Denver’s mess

Messes, such as the one in Denver right now, are not wrought solely by poor decisions or by poor luck but by an ugly amalgam of the two. You don’t just need a roster ill-fit to play under its rookie head coach, you need the talent on that roster to be decimated by injury. You don’t just need a team in the latter stages of an identity crisis, you need a first year head coach still in the midsts of his own. This is how bad teams become terrible, how a roster full of youthful athleticism wanes into exasperating lethargy.

This last month has seen the team undergo a grotesque transformation, one that – even to the most pessimistic prognosticator – seemed unthinkable before the season. What was supposed to be Denver’s roster at this point in the season, one anchored by Lawson, Chandler, Gallinari, and McGee, has instead featured the likes of Aaron Brooks, Jan Vesley, Anthony Randolph, and Evan Fournier.

It must all seem like a cruel joke to Brian Shaw at this point, someone who’s long anticipated dream of being a head coach has turned suddenly into a nightmare of unexpected attrition. It seems almost natural that he’s demanding the level of exhausting effort that Thibodeau seems to parlay into constant success, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding his team.

But this ability, aside from being one that seems to belong almost exclusively to Thibodeau, is one that rookie head coach Brian Shaw does not as of yet possess. He cannot help but be strung to the context of his team’s circumstances and the dearth of talent due to a rash of injuries seems to be sinking everything into a toxic sludge. How do you inspire uninspiring players? How can you transcend the trappings of the talent directly around you? In times when the franchise is undergoing such strife, effort becomes a buzzword for many, usually as a tool for indictment. Effort is a nebulous concept, one that’s hard to parse from talent, but what the Nuggets showed against Brooklyn last night was certainly not it.

Even as dire as the circumstances look now, there is comfort to be had in how untenable the present situation is. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari will, hopefully, both be fully healthy next year. With the Knicks in nearly equal levels of disarray, Denver has doubled down on their tanking. A relatively enticing pick in perhaps the most enticing draft in 10 years will almost assuredly be in Denver’s possession, and if they nail that their future starts to look much brighter. But we’ve seen teams go down this path before and never leave it, unlike what the myth of the “Oklahoma City Thunder Model” will have you believe, very little perpetuates losing in the NBA like losing. Denver used to be the team immune to that cycle, the team able to stay competitive while still being “just one piece away”.

Through Melo and beyond, through all the regular season successes and postseason failures, there always seemed to be hope already imbued within the roster. Denver may have always been reaching for something unattainable, but at least its visibility kept things intriguing. Hope is in lottery balls now, with massive piles of losses the only currency with which to make it any brighter.

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David Walker

Freshman at FSU. Love the Nuggets, the beach, and the game that involves a ball that occasionally goes into the hoop.
  • tigglon

    Well at least Kroenke was wise enough to get rid of Karl and to let Ujiri go. Just think how awful this team would be with them around!

  • heykyleinsf

    I think it’s all to convenient to put this all on Shaw.
    Some people act like he wanted and engineered what it’s become.
    Thank you David for reminding us about the full picture.

    • Nugman

      Of course he didn’t do it on purpose, but he was dealt a difficult hand and it showed that he really can’t handle being head coach. As David and others have pointed out, Chicago has been dealt a tough hand too, yet Thibs has been able to adjust and keep them winning. Unfortunately, Shaw doesn’t appear to have that ability.

      • Ckwizard

        Chicago has an identity that was independent of Rose… Defense is that teams identity and it has players that take pride in that style of play. Thibs is a good coach but c’mon man it is the east and he has players that suit his team. Shaw inherited a team that had a coach who never was able to establish a defensive culture and lost its two best defenders in Igoudala and KK not to mention Gallo the teams best remaining defender hasn’t played this year nor will he. The roster that is currently the “Nuggets” is a group of very bad defensive players and all of the best offensive players are playing out of position or hurt. These young players can get better at defense but damn the idea that any coach could take this group that Shaw is coaching and make them a competitive team is this year is laughable.

        • Sharkboy242

          I wouldn’t bother responding to Nugman – reason transcends him.

      • Sharkboy242

        So what do you say to the fact that George Karl was 36-46 in his first season and then 25-42?

