2013-14 outlook: Denver Nuggets
What's in store for the Denver Nuggets? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and non-moves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. What grade would you give the Nuggets' offseason?
Matt Cianfrone, Roundball Mining Co.: D. Denver lost the best perimeter defender (Andre Iguodala), best bench player (Corey Brewer) and best interior defender (Kosta Koufos) from a 57-win team. Losing coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri on top of that made it a full-on disaster. Only the great Nate Robinson contract (two years, $4 million) prevented an F.
Kalen Deremo, Roundball Mining Co.: D, and that's being lenient. They lost their two biggest offseason priorities (Andre Iguodala and Masai Ujiri), brought in roster duplicates, signed Timofey Mozgov to a ridiculous contract (three years, $14 million) and traded their first-round pick for cash.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: D+. Seems harsh, but just about everything good from last season is gone. Iguodala and Ujiri jumped ship, and Karl's brain won't be spearheading the team's efficient attack. This is a near-tax team that might have been better off pressing the reset button. Instead, it decided to pay $27 million to Hickson, Robinson and Randy Foye.
Aaron McGuire, Gothic Ginobili: F. You can't say everything that happened was their fault. For instance, they actually offered Iguodala more money than Golden State gave him. But letting Karl go, failing to retain Ujiri, signing a redundant Hickson, losing Brewer and trading Kosta Koufos were all items under their control. And they whiffed on each one.
Charlie Yao, Roundball Mining Co.: C-. Denver was never going to hit a home run after losing Iguodala in free agency, but they might have overreacted by reaching for middle-tier role players in response. The Nuggets were in position to take a developmental route but instead added veterans on contracts that are unlikely to create any long-term value.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Nuggets in 2013-14?
Cianfrone: Can they stop anyone? The Nuggets were a bottom-five defense with Iguodala off the floor last season, and neither of the team's new best perimeter defenders, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, is proven in a stopper role. Combine that with the Kenneth Faried/J.J. Hickson rotation at power forward and Denver seems poised to give up a lot of points.
Deremo: How many question marks will be resolved by the end of the season? That's all they are at this point. Will JaVale McGee finally mature and produce? Is Brian Shaw a legitimate NBA head coach? Can GM Tim Connelly construct a cohesive roster? And the list goes on.
Haberstroh: Can McGee anchor an NBA defense? The Kenneth Faried-McGee backline has more holes in it than a fishing net last season, and I'm not sure Shaw has the time or the chops to turn that combo into something that resembles an average interior defense. Could anyone?
McGuire: Can they defend? This generally isn't a question you'd be asking about a team that finished 11th in the league on defense last season. But those teams rarely lose their three best defenders and tenured coach in the offseason. If Shaw can't cobble together a league-average defense from the remaining personnel, Denver's 11th straight playoff appearance is in serious jeopardy.
Yao: How much of the high-octane Denver mojo will remain? Shaw inherits a retooled version of an offense that led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons. If he is able to maintain an efficient scoring attack while mixing in more structure and defensive focus, Denver could remain relevant. If not, it looks destined to be a middle-of-the-road team.
3. Who's the Nuggets' most intriguing player?
Cianfrone: McGee. The potential has always oozed out of McGee, but never before has it clicked consistently. If it does, McGee could be the answer to Denver's defensive woes and become a threat on offense to pair with the brilliant Ty Lawson. If not, JaVale will remain a fixture on blooper reels and Denver will tumble in the West.
Deremo: McGee. I honestly have no idea whether I should cheer, laugh or cover my eyes every time he touches the ball. Some guys pique my interest for a few games, but JaVale does it on every possession of every game.
Haberstroh: NateVale McRobinson. Does that count? If the Nuggets aren't planning to contend, they should at least give the fans what they want: 30 minutes of nightly Robinson and McGee pyrotechnics on the floor. What could go wrong?
McGuire: Lawson. Although we know what we're getting with Lawson (capable shooting, pinpoint passing, excellent driving ability), he represents Denver's best chance at remaining in the playoffs. Gallinari will begin the season injured, and none of Denver's big men can carry the defense. If they're to make it back, it'll be on the back of an upgraded Lawson-led offensive attack.
Yao: McGee. I have tempered expectations regarding his ability to start logging heavy minutes immediately, but if the Nuggets can get him to produce at the same level with a bump in minutes to the 25-to-30 range, McGee will have taken a positive step forward in his career.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Nuggets?
Cianfrone: Faried won't finish the season as a Nugget. The Manimal is a fan favorite in Denver, but if the preseason is any indication, new head coach Brian Shaw will slow things down making Faried's lack of offensive skills and poor defensive instincts a problem. With a contract extension looming, Faried being shipped away wouldn't surprise me at all.
Deremo: Brian Shaw will win coach of the year. He has an incredibly composed demeanor and can connect with guys on a personal level like few coaches can. He's the definition of a player's coach, and in today's NBA that seems to be a recipe for success.
Haberstroh: Ty Lawson will be traded at the deadline to the Charlotte Bobcats. I don't see this season going well for the Nuggets, and they could look to shed long-term money. Now that Brendan Haywood's hurt for the foreseeable future, Michael Jordan will be desperate for a Tar Heel out there to help ignite the Hornets revival. Mike, Lawson is your guy.
McGuire: The 2012-13 Nuggets enjoyed a season of relatively excellent health, up until the playoffs -- all but one of their rotation players played 70-plus games, with Wilson Chandler the only major scratch. I don't think this maintains during this coming season and expect that they'll see just enough injury woe to unsettle their rotations and tax Shaw's new-look depth.
Yao: One-third of Denver's current roster will be playing in other cities after the trade deadline. The Nuggets have an odd-fitting mix of talent that could struggle to adapt to a new style of play. Mix in an entirely new front office with high expectations for the short-term and all the ingredients are there for a major shakeup via trade.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Nuggets go this season?
Cianfrone: The lottery. The Nuggets lost the backbones of their already average defense, will be without their second-best player for an unknown period of time and are transitioning to a new system that looks exactly opposite of the style the roster was built for. I just can't see them making the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
Deremo: The Nuggets will get the eight seed and put up a good fight in the first round before succumbing to the 1-seed. The West is simply too stacked, has been for a decade. The Nuggets should win between 45 and 50 games, with an outside chance of exceeding that and maybe pulling off a Round 1 upset.
Haberstroh: Lottery. I'm not sold on their defense with Iguodala and Karl gone, and I just don't see how they're going to cope without Danilo Gallinari's shooting as he mends from ACL surgery. This will be a fun team with more style than substance.
McGuire: They'll get close to a playoff spot, but they won't quite get there. A porous defense coupled with fresh injury concerns will keep the Nuggets hovering around .500 for most of the season, passed by Minnesota or Dallas in the final weeks of the playoff race.
Yao: First-round-and-out. There is enough depth and upside on the roster to remain a serious contender for one of the final playoff spots out West, but it's really hard to envision anything more.