Those are going to be the words that Nuggets fans hear a lot between now and Game 5, between the end of the season and the draft.
The truth is this was another year in the process. The process of moving on from Carmelo Anthony and the idea of a singular superstar and towards a team oriented approach built around above-average, not quite superstar level players like Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala.
The truth is the Nuggets probably did overachieve this year. Because when you look at this roster a bit more closely there are still some big flaws.
The Nuggets struggled all year to shoot the ball, relying on opponent’s turnovers and a terrific transition game to score a massive amount of points in the paint. The problem just became worse when they lost their undisputed best shooter in Gallinari late in the season.
All year the Nuggets struggled to make the proper defensive rotations, leaving teams open for wide open spot up three point attempts. The problem got worse in the playoffs as the one Nugget big who could be relied on to make proper rotations, Kosta Koufos, became a shell of himself and virtually unplayable.
All year the Nuggets big men struggled in general to defend anyone one-on-one, whether it was the undersized Kenneth Faried, the outmuscled Kosta Koufos, or the undisciplined JaVale McGee. In the playoffs it has hurt them as Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut have had stretches of dominance in the post, in pick-and-rolls and as shooters.
And all year the Nuggets were stuck with a backup point guard that didn’t fit the roster but was given heavy minutes on a nightly basis. Andre Miller slowed the Nuggets offense down to a halt, and refused to give effort on defense. Yet Karl trusted him, trusted him to run the offense and to the team for important moments. In the playoffs he has won the Nuggets their only game but cost them in the three losses.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets they ran into a team that could exploit all of those flaws for the playoffs; unfortunately for the Nuggets that team also had one of the best shooting series of all time.
Game 4 was no different. The Warriors took an early lead as Kenneth Faried struggled to make his rotations once Wilson Chandler left Andrew Bogut to double Stephen Curry. It led to open shots from the other Warriors perimeter players.
Then JaVale McGee entered and the Warriors attacked him the best way that any team can, a pick-and-roll. Bogut posterized McGee and set the tone, if it wasn’t already set.
The Nuggets went down early, and as with most games they just couldn’t shoot themselves back into the game. That was until Ty Lawson immediately got hot at the start of the third quarter. Lawson willed the Nuggets back into the game, clawing them to within four points by attacking the rim and finishing or dumping passes off to teammates for easy finishes.
Then Miller entered. And not only did Miller enter; he somehow improbably ended up defending Stephen Curry. And Curry took advantage, ending the quarter 8-11 from the field for 22 points, 5-7 from behind the line thanks to the defense of Miller and the gambling of Corey Brewer that left him wide open.
The dagger finally came at the end of the third when Curry pulled up between three Nuggets from the top of the key and drilled his final three. The game was over then, even with a quarter to play, as the fire storm from the perimeter that had troubled the Nuggets all series hit its apex.
From there the discussion inevitably turned to the big question.
Do Nugget fans still trust the process, or is it time for a new process and with it a new leader?
I think the answer is to trust Masai Ujiri and let him continue to tinker the roster to let it reach their full potential.
Take away Karl’s crutch in Miller. Find a backup point guard able to push the tempo and defend. Find big men that can make the right defensive rotations or one that can create some form of offense besides dunking and layups. Find shooters to run the wings next to Lawson and the should be re-signed Andre Iguodala.
There are players on the roster that can be part of the future. Iguodala showed how valuable he can be as he helped transform a group of mediocre defenders into an above average group. Lawson is a great point guard, capable of getting to the rim almost at will and create looks for others. Gallo is a dangerous shooter that showed greater defensive ability than most realize. And Faried is an elite rebounder and great energy player that would flourish even more if he could slide into a bench role and not have to worry as much about those defensive rotations or his lack of real offensive ability in a bit fewer minutes. Evan Fournier looks like he has a ton of offensive talent as a slasher.
Even if some do want to get rid of Karl, and there will be a group of people that possibly includes some of the other writers on this site that want to do so, try and see that there are some things in this series that the Nuggets couldn’t possibly control.
As I said on Twitter during the game, this series has gotten to the point where the Nuggets just can’t do anything about it. They got caught in a shooting stretch that seems unfathomable. Sure some looks were open but the Warriors have made a ton of tough shots and should be commended for it. And once the Nuggets went down so much they didn’t have the shooting to get back into a game quickly. Not without Gallo.
So now the talks will turn to the next step.
To the process. And with that people will have to see where they land.
Because in the end, this season, whenever it ends, was a big step that may have even come quicker than some expected and given a lot of people hope.
So is it time to continue this process or start a new one?