        According to you hes a hall of fame coach. Why do you hate Shaw so much?

        • Nugman

          I never said GK was a hall of fame coach and I understand his playoff record is dismal. I also understand his first HC stint wasn’t good, but after that his regular season record was very good and his teams were fun to watch.

          I also don’t hate Shaw. In fact, I was pretty interested in the hire. I believe more in Shaws pound it inside and tough defense style than I do GKs style. I even assumed if he was the coach everyone said he was then he could get this team playing that way and we’d be a lot tougher than under GK. Unfortunately, after about 50 games it became apparent that the players were regressing as a team and individually. That shouldn’t happen after 50 games regardless of who the players are.

          Shaw is by no means the first great player to struggle at coaching. Magic quit like after 17 games because he was so frustrated at his players. And we all know how bad MJ has struggled as GM despite his incredible talent

          • LBJ

            Calling Shaw a great player is more than generous…

            • Nugman

              Agreed. I was trying to be diplomatic

      • Curtis

        I think that losing 1 starter vs losing 3 starters and a main backup is a little different of a hand. I know Rose is better than any of they guys we lost, but not better than all. It’s a little easier to fill little bit bigger hole than 4. Also, Thibodeau has had the same team for a bit longer than Shaw. Thibs way of playing has already been established and players brought in to help that. Shaw has been trying to play poker with uno cards. He needs a few years of getting his system in place and some players that fit his system and lets have this discussion again.

        • LBJ

          Just wondering – who are the players that fit Shaw’s “system”? And when is our stellar front office going to start acquiring them?

          • Curtis

            I don’t know everything about every player, but it seems like who we have doesn’t fit very well. He seems to like smart bigs and our’s arent all that great.

            • LBJ

              Unfortunately, Joshy and Timmy have acquired 6 players: Foye, Arthur, Nate Rob, JJ, Vesely and Brooks. I’m struggling to see how this collection of “talent” fits in any system.

              • Curtis

                I didn’t say that they did. Arthur may be about the only one that I thought might. He can at least play some D. Not sure what happened to make Shaw not ever play him. I definitely think there should be some overhaul in the offseason. Keep Lawson, Mozzy, Gallo (noone knows how he will take to Shaw, possible trade piece by deadline if he doesn’t), Fourneir (small contract and has shown improvement and flashes, still young) and maybe Q. Miller for the same reason. We’ll have to see after the draft. With the way things are going, we have a pretty good chance of having 2 high draft pics in a deep draft. But I would put more blame on front office than Shaw. They didn’t really do anything good last off season. Probably kind of hard when you get a new GM and assistant GM. We’ll see how things go in a few months.

              • LBJ

                I’m in partial agreement with you. The front office is deserving of the vast majority of the blame. I don’t agree that thy should be given a pass because they are new. Both guys we lost – Ujiri and Pete D – have both been very active in transforming their new teams. In the NBA you simply cannot waste a year to change the direction of your franchise.

  • Richard Pesicka

    A very nice professional article. Well written. Well explained.

  • Richard Pesicka

    Baseball will start soon and this God forsaken nightmare will end. Nugget players should be playing as hard as they can, so they can get picked up by another team. Keep that thought in mind. The S.S. Minnow Nugget..

    • heykyleinsf

      Hockey is going on right now.
      And the team is winning.
      Much unlike the Rockies will be.

  • Shae Crombie

    First I watched the Broncos get embarrassed in the Super Bowl and now I have to watch this Nuggets team get embarrassed every night, shame.

  • LBJ

    I’m concerned we may land a pick in the 6-8 range. I’m not real confident that our front office will use it wisely.

  • Nugman

    I’m amazed that anyone watching this disorganized effortless mess cannot put a reasonable amount of blame on the head coach. Do you think Joe Johnson calls it a “pick-up” game because his opponent is well coached? The Nuggets have NO direction on the court and that’s the responsibility of the HC regardless who the players are.

    • Sharkboy242

      THERE IS BLAME ON THE HEAD COACH. Do you seriously want them to fire Shaw this season or something? Do you think that’s going to make us win? Lol if so.

