Nuggets ’10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Sulaiman Folarin
The only question anyone asks about the Denver Nuggets is whether their superstar and franchise forward Carmelo Anthony is staying or leaving? Until a decision — unlike LeBron James’ version — is made, that’s all everyone will talk about in the media and even your local barbershop.
Even during the Nuggets’ Media Day, the same questions were directed at new executive vice president Masai Ujiri, returning head coach George Karl and Chauncey Billups.
“I thought y’all was here to talk about the gold medal,” Billups said jokingly.
Some even asked if Anthony wanted to stay in Denver and for once the forward was stumped; he couldn’t answer yes or no. Karl didn’t want to dwell on the negative rather the new season with big things to come for the team.
Though the Anthony “decision” is a distraction that some players have admitted to, everyone continues to paint a positive outlook, even Anthony, during the media barrage. Once all that was over and players were rolled out to the media, the Nuggets got to business.
Apart from Anthony, the Nuggets have a couple players with expiring contracts, current players with great off-season workouts, new layers that can blend into the system. This could turn the team back into the same one that made the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We have a chance to be an elite team,” Billups also pointed out.
Watching them in practice, Karl’s team should be competitive again this season like Billups pointed out, with or without Anthony.
The question is for how long.
Anthony is one of the best five players in the NBA today. Outside of a few names I would not bore you with, Denver’s forward would be a great addition wherever he plays; New York, New Jersey or Denver. Will the Nuggets to trade him, though the organization has mentioned that they want to keep ‘Melo as they propose to him to play on this team instead of starting all over again somewhere else.
Billups, coming off a great summer with his World Championship win with Team USA, looks fresher and ready for the season. The 13-year veteran will be the one person the organization will look towards making sure once again they manage every game down the line. Also no one in the building gets a louder ovation compared to the home town’s “Smooth” or can we still call him “Mr. Big Shot?”
Billups would like for Anthony to stay, but the Colorado native understands it’s a business and if Anthony leaves, his 19.5 ppg from last season would have to increase for them to compete with their division and ultimately the NBA Champions from Los Angeles.
Coach Karl, battling throat and neck cancer — with 986 NBA wins as a head coach — is just 14 wins away from the 1,000th win mark. Only a few coaches are in that league and Karl would want to reach that mark sooner than later. Also this season, he would not be able to scream at his players as much like in the past.
“The one thing would be my mouth. When I talk a lot, my mouth goes dry,” Karl said about his recovery. “That would be with me they say for another three-seven months. I told the team that I probably cannot yell at them for more than three to five minutes. They’re probably excited about it,” the coach joked.
Billups was just excited to have the coach back in the building.
“Having George back, thank goodness for that, having him enthusiastic and charged up about the things we can do,” Billups said about the coach’s return.
To start the season, the Nuggets will miss forwards Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Andersen. Though undersized big men, both players are two of the team’s best defenders.
Last season, Birdman as he is popularly referred to, averaged 1.88 blocks per game and 6.4 rebounds per game. His scoring touch to the average Nuggets fan is irrelevant. His energy and hustle on the floor is what they feed off and it is evident every time he is introduced as a substitute.
Nene, a good offensive player and another undersized center will bring that post up game to the team once again along with his physical play. He must play closer to the basket often this season to get easier points and get his opponent in foul trouble.
For a team with 53 wins last season, the Nuggets will have to shake off the Anthony-leaving talks to get to that mark. They also made the playoffs for the seventh straight year and they should so season. Losing to the Utah Jazz, their divisional rival in the first round has left a bitter taste in the mouth of fans and players alike. Some people feel that without Anthony this team can go somewhere but how far?
That’s where the new additions might have a role to play.
The team adds Shelden Williams and Al Harrington with a mid level exception, but loses Joey Graham who moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some critic would have preferred Al Jefferson (now in Utah) to Harrington, but the former New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers forward spreads the flow for the Nuggets when Anthony is in the lineup.
In the past, when on offense, Anthony draws multiple defenders, because most teams feel Martin’s shooting is not a threat. In the case of Harrington, it is a total opposite. He might not be a great defensive player; neither is Anthony, but his ability to shoot from the perimeter, take it to the rack and dish the ball, makes the 12-year veteran a valuable asset to Anthony and the Nuggets’ chances of going far this season.
Coach Karl said he is impressed with Harrington so far during training camp and preseason, but how he performs this season and how he fits into the Nuggets lineup would say a lot on how far they can go. Also Karl has mentioned he does not expect Harrington to be a starter this season.
Now with Williams, the Nuggets have a good post up player. His ability to crash the boards, nail the mid range jumper and bang with bigger players would be helpful till Martin and Andersen return.
Also his wife, Candace Parker was spotted at the Nuggets first pre-season game against the Portland Blazers at home. She would be one of the NBA wives, but different from the others because she at least plays basketball.
The Nuggets have all the tools, bar the distraction to go for another 50-win season and they also have good bench players like Ty Lawson and JR Smith coming off the bench.
Smith mentioned that he had a great offseason in Louisville with coach Rick Pittino, a man he once committed to play for while in high school, but he decided to take his talent straight to the NBA.
With Lawson, Smith and now Harrington all coming off the bench, the Nuggets have a better second unit this season than last year. It’s a stronger, faster, experienced and better shooting option with those three on the floor giving the first unit a rest.
Once during an inter-squad game to show the fans what their team looks like for the new season, Nuggets.com writer Aaron Lopez joked with Lawson about a possible 30-point, 10-assist game that came to reality. Lawson finished the game (unofficially) with 31 points and 14 assists.
“I wasn’t even thinking about getting four straight 3 pointers,” Lawson said of the prediction. “But since they defended Al [Harrington] and they were giving me the lane, I had to take it. The shots felt effortless.”
That competition was internal, but the ones from their division and the west won’t take it lightly on Lawson or any one on their roster.
With every training camp, teams have players they bring in that might make the season roster with guys like Gary Forbes, Melvin Ely, Shane Edwards, Eric Boateng and Courtney Sims battling for vital spots. It seems like the Nuggets once again need a big man with Boateng’s defensive abilities showing up during practice and center Nene joked about his [Boateng’s] physical play as he would rather have him on his team than as an opponent.
No matters what happens, though Anthony wants to leave, Denver will make the postseason and should go farther than last season. The second unit will ignite when the starters are taking a break, but till Anthony makes a decision, it will linger on and cast a shadow on the franchise.
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.