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What’s the Plan, Denver Nuggets?

Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. This week we look at the Nuggets, a team that has to decide if they’re happy where they are, and what they’re willing to do if they aren’t.

At some point, you need to be honest about what you are and what you’re not. The Denver Nuggets are not a championship team. Even when they won 57 games two seasons ago, few people saw them as a true championship contender, and they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the sixth-seeded Warriors in six games.

Much of the core of the 2012-2013 Nuggets team is still on the roster. They still have Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, but they’ve since lost Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, who were the team’s third and fourth-leading scorers, respectively. If that team wasn’t good enough to make it out of the first round, how well can Nuggets executives expect this team to do?

The Nuggets need to go in a different direction, and they’ve already begun the process by drafting Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh overall pick. As Lawson intimated between hookah pulls, this pick doesn’t bode well for his future in Colorado, and there have been rumors about him being on the trade block for several months. Lawson is the best player on the Nuggets, but he’s also their most tradable asset, especially with George Karl in Sacramento trying to bring his old Nuggets team to northern California.

While Kings management has denied the rumors of the Kings trading Demarcus Cousins, it doesn’t mean Denver can’t get some value out of Sacramento by trading them Lawson. George Karl wants to win now and will push for the Kings’ front office to improve in the short term. Of course, the problem is the Kings don’t have many attractive assets (outside of Cousins) for the Nuggets in a possible Lawson deal, especially after their awful trade from a few days ago.

Another thing the Nuggets have going for them is cap space. Right now, they only have, at most, $9.8 million in cap space, but next year, their committed cash is currently only between $25.3 and $32.6 million. With the cap going up, Denver will be able to offer a lot of money to free agents in the coming years, and that could do a lot for this Nuggets team. If they could land a superstar or even a few very good players, this team would look a lot different, although they’ll of course be competing with a host of other teams that have similar cap space.

The Nuggets have a long way to go before they’re a championship contender. They don’t have a superstar caliber player (and haven’t for a while), and I wouldn’t consider their best player capable of being the second-best player on a championship team that doesn’t have LeBron or KD on the roster. The Nuggets need to distinguish which players can fit on a contender in Denver and which players can be converted into the pieces that make that contender a reality. There’s sure to be some serious turnover in the coming years as new head coach Mike Malone tries to figure out which players will fit in his system.

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