Denver Nuggets Postseason One and Done Again, the Time for Change Is Now
For a franchise that missed the playoffs from 1996-2002, a seven-year run of playing in the postseason seems like a positive.
The current run of seven unlucky years of playoff losses started with the arrival of Carmelo Anthony in Denver and he’s definitely not at the root of the problem.
No, the problem lies in the vast array of supplementary players the Nuggets front office has surrounded their superstar with.
From Allen Iverson (not the answer in Denver), to Andre Miller (good not great) and from Dhantay Jones to Marcus Camby (both stellar defenders), none could complement Melo well enough.
Nowadays, it’s J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo, Nene, and Chris Andersen surrounding Carmelo and the Nuggets are still without their highly desired first title.
As of now, as has been the case since 2003, Anthony is the only untouchable player on Denver’s roster, and the time is now for extreme changes to the team.
The Nuggets' championship window, however small, is quickly closing.
Chauncey Billups, the Denver native supposed to be mile high basketball savior, is 33 years old and showed signs of slowing down the stretch run and into the Nuggets loss to the Jazz.
Billups was the veteran leader, the calming force and the glue that held the Nuggets together in 2008-09—all that awe inspiring play slipped through his hands like the basketball did in Denver’s first round exit.
Billups turned the ball over an astonishing three times per game in the playoffs and the troubles didn’t end there.
“Mr. Big Shot” was anything but that. Down the stretch, he shot a rancid 49-164 (29.9 percent) from behind the arc from March on. What was really out of the ordinary was the way Billups carried himself during that time, with lapses of judgment and character, picking up silly personal and technical fouls at exactly the wrong times in games.
Yes, the burden on Billups was ballooned after Karl went down to treat his cancer, but the reason Denver went out and got the Coloradoan was due to the calm demeanor of “Smooth.”
The window is now one-quarter open and still closing.
But Billups wasn’t the only one that struggled in 2009-10; he was merely the tip of the preverbal iceberg.
Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen are the Nuggets’ current best bigmen, but none is a big time star.
One is a has-been, one is a might be and the other is a never was.
K-Mart was a star back in the day in New Jersey, but he’s steadily declined every season since coming to Denver in 2004.
To wit, Martin averaged a career high 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in his last season with the Nets (2003-04) while his point production has perennially dropped (11.5 per this year), his rebounds were back up to close to that elite level (9.4 per). But, in the previous two seasons with the Nuggets, Martin could only muster 6.5 and 6 rebounds per contest.
K-Mart is a good player, undoubtedly the best defender Denver has in its arsenal, but he’s not dominant. Plus, 2011 will be Martin’s 10th year and the only NBA player in history to have microfracture surgery to repair both blown out knees will turn 34 mid-season.
Nene is even worse than Martin. The behemoth Brazilian center has all the physical makeup of a stellar big, but the mental side just isn’t there—and may never be.
Nene means “baby” in Portuguese, Brazil’s native tongue, but at 6’11” 250 pounds, he’s anything but that physically. Mentally though, Nene’s name is befitting of a player that plays softer than and with the basketball IQ of an eight-year-old.
Nene grew up playing the finesse game of soccer down in South America, and he’s tried to bring that play to the NBA for seven years—unsuccessfully.
Too many times does the Nuggets’ center have the ball within three feet of the hoop before passing the ball out to teammates who are planted at the arc (J.R. Smith).
Too many times has Nene attempted a lay-up instead of just ramming an incredibly powerful dunk, something he’s shown he can do with ease.
Too many times Nene has stood in the lane, hands in the air and mouth agape, “playing defense” while watching opponents score on the inside.
For too many years Nuggets’ fans and front office have waited patiently for Nene to blossom into an All-Star center—that time is not coming, at least in Denver.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen is the worst of the three for Denver—not only can he not play, he’s overpaid as well.
Bird was one of the top bench players in the NBA in 2008-09, defending the nest from attacking basketballs at a rate of 2.5 blocks per game. Not only that, he averaged over six points (6.4) and rebounds (6.2) that season in barely over 20 minutes per game.
This season, after receiving an extremely rich deal ($3.65 M in 2009-10) for a backup bigman with multiple drug suspensions, Birdman was completely lackadaisical and showed lackluster effort night in, night out.
Was he distracted by the wealth, or just too comfortable after finally making the big bucks?
Either point is arguable, what’s not is that Bird must be shipped out.
All three bigs come with baggage. K-Mart and Nene’s injuries and massive contracts, and Bird’s drug troubles make trading any or all three an almost impossible task.
