The Denver Nuggets are stuck in the NBA’s version on no man’s land; they are nowhere near the top and they are not bad enough to get better. Have I confused you yet? Let me explain.
The NBA is set up for the elite teams to stay elite and for the bad teams to improve quickly. Teams in the middle like the Nuggets tend to stay in the middle because making the jump to the next step is hindered by two main factors.
The first is the fact that the draft is not much help unless you have at least a top ten selection, the Nuggets pick 11 this year. Sure there are exceptions but unlike the NFL draft where you can find starters in any round, the NBA’s version is not generally that deep. The Nuggets will get a nice player at 11, but not a difference maker and that’s what they really need to take the next step.
The second issue is the idea that the Nuggets do have some nice pieces all ready on their roster and some of those pieces are making decent money. Therefore, the Nuggets do not have the ability to go out and sign big name free agents. In addition, a lot of big names simply do not want to play in Denver. I’m not sure why; is it the size of the market or is it something else? Whatever the reasons, the facts say that the “stars” just don’t want to be here.
Carmelo Anthony could not wait to get out of town, Allen Iverson was never comfortable in Denver and even Andre Iguodala bolted after one season. This is certainly not a hard and fast rule, and maybe someday the Nuggets will find their Tim Duncan. The star who falls in love with the city and plays his entire career there but until then, the Nuggets are in a tough spot.
So they are not picking high enough to draft a great player and established stars aren’t coming to Denver for various reasons, what can the Nuggets do to get better?
Sadly the answer is not much, they truly are stuck. They will be better in 2014-15 because they will get a number of players back from injury including Danilo Gallinari who is probably the Nuggets best player. Being better, though, means that maybe the Nuggets sneak into the playoffs and get swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Isn’t that why George Karl got fired?
What about a trade to improve the roster, the Nuggets do have some decent talent. Surely Gallinari or guard Ty Lawson would fetch some talent, especially if the Nuggets throw in the 11th pick. That might be true but anyone you get back is going to be offset by the fact that the Nuggets are going to have to give away one of their better players. That kind of trade leaves the Nuggets in the same position, just with different names.
There are two ways for the Nuggets to escape from no man’s land. One, they get really lucky with the 11th pick and that player turns into a star. He helps the Nuggets make the jump into the playoffs and then Denver becomes a more attractive spot for free agents. The odds of that happening are slim to none, and slim has left the building.
The other and more painful way is to get worse and suffer through a couple of horrific seasons. That might be the only way for the Nuggets to obtain the caliber of players they need to make the kind of jump they want to make. Lawson, Gallinari and Kenneth Faried are nice players but they are role players on good teams. The Nuggets have enough role players, they need difference makers and none of those guys are knocking down the door to play in Denver.
Owner Josh Kroenke said he made the change from Karl to Brian Shaw because he was tired of losing in the first round. Maybe it was time for Karl to go, maybe it was time for a change but maybe Karl did a better job than we all thought.
As for Shaw, I’m not a fan but I’m willing to give him some more time but he needs to grow up. Twice last season, Shaw blamed Karl for the struggles of the recently completed season on Karl and came off sounding like a frustrated politician. Put on your big boy coaching pants and fix the problem instead of blaming everyone else.
The Nuggets find themselves in that one place no one wants to be; not great and not awful. It’s the NBA’s version of no man’s land and the avenues off of that island are extremely limited.