Depth is the key for new-look Nuggets
Ty Lawson was uncharacteristically brash the other day.
During a Nuggets press conference where the team unveiled their new alternate jerseys and logo, the 5-foot-11, swift-footed point guard proclaimed Denver as the team to beat in the West this year.
Lawson’s point: A little swagger can go a long way.
Fans of the Nuggets have been a patient lot since the team joined the NBA back in 1976, perhaps a bit too tolerant. The team has never advanced to the finals and has reached the conference finals only twice, most recently against the Lakers in 2009, a series that still haunts Nuggets fans.
Denver just about pulled off the unlikely in the first two games in L.A., losing a heartbreaker in Game 1, while walking away with the win in Game 2. Had they buried the Lakers on their home court with victories in both games, they would have been in the driver’s seat with a chance to play Orlando in the finals, a team that the Lakers destroyed. This opportunity would prove to be the closest the Nuggets would ever get to carrying home the hardware in 36 years of basketball in Colorado.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Not to diss the Nuggets over the years; they’ve always been competitive, going back to the Dan Issel, Alex English and Fat Lever days, to the current streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances. The problem with the new-age Nugs is that they’ve been ousted in the first round in eight of those playoff appearances.
So, is the usually laid-back Lawson on to something when he makes such a dauntless prediction about the current state of his team?
He is, and the reason can be summed up in one word – depth.
Denver has more depth than any team in the league right now. With 12 able bodies hitting the hardwood every night, the Nuggets can finally practice what they’ve been preaching for years, and that is to run teams into oblivion in the rarified Colorado air.
General Manager Masai Ujiri has shaped a Denver team forced into shipping Carmelo Anthony to New York at the 2010 trade deadline into a team without a superstar, without egos, and without one-dimensional players incapable of playing on the defensive end of the court.
When teams like Toronto, Cleveland, Salt Lake and, more recently, Orlando, were losing their megastars for little or no compensation, Ujiri was busy stockpiling weapons that would fit into his grand scheme, players that he persuaded the Knicks to part with, like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and Raymond Felton, along with some high draft picks.
Ujiri was just getting started.
He promptly shipped Felton off to Portland to bring back underrated former Nugget Andre Miller to back up Lawson at point guard, and, after watching Nene falter badly last year, Ujiri wasted little time in moving him, too, adding budding star JaVale McGee and more draft picks in the process.
This year, he reshuffled the deck one more time, trading for All-Star and Team USA gold medalist Andre Iguodala. This could be the move that will determine how prophetic Lawson’s declaration really is. I suspect the Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder might have a small say in the matter, too.
The Nugs will kick off their season with a three-game road trip starting on Halloween night, followed by two games against the defending champion Miami Heat in the first two weeks of the season.
By the way, those new uniforms the team will wear for 18 games this year are a thing of beauty. Picture the hideous early ’80s rainbow logo with the current color scheme of powder blue and yellow instead.
Put one on your kids Christmas wish list now, I’m tellin’ ya.
Jeff Sauer is a longtime western Colorado resident and former Roaring Fork Valley resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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