Off season to-do list: Nuggets

The Nuggets are an incredibly confusing team, to say the least. They have incredible talent on the team, but underachieve every single year. Most Denver fans will point to George Karl, but it has less to do with George Karl's coaching than it has to do with the chemistry of the team. There are a few things that the Nuggets could do that does not have to do with cutting George Karl from the head coaching position.

When AI was traded from Philly everyone thought putting him alongside Melo was going to create an unstoppable offensive force. Those predictions were true, and one of the few predictions about the Nuggets that came through. Melo and AI are obviously two incredible players who know how to score. It was sort of strange to hear Melo's name being thrown around in trade rumors. My theory on that is the Nugget's did that to scare Melo after his off-court troubles instead of actually trying to trade him. I have reason to believe that theory, other than the fact that trading for Chauncy Billups would have been a side step for the Nuggets and made them smaller in the front which would have made no sense for the Nuggets. The other name that came up was Rasheed Wallace and if the Nuggets were looking for a player that doesn't have off-court trouble, Wallce probably wasn't the right way to go anyway. Melo is staying in The Mile High City period.

The Nuggets got ousted by the Lakers 4-0. It was a sad reminder that this current Nugget team cannot get this done. A lot has not been said about this, but AI is in the last year of his contract and he is due to make $21.9 million this season. That is an unbelievable trade asset that the Nuggets have. I doubt that something happens before the season starts, but come February, if the right team puts together the right package, AI could be shipped out very quickly. Obviously AI has had a remarkable career, but his aging body has logged a ton of minutes and he has taken more punishment and injuries through his career than some team's starters combined have gone through. He did average 26.4 points, 7 assts, and 2 steals, but those numbers are down from his glory days in Philly. AI is one of the quickest players in the history of the NBA and no one is denying that. The pieces of the Nuggets are the main road block preventing them from doing damage in the Western Conference. The Nuggets could get great value back for AI because keeping him just causes problems. It would be foolish to sign him to another long term contract after this one expires in the summer of 2009 because he is an aging guard and it has not been working thus far. It is time for the Nuggets to part with AI. With AI's $21.9 million salary, a team could put together a very nice package. A team who needs a quick fix short-term fix in the back court, one of the best offensive assets in the league, quickness, toughness, and wants to secure sellouts every night could attempt to acquire his services and might explore trade options. No team immediately comes to mind, but just expect teams to be interested in his expiring contract and expect the Nuggets to listen intently.

The Nuggets seem to lack the strength and mental toughness needed to succeed in the West. AI has the mental and physical toughness and is a good defender, but this is where things get murky for the Nuggets. Outside of AI, it doesn't seem like any of the other players have that. Kenyon Martin made an astronomical salary of $13.2 million in this past season and is due to make $14.1 million in the coming year and it rises about $1.2 million over the next 3 years. This super athletic forward out of Cincinnati has had times where he has performed up to his salary, but not when it counts in the post season. He averaged 12.4 ppg, 6.5 rebs, and 1.2 blks. Those numbers are not terrible, and he was the third highest scoring Nugget by .1 point above J.R Smith, but those numbers are not living up to his salary. His contract is usually for a 20pt/10 reb/2.5 blks type of guy. He is an amazing defensive asset and he has the ability to shut down whoever he is guarding, but his offensive production might be hindered by Melo and AI taking 38 of the teams shots. To Martin's credit he does get a lot of clean up opportunities and shoots the highest field goal percentage on the team at 53.8%. He seemed to crack under the pressure of the playoffs and seems to be a little of a hothead on the court and his emotions dictate how he plays which is a huge liability for any NBA team, but K-Mart is by no means the only Nugget guilty of these flaws.

After Carmelo Anthony was drafted out of Syracuse he was hoped to be the franchise savior for the Nuggets. He has been able to keep them above water for the past few years, but never anywhere near what his 03' draft class buddies Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have done for their franchises since being drafted. The Cavs are consistently at the top of their conference as well as Wade bringing home a championship for Miami. Bosh and Melo have performed up to expectations individually, but have not been surrounded by the right mix of talent to finish the job. Melo is locked up under contract for the next 4 years with a salary that increases from $14.4 million and increases up to $18.5 million until the summer of 2012. This means that the Nuggets have put their franchise on Melo's shoulders and he needs to produce something besides a first round exit or the Nuggets will try and move in a different direction. Melo has been productive in his role as the team's cornerstone. He averaged 25.7 ppg and 7.4 rebs in the past season. The biggest flaw in Melo's game is not going to the rim enough. He too often settles for a mid-range jumpshot instead of using post moves that could utilize his size and strength. He also plays almost no defense which is probably the Nugget's biggest problem as a team.

