It’s time to take stock of the state of Denver’s salary structure, as the NBA free agency period has officially begun, and with it the annual ritual of Nuggets fans speculating which players – if any – the team will target this summer.
With just one roster spot currently open, it seems unlikely that Denver will be overly active in free agency unless they make a trade or two to trim down the payroll and free up roster space. And while GM Tim Connelly will have the full $5.3 million mid-level exception at his disposal, using it would likely propel Denver over the luxury tax threshold, territory where the Kroenkes have generally been loathe to tread.
As first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Denver has traded Evan Fournier and the 56th pick to Orlando for Aaron Afflalo.
When I sat down tonight to watch the Denver Nuggets take on the Charlotte Bobcats, I certainly did not expect to see the Nuggets pull off the fifth biggest margin of victory in franchise history. But… THAT JUST HAPPENED! (more…)
A few days ago I received an e-mail from an acquaintance asking me if I’d like to accept his tickets to the Denver Nuggets annual Sixth-Man Jam event. Surprised, but happily willing to jump at the opportunity, I accepted and boy am I glad I did.
Somehow, the boys in powder blue and gold keep on doing it; “it” being finding a way to win, in this case for a seventh straight time. Thanks to Aaron Afflalo’s career-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and a gigantic 27 and 11 from Nene the Nuggets were able to hold onto a lead that at one point was as large as 21 with a single-point victory.
Despite blowing their huge lead in a third quarter in which they were outscored 30-14, Denver resurrected itself in the fourth thanks in large part to some solid bench minutes from J.R. and Ty (though their stats may not show it) and Afflalo’s career night. A game which could have been a disastrous loss for the Nuggets instead remains part of a winning streak that couldn’t have come at a better time for Denver, who will head into a brutal four-game roadtrip out east starting in Charlotte tomorrow night and finishing at the Garden against the Knicks on Sunday.
Here are some thoughts from the game, in bullet format to speed things up a bit-
One last thought that passed through my mind before we turn the page; as I watch this group play more and more, the more and more I think they could survive (nay, dare I say thrive?) without Melo. Some are speculating that Chauncey would want out if Melo is dealt, but Mr. Big Shot loves playing here and wants to retire a Nugget. And what other competing team needs a point guard (ok, there is a team in South Beach but unless they offer Haslem and….five first round picks (that’s what I’m saying, not gonna happen!) why would you make that deal if you were Denver? Miami offers nothing the Nuggets would want, and in Denver you have-
The Nuggets proved they could win when Melo was gone and even on these recent nights when he’s struggled to find his shot (as Chauncey has) they’ve still found a way to win. They can parlay Melo and/or K-Mart’s deals into some good (maybe great pieces) to build a contender around. Who you might say? Well we’ll save that for another day. Just know the Nuggets are heading to Charlotte (close to Karl’s old stomping grounds in Chapel Hill) with a chance ot get their coach his 1,000th all-time victory. My quandary is, would number 1,000 be better in the head man’s alma mater or on national TV, in the Garden, against the defending Eastern Conference champs? Just saying…
With 8:50 to go in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony picked up his fifth foul and was forced to the bench. With 3:08 left, Portland’s Nicholas Batum drew a charge on Melo to foul him out of the game. Denver scored 12 points in the fourth quarter on 3-of-13 shooting.
That pretty much tells you how this one turned out.
The Nuggets posted a combined 54 points in quarters one and three, while only scoring a dismal 29 points in periods two and four. The story of Denver’s season encapsulated in 48 minutes at the Rose Garden on Thursday night.
In a slow-paced game which clearly suited Portland’s style of play more than Denver’s featured two very different tales of how this game would turn out. Denver’s shot selection, aggressiveness of taking the ball to the basket and defensive intensity was night and day in those two halves of the game. The whole game was one of runs, with Denver blowing multiple double-digit leads and Portland feeding off their electric crowd to pull this one out. Portland was without All-Star guard Brandon Roy whose knees are giving Blazers’ fans nightmares of Sam Bowie and now Greg Oden, who will miss the entire season with another microfracture surgery on his bad knee.