      • Nugman

        In 2010 AD took over as head coach when GK got throat cancer. AD had a great pedigree and everyone thought one day he would be a great head coach in the NBA. If you remember, that turned into a complete disaster. A Nuggets team that should have beat the Lakers the previous year in the WCF’s was a shell of its self under AD. He couldn’t motivate the players and there was no team play on the court. It was evident quickly that he didn’t have HC qualities despite his great pedigree. In my eyes what is going on with Shaw this season is the exact same thing. He simply doesn’t have the intangible qualities to motivate, teach and be a HC.

        I’m not saying GK was the answer, but before and after AD the Nuggets were an inspired team under GK with basically the same players AD had. If AD would’ve been HC for a couple seasons the team would’ve imploded just like it is doing now under Shaw.

        I don’t think the group they have now can win, but I do believe they can play inspired team basketball if coached properly. They simply aren’t getting that leadership and motivation

        • Native Nugget

          While I believe there is enough evidence to bring Shaw to trial, I’m not convinced it’s enough to convict him. By this time next year we could be just as easily saying “Wow, he really wasn’t cut out to coach” or “After getting his feet underneath him he’s really turned things around”. We need more evidence before we cast a verdict.

  • wij

    It’s not the fact the Nuggets are losing games, it’s the way in which they are losing them that is very concerning.

    To follow your mention of the Bull’s coach Thibs, that team has had barely enough to string a team together at times, yet is still able to be semi competitive during this time and would grind out a few wins or keep games close, limiting any blowouts and usually keeping the opposition honest, until the starters returned.

    It’s just so painful to watch what the Nuggets have left right now – a team of underdeveloped youth, below average starters and D-leaguers – who just seem to have mentally checked out.

    The return of the injured and a nice rookie will obviously lift the core talent level, but will it overturn the mental state of this team?

    Shaw has a 3 year deal. Year 1 has been a write-off, year 2 has to show improvement with year 3 needing to be at least a 2nd round playoff team. I wish no ill on anyone so I hope he can turn this all around.

  • LBJ

    Noticed that J-Ham is playing 24 minutes a game and dropping the 3 ball for the Rockets.

  • Nugman

    Where are Josh and Timmy hiding out during this disaster? It really isn’t very impressive that none of the 3 people responsible for destruction of this team, Josh, Timmy and Shaw, won’t stand up and take any responsibility. They all 3 just keep quiet while the media blames the injuries and players effort. It would be nice if one, or all three, would stand up and take responsibility and tell us fans that they aren’t going to let this crap go on any longer. I know that would really piss off you tank fans, but it would show some leadership and let us know the FO cares about winning. Right now I’m not sure what the front office stands for and if there’s any leadership. Is this aimless direction and losing a sign of the Nuggets future?

  • steve

    Ummm how can you win with brooks foye fournier faried mozgov as ur starters? Even chandler mixed in there makes it still look awful. Vesley AR qmiller Hickson off the bench? Lol I mean lawson kept us at .500 but it is a lost season due to the injuries. I don’t care what coach is in there, I doubt we would be even .500 with Phil Jackson as coach with these guys. Lawson gallo mcgee Nate.rob Arthur now chandler all missing significant time. How can any team win like that? Shaw deserves more time.

    • Nugman

      They might not be .500 with Phil Jackson as head coach. But they would be playing hard and playing as a team. They would be competing. That’s not happening under Shaw. That’s the big difference

  • Richard Pesicka

    The NBA owner who wants the lottery changed because teams are tanking, forget it. Teams like the Nuggets really are not trying to tank. This is as good as it gets. So your perception is way wrong.

    • Nugman

      It’s just hard to believe there are Nuggets “fans” like you who actually are enjoying this collapse.

  • Richard Pesicka

    Watching the Chicago Bulls play last night, a team that works hard and scraps and plays to it’s potential. Amazing to watch. I know another team that used to play like that.

    • Furious_Stylez

      Have you forgotten the Nuggets are currently missing a combined 63 points from their roster? The Bulls lost one guy and traded another. The Bulls have a reason to keep playing hard: they are tied for the 3rd seed in the East. The Nuggets have zero reason to compete at this point.

      • Nugman

        What does missing 63 points from your roster have to do with trying? If that’s the attitude why even play?