J.R Smith is exploring different opportunities in different places and may not be in Denver next year. If he does happen to return to Denver he will make $2.3 million and his offensive production will be good enough to justify that contract. Smith needs to go to a new team. His personality is better suited to be on a team of veterans who are proven winners. The first team that comes to mind are the Spurs. Surrounding himself with teammates who can show him how to get to the elite level will be the best thing for his career. He is an incredibly talented player and would be a starter on 80% of teams in the league, but coming off the bench for Denver doesn't allow him to establish a rhythm early and has to rely on streaky shooting in order for him to be effective. His offensive performance against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs will be remembered and teams will be willing to cut big checks for that kind of performance from Smith. If he gets on the right team, his underperforming 12.4ppg average will drastically increase. I have a lot of respect for his game, and he is an undervalued player because of the team he is on. At this point, he is not in a role where he can make the Nuggets a winner, and this may be one area where George Karl's misuse in utilizing his skills to their full capacity may be one area where George Karl has failed in.

The Nuggets collectively play little to no defense which explains why their opponents put in 89.1 field goals a game which is about 5 more field goals than the league average of 84.3 field goals from opponents per game. They have good defensive players on their team like Marcus Camby who was a former defensive player of the year in 2006 and averaged 3.61 blocks this past season. K-Mart is also a solid defensive player and AI has always been quick enough to stay in front of his man, but collectively the Nuggets look confused on defense and are slow on rotation and have terrible weak side help. The Nuggets lack the mental toughness and focus to be an elite team. It was almost every game against the Lakers in the first round that they lost their cool down the stretch when it was tight and their play just went downhill from there.

The squad they have assembled undoubtedly has the talent, on paper, to be one of the best teams in the league, but their constant underachievement implies that there is a problem somewhere. Some point at George Karl, some point at AI and Melo, some point at chemistry, and the list goes on, but it is a combination of all of it. The Nuggets are limited by the salary cap in what they can do this summer. Any movement for them will come via trades. If J.R Smith stays the Nuggets have a salary of $76.9 million dollars which is well above the salary cap. I wish I could say more to what they can and should do, but realistically, improving defensively and mentally are the only things they can do. Roster upgrades cannot come through the free agency period this year and that hurts a team who is constantly battling for the 8th spot in the playoffs every year. They have tried pairing one of the greatest offensive players of all time in Allen Iverson with one of the league's young superstars in Carmelo, but have failed to see any positive results. It may be another long year for Nuggets fans, as they continue to be just as confused by the lack of results as the Nuggets' front office. At this point, all the Nuggets fans can do is cling to the memories of the 90s success and hope this is just a lull in a franchise that is desperate for results.


This is a glimpse of Allen Iverson's workout and strength training program during the season.

Here is a close up look at the new Nike Hyperdunks at the low price of $240, and Kobe was even nice enough to sign a few pairs for those lucky enough to grab them in a releasing in Santa Monica.

Josh Smith got the star treatment in Philly and he could very well be a star there by July 9th.

My cousin and I were wondering who on Team USA was not sponsored by Nike. I named Dwight Howard because I vaguely remembered something about him being sponsored by Adidas. He is in fact sponsored by Adidas and the amazing photoshopers at Nike were able to do a great job at the old 'blackout-the-adidas-logo-in-team-photos' trick.

A friend and I were talking today about how many athletes go broke after they stop playing professionally. Right on cue, Vin Baker's house was filed for foreclosure because he was not able to make the payments on it. Here is a list of Vin Baker, and Lattrell Sprewell and other professional athletes who are in financial trouble.

I don't really know why this is news, but I guess for those incredibly interested in any breath the new rookie class is taking, here is the latest from the Miami Heat's early practices with Michael Beasley.

Picture sources: nbauniverse.com (first), nba.com (second), lakers.topbuzz.com (third), nba.com (fourth), jordanextreme.com (fifth), uk.eurosport.yahoo.com (sixth), espn.com (seventh)


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