Portland coach Nate McMillan only went with an eight-man rotation, and all of his starters played at least 36 minutes (that distinction would go to Marcus Camby), so you’d think Denver could take advantage with a somewhat deeper bench and a clear advantage in the backcourt (on paper). Lets take a look at some postgame thoughts in bullet form:
Next up for Denver is the Nets on Saturday night back at The Can. New Jersey is playing without Troy Murphy who is still suffering from a foot injury. The rookie Derrick Favors (rumored to be coming to Denver in that four-team trade before the season) and Kris Humphries should pose no threat to Denver’s frontcourt, but you never know what kind of production Denver’s bigs will give you. Brook Lopez is a double-double threat, Anthony Morrow can shoot the lights out and Travis Outlaw has big-time potential, but if Denver doesn’t win by 15+ I will be shocked and disappointed. Plus Carmelo Anthony has another chance to audition for his possible next destination, right? (too soon? sorry guys.) After dropping 120 points on the Knicks earlier this week, expect a similar high-point total in this one. A loss would drop Denver below .500 for the first time this season; I don’t know about you but with all the speculation and rumors surrounding this team, with this level of competition out West, that does not bode well for support or confidence in Nuggetland anytime soon.
Ok Nuggets fans, the opening tip is less than 24 hours away and number 15 is still in a Nuggets uniform. Whether or not he stays in powder blue and gold for the entire season is a debate for another day; for now lets look at what to expect from each player this season.
When it comes to Melo, Nuggets fans can expect more of the same from his past seven years in the NBA. Look for a stat line of 27 points, 6.5 boards and over three dimes a game (basically you’re your typical Melo averages).
I’m also going to say Chauncey will be his reliable self this year, regardless of what happens to Melo or the rest of this team. The guy has gotten better over 30 (which is rare in itself, but for a point guard, that’s unheard of) and dropped a career-best average 19.5 PPG in 09’. Look for Billups’ scoring to drop to the 16-17 range but I think his assists will jump back into the 8-9 range (his 5.6 APG last year was his lowest since the 04-05 season). The guy is a model of consistency, and from one Buff to another, here’s hoping “Mr. Big Shot” regains that mantle with some big makes this season.
But to be perfectly honest, those are the only two Nuggets whose performances you can “pencil in”. The other 12 players on the roster and their contributions range from semi-reliable to complete question marks. What will these guys add to the team-lets start with the “no-names”.
Gary Forbes, F, 6-7, 1st year
A pretty decent pre-season culminated with a 25-point explosion against Phoenix in the Nugs last exhibition game. He’d normally start the year on the IR (buried on the bench) but will definitely see some minutes in the first part of the season. Regardless of his tenure as a Nugget it was nice to see the former UMass star and walk-on make the team with his efficient scoring off the bench.
Melvin Ely, F-C, 6-10, 8th year
The former New Orleans Hornet and most recently Sacramento King also made the team without a guaranteed contract, and he will also see some playing time with the injuries to Birdman and K-Mart (he may even start if Nene’s knee starts to bother him again). The key thing for Ely will be rebounding; he doesn’t do it very well. His best overall season was back in 2006 with Charlotte when he averaged 9.8 points and 4.8 boards a game. With not a lot of frontcourt depth (due to injury) and with Al Harrington going to be outside to stretch the defense, Ely, Sheldon Williams and Nene are going to be counted on to carry the rebounding load. If he can grab 5+ boards a game and play decent defense on other team’s bigs, he’ll have done his job.
Renaldo Balkman, F, 6-8, 5th year
I’ve never been a big Renaldo Balkman fan, and apparently George Karl’s feelings for him have waned over the past 2+ years. After being a key part of the rotation in 2009 (even getting 10 starts that year) he played in only 13 games a year ago. He, like Forbes, will play due to injury, but he’d be my bet to move to the IR when the Bird and K-Mart come back.
The Question Marks
Shelden Williams, PF-C, 6-9, 5th year
Who wouda thought that Shelden Williams would be the starting power forward for the Nuggets a year ago (heck, who woulda thought that a month ago?). But thanks to George Karl’s insistence that Big Al (can I call him that or is that reserved for Al Jefferson?) comes off the bench, we will indeed see Mr. Williams on the first unit against the Jazz on Wednesday. Now Shelden has put up some impressive stat lines this pre-season (27 and 8 vs Phoenix, 14 and 6 vs the Clippers), but then again, this is Shelden Williams, the same guy who was a HUGE bust as the fifth overall pick by the Hawks in 06’. So I won’t rush to a judgment and say his above-average play is an aberration, but I’m also not going to say it’s a sign of things to come. If he can post 9 points and 6+ boards a game as a starter, I’m not sure you can ask for much more.
Kenyon Martin, PF, 6-9, 11th year
Before his injury troubles a year ago, K-Mart was posting some pretty disgusting numbers for the Nugs. In the months of January and February, Martin posted consecutive monthly averages of over 12.5 points and 11 rebounds. Over that stretch, the Nuggets went 19-8 and were poised for a top 3 record in the Western Conference. After he got hurt, the Nuggets were not the same. Now with Al Harrington in town to soak up some significant minutes and his $16 million contract coming off the books, K-Mart is highly expendable. When the Nuggets refused to talk contract-extension, K-Mart showed signs of discontent, and if that continues over the course of the season, the “dark side” of K-Mart, combined with JR’s proclivity to blow up and the Melo situation, it could spell disaster for Denver. Here’s hoping K-Mart to a speedy recovery and that he accepts a lesser role (and lesser minutes) for the sake of team chemistry…and sanity.
