With the Nuggets mired in mediocrity and turmoil, the Mile High City must feel like the Mile Low City these days with Denver staring down a second-straight losing season and looking like a shell of the exciting team they were for the better part of a decade.
After finally firing head coach Brian Shaw on Tuesday, the Nuggets look like a team that resembles a chicken with its head cut off. Between coach/player strife, lack of true scorers, limited depth and some key injuries, not a whole lot has gone right for the Nuggets. At 22-39, obviously, the Nuggets are bound for the lottery and in search of answers of the direction they are headed for.
Playing for the lottery is something Denver should get used to. It’s unlikely interim coach Melvin Hunt will be coaching this team past this season, even though he’s off to a solid start at 2-0. After the season is complete, the Nuggets have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and accept the fact that they’re probably headed for a long rebuilding project. Fellow FanRag columnist Jesus Gomez has a great take on the options the Nuggets will have in replacing Shaw, because ultimately whatever coach Denver hires could be a telling sign of how they move forward.
The Nuggets have two quality, proven assets in point guard Ty Lawson and power forward Kenneth Faried. While they’re fine players, they’re not stars per se, and are better equipped to be supporting players on a good team. Denver also has budding rookie prospect in center Jusuf Nurkic (who’s hurt at the moment), who looks like he definitely has a place in the NBA.
Outside of those three players, the rest of the team is pretty much disposable. With limited cap space at the moment, Denver is looking at a lengthy stay at the bottom of the standings since bolstering this roster will be tough in the offseason.
So, it’s time for the Nuggets to embrace the plan of rebuilding and get used to losing. With that said, maybe they can look into making some moves to free up more cap space. They already moved Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee at the trade deadline. For certain, the makeup of this team should look drastically different come opening night next season. One possible move the Nuggets could make to free up space next year is to cut Wilson Chandler, who has only $2 million of his $7.17 million contract guaranteed for next season.
With one year remaining on his four-year, $48 million contract, perhaps it would also behoove the Nuggets to explore trading Lawson. While it’s a nice building block to have a steady point guard on your roster, the trading of Lawson may be able to expedite the process of getting more young cost-controlled players and/or draft picks. It could be a shrewd move, but one Denver should investigate in the summer.
While the Nuggets could possibly move Faried too, it would be nice to see him utilized better, as he was in Shaw’s doghouse for most of Shaw’s time there. This according to Michael Lee of The Washington Post.
Through almost four years, Faried is averaging 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds, which are solid numbers by any definition. He has been disappointing this year, but there’s a feeling he could be better if fully unleashed.
In his first two games playing without Shaw as his coach, Faried has averaged 16 points on 13-of-24 shooting from the floor to go with 14 rebounds per game while playing a combined 65 minutes. As one of the more energetic, bouncy players in the game, Faried is a player you want on your team. He does all the dirty work that is an essential part of winning. I’m still not sure why Shaw had a grudge against him, as he has all the tools be a great player, and Faried could be a key cog for the Nuggets for the next decade or so. Plus, he’s a fan favorite.
In a Western Conference that’s loaded with many teams in position for sustained success for years to come, the Nuggets would be best suited to take it on the chin and gear up for a run in a few years. Besides, it’s not like they have much of a choice anyway.
With a nice, deep NBA prospect class coming in, the Nuggets could conceivably be in play for a player like Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner, D’Angelo Russell, etc. Any of the aforementioned players could change the fortunes of this franchise around soon enough.
However, this will likely be a slow process, and patience is of paramount importance in Denver. With a new coach likely to bring in a new culture, and young stars set to make an impression, the Nuggets will clearly be battling an uphill climb for the foreseeable future.
It’s all about how the Nuggets play their cards in the offseason.