Last summer was a trying one for the Denver Nuggets.
The franchise watched wunderkind general manager and 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri depart the Friday after Memorial Day to take the same position with the Toronto Raptors, then fired Coach of the Year George Karl a week later.
A month after those twin debacles, Andre Iguodala left Denver, agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors—the team that ended the Nuggets' tremendous campaign with a first-round playoff upset.
On the heels of one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history, it was a disaster of the least mitigated sort. Denver tumbled from 57 wins to 36. So by sheer virtue of the fact that nothing colossally damaging has happened to the Nuggets this spring and summer, this offseason represents an improvement.
Good thing. The Nuggets are an organization with lofty goals. In Denver, as GM Tim Connelly explained to Nuggets.com, “good” isn’t good enough.
We’re aware of where we need to get better, and we’ll address those needs, whether it’s on draft night, whether it’s through free agency, whether it’s through trades. We’re not content. Our goal’s not to be a bubble playoff team. Our goal is to be a team that’s playing for the Western Conference finals and then you have a puncher’s chance at winning a championship. We’re going to be very aggressive on our end. It takes two to make a deal, so who knows if we’ll find willing suitors, but we’re going to be really aggressive trying to improve this team and use every tool at our disposal.
Connelly has already been plenty aggressive. On draft day alone, he swung a deal to get shooting guard Arron Afflalo back to Denver and traded with the Chicago Bulls to bring rookies Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris into the fold. Both moves were wins.
But while Denver has plenty of holes to fill and weaknesses to fortify, the team might be done tinkering with the roster. Coach Brian Shaw surmised as much during a post-draft interview with Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post.
“If everybody is healthy and available, then I think we’re good,” Shaw told the reporter. “That’s how I felt last year going into the season.”
But even if the roster is largely set, that doesn’t mean the Nuggets’ work is done. The training staff will be hard at work rehabilitating the many Denver players who were bit by the injury bug last season. Ty Lawson missed 20 games. Nate Robinson was unavailable for 38. JaVale McGee played in five. Danilo Gallinari missed the whole year with a torn ACL. Simply getting these players back healthy should make the Nuggets considerably more competitive. Call it upgrade by inertia.
But the most meaningful maneuver of the offseason won’t come in the training room but at the negotiating table. The biggest agenda item for Denver is coming to terms with Kenneth Faried on a long-term extension.
The first thing that jumps off the page about Faried is that, statistically, he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do well. In 2013-14, relative to other power forwards, Faried was an above-average scorer in terms of volume and efficiency, posted steal and block rates that exceeded the positional average along with a foul rate that came in below it, all while grabbing nearly 33 percent more rebounds than his fellow 4s, according to Boxscore Geeks.
This well-roundedness is reflected in the advanced metrics, which are simply googly-eyed with affection for Faried. According to Basketball-Reference, he’s never posted a player-efficiency rating below 18.5 or a win shares per 48 minutes lower than .144 in his three NBA seasons (average is 15 and .1, respectively) while, per Boxscore Geeks, he’s produced 10.7 and 9.4 wins the last two years, both of which led the Nuggets.
And then there’s the remarkable energy the forward plays with, which is something else entirely. Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey explained it thusly:
There may not be another player in the league who plays harder on a nightly basis. That's overly simple analysis, but have you seen this guy play? Every loose ball and rebound is attainable in his mind, and he goes after them with unbridled energy. It's no wonder he's known as "The Manimal."
Bailey suggested the Utah Jazz’s contract with Derrick Favors would be a helpful template for Faried and Denver. Something like the four-year, $49 million deal Favors signed last October would likely work for both sides.
If Denver can get Faried locked-up long term and the rest of the roster healthy and ready to roll by November, it might not be long before the Nuggets return to their winning ways. The summer of 2013 was a disaster for the organization, but so far in 2014 the franchise has made strides to repair the damage.
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