Nene, C, 6-11, 9th year
I was going to put Nene in the next category, but I (and the rest of Nuggets nation) am holding out hope that he finally breaks out and enters that next tier of NBA centers (ie Chris Kaman, Brook Lopez). I’m talking 18+ points and 10+ rebounds; it’s possible, Nene definitely has the talent to do it, the question is will he get the touches and opportunity to come through? With Harrington brought in and JR to soak up plenty of shots, it will be interesting to see if they’ll be enough touches to go around. But mark my words; the Nuggets success this season will hinge largely on if Nene can make that step forward. If not, it may be time to explore other options down low.
Same Old, Same Old
Anthony Carter, PG, 6-2, 12th year
Um, not much to say here; if AC is still seeing decent minutes in this rotation, something’s wrong. It’s Mr. Lawson’s turn as the backup point and AC should be reduced to a garbage-time role. He’ll be asked to provide leadership to the sophomore and will probably see the court in a defensive situation at the end of halves…but that should be it.
Chris Andersen, C, 6-10, 9th year
The Birdman is out until December, which means Nuggets fans at the Can (Pepsi Center, that’s pretty clever right?) won’t get to see Andersen swat shots and flap those wing-like arms after dunks for a while. The Nugs will miss his energy, shot-blocking ability and paint intimidation (especially to driving guards) while he’s out, but when he comes back expect typical Birdman numbers- 7-8 PPG, 6-7 RPG, 2-3 BPG.
JR Smith, SG, 6-6, 7th year
This may be the last year we’ll see JR Swish in a Nugets uni, so I hope he makes it a memorable one. Is a mid-season trade in the cards if Denver wants another quality big man…perhaps. But if he can up his field goal (41%) and three-point (34%, down from 40% in 09’) percentage and team with Lawson, Harrington and eventually Bird to form a solid second-unit, Nuggets fans should be happy. He’ll stay under 20 PPG, but 17-19 a game isn’t out of reach.
Look Out, Here They Come
Aaron Afflalo, SG, 6-5, 4th year
The first of my three Nuggets to watch out for this year is Aaron, who I think will exceed 10 PPG for the first time in his career and shoot even better from beyond the arc (43% last season). He performed his role as the perimeter defensive stopper and outside shooter very well last year, and as long as gets a little more aggressive on offense while keeping up his intensity on defense, he’ll be a player to look out for.
Ty Lawson, PG, 5-11, 2nd year
How good could this guy be? The sky’s the limit for Ty, who will see his minutes increase as Karl will try to preserve Chauncey’s 34-year old legs. Expect Ty’s point (8.3) and assist (3.1) totals to increase, and if the Nuggets continue to push the pace when he’s in the game, both Lawson and his teammates will benefit.
Al Harrington, F, 6-9, 13th year
Yeah I know, how can a guy who just turned 30 and is entering his 13th NBA season (no that’s not a misprint) have a breakout season? Because he’s entering the perfect situation with a style of play and surrounding cast that perfectly suits his game. In the offseason Nuggets fans wanted a defensive stopper as the team’s “big” free-agent acquisition; guys like Udonis Haslem, Jeff Foster and Jermaine O’Neal were tossed around as ideas, guys whose scoring isn’t considered their strong suit. But here’s a guy who’s played for crappy teams in Indiana, Golden State and New York for most of his career and has never had a facilitator to get him the ball (he’s always had to create his own shot). He hasn’t played for a contender in years, and if he’s on the floor with Melo, Chauncey, JR or Nene (or any combination of those guys) the defense will focusing their attention elsewhere. He can be a stretch four (PF) to clear room in the paint with his three-point shooting or an oversized three (SF) that can take his man to the rim. I foresee a BIG season for Big Al in the Big D (that’s a lot of bigs) and if Denver’s frontcourt has its struggles, it won’t be because of him.
Whether you agree with me or not on the season outlook for Denver’s roster, I hope we can at least all agree that Chauncey and Melo are a pretty formidable one-two punch and despite what ESPN’s experts may say, this squad has a chance to compete for a conference championship. They just need to have some things go their way and develop a tight enough chemistry (one like the Lakers or Thunder have) to go with the talent on the roster. Oh, and not trading Carmelo would help too.