With the 2012-13 regular season just under two weeks away, the level of anticipation is at an all-time high for each of the 30 NBA franchises. Although every team may have great aspirations, no organization has grown quite as restless as the Denver Nuggets.
After a failed era with Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have built one of the best young cores in the NBA. Unfortunately, the team has yet to make it beyond the first round of the NBA postseason.
In some eyes, the matter of player development is all it will take for the Nuggets to reach the status of elite. In others, their trade for Andre Iguodala added the missing piece that will lead this team to the promise land.
Regardless of which angle you opt to take in this scenario, there is one fact we cannot avoid: If they do not create the proper rotation to maximize the talent on their roster, the Nuggets will fall short once again.
Which is exactly why JaVale McGee must be the team's starting center.
As training camp kicks into top gear and the preseason games begin to shape rosters, the Nuggets have quite a few decisions to make. What may come as the greatest surprise is the fact that McGee is not a shoo-in for the starting job.
Per a report via Adrian Dater of The Denver Post, it appears as if head coach George Karl is leaning toward making Kosta Koufos the starting center. As for why, it has plenty to do with fundamentals. Karl said:
Kosta (Koufos) is probably our most fundamentally sound big guy. He knows what we want better than the other guys.
The instant fear here is that the wrong player may be placed in an improper role. After a breakout postseason, many projected McGee to finally have reached the path to stardom by pairing elite athleticism with improved fundamentals.
Koufos is none too concerned with the adverse affect it may have on those surrounding him. He said:
It'll only make each other better. There are no petty jealousies whatsoever. It's just a true competitive spirit. We all get along and encourage each other. We all just want to win, and right now the good thing is we're all learning to play together and we're all starting to play well every game.
As for what his teammates have to say, it appears as if the young leader of the team is fully behind this decision. Point guard Ty Lawson said of Koufos:
He's a workhorse, man. He gets down there and does the dirty work: tip-ins, keeping the ball alive and finishing. He's a great big man for us. He just attacks the offensive glass and the defensive glass.
Although Koufos is an intriguing figure, this decision stretches well beyond his individual progression as a player and athlete. Instead, it touches upon the controversial issue of stunting a fellow player's growth and development.
By starting Koufos, the McGee's progression will take a significant hit.
Denver Paid Him to Start
This offseason, the Denver Nuggets re-signed McGee for a cost of $44 million (via ESPN.com). To respond to such a leap of faith by relegating McGee to a role as a reserve would be counterproductive, to say the least.
Although money should not dictate playing time, there is no reason to pay McGee like a superstar if he's not going to be given the chance to produce in such a manner. Considering he has already flashed that ability while with Denver, it becomes all the more puzzling.
Furthermore, Koufos is receiving just $9 million over three years. He's also never outproduced McGee, which should combine to McGee securing a starting spot.
Began Rapid Development in 2012 Postseason
During the 2011-12 NBA postseason, McGee was outstanding. Despite seeing just 25.6 minutes per night, McGee managed to average 8.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks.
That includes three games with at least 14 rebounds, four with at least three blocks and a monster 21-point performance in Denver's 102-99 Game 5 series-saving victory.
As the 2012-13 regular season rolls around, it is difficult to put a finger on why the Nuggets would opt to go in any direction but starting McGee. He produced at an extremely high level and was matched up against All-Star Andrew Bynum for the duration of the series.
To continue his development into an elite big, McGee must start.
The Denver Nuggets have established a young core with the crafty veterans necessary to compete for a title. Those veterans are Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala, while the core consists of Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and McGee.
So why shuffle that around when the team's already developed a rapport?
This team is built for long-term success. In order to establish that type of longevity, it is imperative that a consistent rotation is established that a player feels safe in.
To present McGee with a legitimate threat to lose his job could derail one of the more promising young guns in the game.