In a time when the sports world is buzzing because football is back after months of lackluster golf, tennis, and baseball, something other than this upcoming Broncos season is catching my attention: the state of our Denver Nuggets.
Of course this time of year is dominated by the return of the NFL and college football; no one is disputing that. However, for us Denver fans, lets pause for one moment before we completely submerge ourselves into the orange and blue Kool-Aid. Lets take a peak at what lies ahead for the team over at Pepsi Center and determine if we are in for another year of disappointment.
Two years ago under former coach George Karl, don’t forget that this team had a record of 57-25 before ultimately flopping in the first round for the ninth time in Karl’s’ ten years with the team. Although this was a team that lacked a true superstar, it was the deepest team in the league at that time and all cylinders were firing heading into the playoffs. Then, the injury bug infected a few of the team’s most important players prior to the start of the first round. Lawson tore his plantar fascia in his foot just a month before the playoffs began, Gallo tore his ACL a little over two weeks before the start of the first round, and also Faried sprained his ankle just a week before that first round series against Golden State. My point in recapping the most recent first round failure is that this team had a solid core in place, which thankfully remains on the current squad, minus a few players. Hence, there still is hope Nuggets fans.
With that being said, Brian Shaw’s first year was obviously not a good measuring stick for how this team will do with him at the helm, leading the current core in place. Not only did Shaw lose solid players like Iguodala, Koufos, and Corey Brewer the year prior to his rookie campaign, he also had to manage a team plagued by injuries. With a team withered down to average role players and young guys, it is impressive he was able to keep this team alive in the playoff push for the eighth seed and finish with a 36-46 record. As a result, what should we expect from a team that has had a year to learn coach Shaw’s system, as well as get healthy? And will that expectation ever evolve into a reality?
Looking back on last year it is a “night and day” type of comparison. This team was extremely thin last year, which quite possibly can be attributed to the injuries that occurred. Conversely, this year the Nuggs are two even three deep at every position. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this team may be one of the deepest teams coming into the 2014-2015 season and if healthy (and that’s a big IF) they could potentially vie for a playoff seed in a ridiculously stacked Western Conference. Just to show how good the West is, the eighth seed Mavericks held a record of 49-33 with Phoenix breathing down their necks and missing out on the playoffs with a record of 48-34. Those teams last year would have been competing for the third and fourth seeds had they been in the Eastern Conference. So where does Denver fit into all of this?
As I stated in the preceding paragraph, the Nuggets “IF” healthy will contend for, if not land a playoff birth. Now, before you call me crazy I didn’t say which seed they would land, but I’m close to 95% sure this team will be back in the playoffs next year. How am I so sure? Well as I said before, this team is almost two to three deep at every position. Their main strength will come from the backcourt with guys like Lawson and Afflalo, with the overall depth being a benefit as well. In addition, this team will be built around defense, sharing the ball, and most importantly in getting out and running. Seattle may have a twelfth man, but the Nuggets have a sixth man in their fans and a rare seventh man in the altitude. Denver teams have historically been built around utilizing this handy environmental aid so don’t expect it to change now. Plus, Denver is typically one of the league’s best teams when it comes to winning at home. Yet, this team could win close to 50 games next year and assume the position Dallas and Phoenix held last year of fighting for the eighth seed. But it doesn’t matter where you land in the seeding as long as you make it into the dance right? Unfortunately we are banking on “ifs” and the “potential” of this team, which could again have adverse circumstances come next June when this upcoming season wraps up.
Speaking of potential, there is a saying in professional athletics that “Potential is the most dangerous thing in sports”. It’s gotten a ton of coaches and suits fired in all leagues, while every now and then rewarding those who have the stability to see it through. The Denver Nuggets for the past ten years have epitomized this saying, having an abundance of potential and falling madly in love with it at times. We always use to hear about our young players and how the front office and management wanted to develop them. Turns out that never happened, as we all know.
While part of me wants be optimistic and holds the belief that this will be a playoff team next season, there is also a part that is trying to think logically and take note of how this team has fared in similar situations. And again we are hearing about developing our young talent mixed with the leadership of our polished vets and how Brian Shaw is one of the “best player developing” coaches in the league. In spite of hearing this again, should we actually believe it or “dig in” as the Nuggets slogan suggests we do? I’m not so sure. I do expect this team to be in the playoffs next year, yes and I believe in reality that is also a fair statement to make. I also truly believe that this team as currently constructed is better than a Phoenix or Dallas, but it remains to be seen if this team stays healthy and lives up to their potential (there’s that word again).
At the end of the day, Denver will be a team to be reckoned with, there is no doubt in my mind. 45-50 wins? Yes. Playoffs? Yes. Are they a championship contender? Lets not fool ourselves here. Maybe a more appropriate question would be “Will this team make it out of the first round this time if they get there”? That’s tough, really tough. Lets mark that “TBD” (To Be Determined for those who are struggling). Kroenke is feeling the pressure from Nugget’s fans, instead of being foolishly hopeful this fan-base is wising up and seeing things more logically. If the Nuggets don’t make it out of the first round this year, it will be deemed a wasted effort and could lead to some major change and overhaul. Just remember don’t invest too much emotionally into this team, because as a wise man once told me “Careful kid. They’ll break your heart”. Actually that was from the movie Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon, but it sounded better that way, ha. But until that time comes, lets focus on Denver’s true love and that’s our beloved Broncos. See you in October!
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Stephen is studying Broadcast Performance at Metro State University of Denver. He's Member of Met Media, the KMet Radio Sports Team, and the Emmy-Award winning student-run newscast The Met Report. Find him on Facebook and LinkedIn.