Birdman doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the Nuggets lack of bench production though; running mate J.R. Smith was basically nonexistent in the playoffs and highly disruptive during the regular season.
At once, Smith is worth the price of admission by himself—the 360 alley-hooping, 30-foot 3-point reining athletic wonder that can put up 40 points in a night.
At next glance, he’s the most frustrating player in the league—constantly reaching in wildly at the most inopportune times, with a shot selection that would make Reggie Miller roll over in his NBA grave.
It’s as if Smith doesn’t realize that shots count the same from five inches behind the arc as they do from five feet beyond it.
The man shoots from as far away as Lone Tree instead of where the Pepsi Center is located in LODO.
Smith’s “performance” in Game Six was downright pitiful as he sulked, moped and pouted his way through the game. Well, it really was half pouting, half sleep-walking and the last straw in a haystack worth of bad moves that have buried the young, volatile player.
Others that bring Denver’s bench down include Anthony Carter, Malik Allen and Ronaldo Balkman.
Really, what do any of these three do for the team?
Carter may have been the Nuggets best perimeter defender a few years ago, but he’s too slow to keep up with the more athletic, younger guards of today’s NBA.
Balkman played in only a handful of games all season and didn’t even dress for many contests.
Allen showed signs of yesteryear at times, rebounding well and even hitting some mid-range jumpers, but he’s far past his prime as well.
The biggest void on the Nuggets bench was without a doubt head coach George Karl at the most important juncture in the season.
Karl showed his worth as the true glue that keeps Denver’s motley crew of personalities together.
In addition to being a master of chemistry, Karl’s experience and strong, sometimes stubborn voice is essential for this team to thrive.
But Karl, coming off a second bout with cancer in five years, is getting older and one has to wonder how many years of basketball he still has in him. Not mentally, Karl reportedly watched many games and even phoned in some advice to Adrian Dantley at times while fighting for his life. Can Karl deal with the physical grind of traveling for six months during an NBA season?
The window is almost shut.
Overall, there aren’t many players the Nuggets should keep—Denver has to completely revamp the team now before it’s too late.
Here’s who should remain in Denver’s baby blue and yellow in 2010-11:
Carmelo Anthony —the franchise, period.
Chauncey Billups —still very good if not great, the hometown hero.
Ty Lawson —the youngster that could take over for Billups, sooner or later. Denver’s in good shape with him.
Joey Graham —played quite well when randomly getting PT in the playoffs for the first time in weeks. Someone to backup Melo, or possibly start at SF if the Nuggets think of moving Anthony to SG as the Denver Post’s Woody Paige suggests .
Arron Afflalo —just finished his third year and has shown lots of positive upside. He was one of the deadliest three-point threats in the league and can play solid defense.
Johan Petro— the biggest stretch on this list for sure, but he’s a true 7-footer and is developing, however slowly, into a legit NBA center. At the least he will be a suitable backup.
Everyone else currently on the roster is expendable, although as was hinted at earlier, many will be difficult to move.
So what should Denver do?
First and foremost, Stan Kroenke needs to sign Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman to new contracts.
Then, the Nuggets need to look at lots of different trade scenarios.
Paige also suggested trading K-Mart and his expiring contract for Chris Bosh.
This would be a picture perfect type situation for Denver, but the likelihood is slim.
Still, imagine Melo and Bosh, two of the top players from the 2003 draft, hoping together in the Mile High City.
Maybe the Nuggets could package Nene and Smith for a big man that wants to play big league center.
Atlanta’s Al Horford is a third year pro that continues to improve (14.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG) and would compliment Melo well.
The Bobcats’ Emeka Okafor is solid as well, although can be somewhat soft on the interior like Nene.
The problem seems to lie with a lack of true big men in today’s NBA which makes them hot commodities to be sure.
Or how about Denver packages Smith and Birdman for the Grouch and Bigbird from Sesame Street? Seems like even trade value.
Beyond that, the Nuggets need to dump Carter, Balkman because they aren’t helping the team, and any other player that can’t or won’t buy into winning a championship team-first.
Denver’s front office, whoever they will be, has a lot of work to do this offseason if Kroenke wants to win his first NBA title and he may have to continue to throw money out the window before it closes all the way.
Rich Kurtzman is a Colorado State University Alumnus and a freelance sports journalist. Along with being the acting Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist here on B/R, Kurtzman is the Denver Broncos FC for NFLTouchdown.com , the CSU Rams Examiner for examiner.com and a contributor to coloradosportsdesk.com .
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