  • Furious_Stylez

    All the clowns knocking Shaw are trying to say “he can’t motivate these guys”.

    Even he was a master motivator, who does he have currently that’s (healthy and) good enough to carry this team? Faried? The guy who’s game is worthless when more than 5 feet from the hoop, has no mid-range shot, and couldn’t guard a cup of pee. Hickson? The ultimate “get mine” player who has never played D a game in his career. Foye? An average 30 yr SG that has zero driving the lane skills and is below average on defense. Fournier? He’s too inconsistent to be relied on. Mozgov, Randolph, Miller, or Vesely? Please. The second guy shouldn’t be playing the league and last 2 on that list should be in the D-League.

    Stop living in a fantasy world and embrace the tank. Shaw ain’t going anywhere next season. He deserves a healthy roster to prove if he has the skills to be a head coach.

    • Nugman

      Motivating players has nothing to do with their talent. You’re mixing the two. No one says they’re going to win with the current lineup, but a good coach would have them playing hard and as a team. Then we would all be talking about how they are inspiring us with their hard team play despite losing rather than making excuses for their terrible play and effort.

      • Sharkboy242

        For some reason you chose to believe that no matter what the roster is, any team should be able to compete. At some point that is not true anymore and this might be that point.

        A D-league team can’t compete in the NBA.

        • Nugman

          The word compete isn’t even in my comment above. I know the current healthy group doesn’t have the talent to win unless they have a lucky game. But that doesn’t mean they can’t play hard and play as a team. Doing those two things doesn’t take any talent, but it does take coaching.

  • SLLjapan

    This pathetic season is FAR more on Josh’s shoulders than anyone else; I trust Shaw to produce more than Josh. Now to see J-Ham immediately succeeding in HOU as Nugs pick up 30 games of a point guard at the end of his career, this is just too much. I was thinking the other day that perhaps in signing guys like JJ/Foye/Nate to 2-3 year deals, the front office was aiming to have a couple of expiring contracts to flip in a year or two when the team was ready to compete for the next level. Now, it’s becoming painfully obvious that these guys are taking it day-by-day and navigating with a map drawn in crayon. Injuries are one thing, but pairing JJ and Manimal in the off-season even as the coach wants to move toward a defensive philosophy, 30-point blowouts shouldn’t be a shock.
    This is on you Josh, 100%.

  • eman

    The problem as I see it is that the Denver Nuggets as presently constituted are unwatchable.

    There was a lot of hope and anticipation when the season started even with the curious moves that the front office made. With a new coach that had the reputation as being able to relate to his players and the focus on getting JaVale McGee to play to his true potential and perhaps the early return from injury of the teams best player, Danillo Gallinari, optimism abounded everywhere.

    How quickly that has faded. Now it seems that the Nuggets are “Power Tanking” which is probably the worst thing you can do for a city and a franchise that no one in the NBA seems to care about. Especially after getting trashed by the likes of Melo and Igoudala.

    The grand experiment under George Karl was to take a roster full of 2nd, 3rd and 4th options and mold them into a true NBA contender. For three years I was enthralled at watching this hoping that maybe Coach Karl could get it done. And the Denver Nuggets were fun to watch as well. But the statement in the article that had the Nuggets one player away from being a true playoff threat became more and more a statement of fact with the front office under Ujiri grasping at players like Iggy or McGee rather than staying the course with Nene’ or Aaron Affalo, hoping it would push them over the top.

    When Melo was here the Nuggets were indeed just one rising young player or an established second tier player away from greatness. Now they are just one superstar player away. Watch as the pieces that made up the Nuggets the last few years get jettisoned to teams with established rotations and achieve higher levels of success.

  • Aaron Durkin

    Building threw picks works about 5% of the time….. With our front office and coach I have no faith. The city of Denver has a distinct advantage with the altitude that we play at. Trying build a team that does not take advantage of this is bad business. Shaw seems dead set on not using any player to his strengths which is to run. It is extremely disappointing to see a coach push a system over the talents of the players. Watching the games it looks like every player is being asked to play a game they are not comfortable. In each post game blog each writer says players have not devolved and it think that is due to them having to play a system that goes against there strengths.

    • Ben Aubrey

      The building is throwing the picks where?

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