The Denver Nuggets have played two games. Neither has been pretty. And though there’s still 80 more games to be played, the first two outings have gotten our writers to thinking: Just where exactly will the Nuggets be eight months from now? In our latest Roundball Roundtable five of our writers have attempted to answer that very question. These are the answers they’ve presented…
I’m sitting down in front of my TV, feverishly awaiting the Miami-OKC rematch everyone has been waiting for, when the Denver Nuggets tumultuous 2013-14 season appears like a reflective epiphany before my eyes. I remember the beginning, the doom and gloom of a near winless first month and a half, chalk full of horrendous defense and incohesive offense. I remember Gallinari’s triumphant return and the tentative hope that things were getting better, and how that hope was reinforced through a fantastic January. I remember the time JaVale McGee hit two back-to-back threes in an early February game, and then hiding under my bed waiting for the inevitable apocalypse that was sure to follow. I remember Nate Robinson making me throw things at my TV at a rate usually only reserved for J.R. Smith, and I remember forgiving him in a way I never did with J.R. I remember the Ty Lawson takeover, a mid-February stretch of games unlike any we’ve seen from the point guard, a blinding display that made us all believe that the superstar we’ve all been searching for may have been right here the whole time.
I remember the incredibly fun season, feeling all for nothing when Denver just missed the playoffs, an ill-timed Wilson Chandler injury derailing all the progress that was made. I remember feeling sad for a time, at how far this team had fallen from 57 wins, before shaking it off and embracing the future. Because, despite everything, the future still looks bright.
The Thunder and Heat are about to tip off in the Finals, but Nuggets fans’ eyes are already turned to Denver’s offseason roster moves after a season filled with equal parts disappointment and optimism. Gone was the freewheeling speedfest they had long known and loved, replaced by Shaw’s more deliberated, half-court oriented offense. Designed to bolster the team’s success in the postseason grind, it ultimately resulted in yet another bemoaned first-round loss, this time to the Spurs.
Adjusting to the new system was painstaking, and not until after the All-Star break did it begin congealing and producing winning results – boosted by Gallinari’s return from injury and Lawson’s borderline All-Star season. The team rewired its culture on the fly as players learned from both the coaching staff and their own mistakes, and the cost of transformation was a slew of early season losses which had the Nuggets on a lottery-bound trajectory until their midseason turnaround propelled them to a 45-37 record and the seventh seed in the West. And while fans hated to see Faried get traded (less so Mozgov), Thaddeus Young proved to be a much better fit in Shaw’s system, helping tremendously in improving Denver’s defense.
The year had its share of frustrations. But the team has already put that behind them, and Shaw’s done well to lay the foundation for future success. With the continued development of Denver’s young players and some further roster retooling, the Nuggets will be entering a brighter future than appeared at season’s start.
As the Heat and Thunder are about to tip off in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, those in charge of the Nuggets organization are talking about the same things they have all season: potential, promise, hope, and most importantly, patience. The Nuggets won 38 games in the regular season, finishing a few games behind the Pelicans and Trailblazers for the final two playoff spots in the West.
Ty Lawson was great all year but missed a few games as he got banged up fighting over screens in Brian Shaw’s new defensive system. Evan Fournier emerged as the answer at shooting guard, knocking down almost 40 percent of his threes as he stuck to catch-and-shoots and slashing instead of pull-up jumpers. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari unfortunately didn’t combine for 82 starts, leaving a clear hole in the Nuggets lineup. Kenneth Faried was never moved but played well off the bench as a pure energy player and not a post player. JaVale McGee had moments where a future star shone, but wasn’t consistent enough. J.J. Hickson was J.J. Hickson. Mozgov and Anthony Randolph quickly fell out of the rotation. Quincy Miller took advantage of injuries and showed flashes of a productive NBA player. And the offseason trade market for Faried looks healthy.
Most importantly, the Nuggets have a lottery pick in a loaded draft. And in reality missing the playoffs might have been a good thing as the roster will finally be shaped around Brian Shaw’s vision.
The future still looks bright.
While most NBA fans are about to enjoy watching the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs slug it out in the NBA finals for the second year in a row, there is a deplorable sadness amongst Denver Nuggets fans. After mustering 42-40 record, Denver just missed out on postseason action and are going into the offseason without cap space and without much hope to immediately improve the roster.
Sure, there were some positives as well. To the delight of Nuggets fans, JaVale McGee developed into a more dependent rim protector and averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Ty Lawson took another step towards the elite point guard club, being in serious consideration for an All-Star spot. Danilo Gallinari’s return gave the team a huge lift but it took the Italian forward too long to get into shape to salvage the season. The Nuggets’ desperate attempts to move Kenneth Faried proved futile, as the team ultimately asked for too much in return and the energetic forward survived past the trade deadline. Andre Miller found his minutes very limited as Nate Robinson captured Brian Shaw’s trust with a couple of game-winning buzzer beaters early in the season, despite his erratic play for the rest of the year.
Ultimately, the Nuggets’ 2013-14 campaign was an entertaining one. Despite the team heading into the lottery, the player development aspect has been encouraging and the front office has promised that a trade or two is in the works.
It’s been a long day at work and I can’t wait to watch the Heat face off against the Thunder in the NBA Finals. Life is good, but not as good as it should be, because I still can’t help but ponder why the Nuggets didn’t make it back to the playoffs for the 11th time in a row.
I start thinking about how crazy this past year was. I resent Josh Kroenke for breaking apart the best regular season Nuggets team off all time, and for no apparent reason. I think about what the Nuggets could have been and immediately feel disgusted about what he’s done. He’s only in his early 30s yet he’s running a professional sports franchise. That’s just not right. He’s not wise enough. He hasn’t had the necessary business experience to be in this position.
But I know I can’t think like this. The life of a sports fan is like a pendulum, constantly oscillating from one side to the other. There are good times and there are bad times. It’s just like life, really. And I need to be thankful for what I have. When I focus on the good I realize the Nuggets have a good draft pick in one of the most stacked drafts of all time. I think back to the season Ty Lawson had. He was almost an All-Star. Almost. Then I remember how good Gallo was when he came back and how awesome Chandler was all year, when he wasn’t injured. I remember the signs of life the Nuggets had after the first few months and how at the end of the season they were kicking ass.
These are the things I chose to remember about the Nuggets 2013-14 season: the good times. Though they missed the playoffs and played awful basketball in the early part of the year, there was a lot to be excited about for next year. And though it’s only June, next year can’t come soon enough.