by Marcel Mutoni

The pre-season is underway and the regular season jumps off in less than a month (Oct. 31), so it’s probably time to start previewing the 2006-2007 NBA season. With the help of some of the most prominent hoop writers on the web (bloggers and newspaper columnists), we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each one of the 30 teams.

Nick Sclafani from The Nugg Doctor was kind enough to helps us preview his team, the Denver Nuggets.

SLAM: After his stellar performance last year and at the World Championships this summer, is ‘Melo ready to jump back into the Lebron-Wade stratosphere?

NS: I believe so. Denver is expecting big things out of Carmelo after watching him continue to develop last season and this summer. After a sophomore slump of sorts, Carmelo showed people even before the FIBA Championships that he was back in that echelon of players. Carmelo had averages of 26.5 points, (eighth best in the league), and five rebounds last season. He also played in 80 games proving his durability. He stayed healthy and became more of a vocal leader on and off the floor. That is what guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James do for their teams. I think Carmelo showed that he is not only going to continue to give the Nuggets that kind of leadership, but that he was also capable of assuming that role with fellow NBA stars. Carmelo will be an All-Star this year because he is finally understanding the little idiosyncratic differences that separate great college players, which he was, and great professionals, which he is becoming. Look for this year to be the turning point in which Carmelo becomes associated with the elite of the NBA. Carmelo was a winner at Syracuse and his infectious demeanor and desire to win will continue to fuel this franchise.

Did this team make enough moves in the off season to get them to the next level?

The Denver Nuggets have accomplished a lot of good things this summer. Their only losses of significance were Greg Buckner and Ruben Patterson. Conversely, the players that they managed to gain in the young and extremely talented J.R. Smith, ten-year veteran Joe Smith, Jamal Sampson, and Yakhouba Diawara are better suited for the Nuggets’ system in the long and short term. Yakhouba is a player who I think can surprise some people. Relatively unknown to the everyday fan, Diawara averaged 16 points and 5.5 rebounds while playing in France, and was All-West Coast Conference as a collegiate player at Pepperdine University in 2004. Joe Smith is also a great addition. He is a tremendously positive influence in the locker room and understands his role on this team. These players need to step-up to the challenges ahead if the Nuggets are going to get over the first round hump, but I‘m optimistic that they will. In addition, reports of Nene returning from injury in the best shape of his career are encouraging and the resigning of rebounding specialist Reggie Evans indicate that the Nuggets will finally be able to get over said hump. Chemistry and role assumption will be the key for all the new faces on this team. Once that is accomplished and if the Nuggets can stay healthy. I feel that the proactive moves of this off season by Nuggets’ management have put this team into the next level. They have made positive personnel acquisitions at minimal personnel loss and that is always promising.

How did Nene get all that money? Does he own a Kiki Vandeweghe sex tape?

I can understand your confusion. There are a lot of questions to be answered by Nene this season. He did sign a six-year contract worth a reported $60 million that is based upon his work ethic and potential, rather than his numbers at this juncture in his career. He possesses size that you can’t teach and plays with a chip on his shoulder. His knee has been examined by several different doctors and they have all been very pleased with the ligament recovery. Furthermore, the contract is long enough for Nene to readjust and I’m excited to see that the Nuggets think that he can be a major part of this team for that long of a duration. Mainly because it gives him the time required to emerge as one of the next dominant players at his position. The Nuggets understand the old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day. For Nene, and the building of a championship caliber team, the key is progression. As long as he keeps getting better everyday and his game continues to develop as a whole. In the end, I believe that he will be worth every penny.

Alright, enough foreplay, how will the Nuggets fare this season?

I’m glad you asked. The Nuggets have made smart acquisitions this off season, resigned contributors from last season’s team, and have the continued maturation of one of the best players in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony to look forward to. This team won 44 games last year, despite injuries, and with all that they have returning, plus the new changes, they should be able to win 50 games in 2006-07. Which in turn should translate into a deeper run in this year’s playoffs. I feel that the Nuggets have only gotten better during this off season with the moves they have made. One more thing, don’t be surprised if Nuggets management still has at least one more trick up their sleeve before the season begins. The Nuggets are still very deep in the front court and I expect a couple of guys to be packaged up and traded. They’re still not satisfied with their stock at the shooting guard position and are actively looking for that one last trade that could put this team over the top. They have the franchise player in Carmelo and a good supporting cast thus far. They are just one piece of the puzzle away from being truly one of the top teams in the league.