you can forgive me for looking into the future with this season being far from over, but I am just excited that the Nuggets have to be considered a member of the NBA elite and have a bright future.
I realize there are surely fans out there who just do not believe in the Nuggets. They still think Melo, Kenyon Martin and J.R. are knuckleheads and they will get swept by the Lakers or trounced by the Rockets. Well, Denver has a great opportunity to win those doubters over by winning the Western Conference Finals, a task they are certainly capable of accomplishing.
Soak it in Nuggets fans. It is a new day in the Mile High City.
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