The Nuggets Are Lurching Toward All-Star Break

It's the halfway point in the NBA's abbreviated season, so we asked Denver Nuggets blogger Andrew Feinstein to assess the struggling team's year so far and its chances for success in the future.
February 21 2012, 10:20 AM

The Denver Nuggets might have only won four of its 12 games this month—and now finds itself on the edge of a playoff race in an abbreviated NBA season—but Nuggets blogger and Denver Stiffs founder Andrew Feinstein isn’t about to quit on this team. He’s not overly optimistic, though.

At the midpoint of the Nuggets' season, I talked to Feinstein—a fifth-generation Denverite whose site gets 10,000 pageviews each day—about the floundering Nuggets, Nene’s huge offseason contract, and Danilo Gallinari’s future in the Mile High City.

The Nuggets are three games above .500 and are eighth in the Western Division playoff race. Where are you with this team?

I’m not pessimistic or optimistic. We all saw what the Nuggets can do when it’s playing with its full complement of players [15-5 to start the season], which was exciting and fun to watch. But now the team’s best player, Gallinari, is out with an injury. The center, [Timofey] Mozgov, [was] hurt, and now so is Nene. That’s a huge hit. Give me two weeks into March—when Gallinari and Mozgov are both healthy—and then we’ll find out what this team is.

You mentioned Nene. The team re-signed him to a massive contract, but he’s not playing like a $13 million-a-year guy.

He’s more like a $6 million guy right now. He’s frustrating, because you see how he can turn it on—but that’s not always there. Maybe the new contract was too cushy for him. In fairness, there’s not a lot of room to complain about him. The Nene the Nuggets signed is the Nene we all know. Why, in Nene’s 10th season, would people think that he was going to become better than what he’s shown in the previous decade? When you look at [the NBA], he’s not grossly overpaid for what he does, but he’s not inexpensive. He got the $13 million a year for what he is, not what he’ll be—because he’s not going to change. Fans have to understand that and accept that.

When Nene comes back—and if Gallinari and Mozgov are completely healthy—could this team make any moves to contend for a championship? Or could the Nuggets at least compete for a better playoff seed?

I don’t think they make a move. This is such a squirrelly season—it’s only 66 games—and I know the team wanted to use this year to figure out what it had. Who was Gallinari? What could [Ty] Lawson give? Was this going to be the future for the Nuggets? I never saw this team as more than a number three or number four [playoff] seed out of the West this year. Maybe they could get out of the first round of the playoffs, but that was it. That would be a success.

A second-round playoff match up? That’s not very optimistic. Lots of Denver fans had high hopes for this team, especially because of how well it played after the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. If someone’s a naysayer, what are they pointing at?

There are a lot of good players on the Nuggets, but there’s not a single great player. Gallinari might give you 25 points on some games, but he’s going to average 17 for the season. That means he’s getting eight points a night at other times, and that’s not what you need. I think this league has shown that you need a superstar to contend for a championship, and that works against Denver.

Who is Gallinari, then?

He could be an All-Star. He’s not going to be a superstar, though. The footwork and quickness are missing. Look at all the other players he’s often compared to—Kevin Love, Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki. They had the footwork and quickness to be stars. Even without those attributes, Gallinari is still really good, and he’s a big part of this franchise’s future. The interesting thing to watch is whether his injury makes the coaches and fans realize how important he is. If he’s out for another month with his injury, the team can hang around and still get into the playoffs. If he were out for two more months, I’m not sure the Nuggets make it in.

We’re at the second half of this season. What are you looking forward to?

Getting everyone back and healthy. This team has height and depth, and that can go a long way. They have a phenomenal front line. Give the season some time. It’s a little too early to press the panic button.

So where do you see this team’s future in three years?

This is a team that could make a [Western] Conference finals championship as it’s presently constructed—and with [restricted free agent] Wilson Chandler back with the team. I don’t think fans should be dillusional and think this can be a championship team because that’s not how the NBA is set up. In this league, small-market teams can’t compete unless they get a high draft pick and somehow get a generational-type player like LeBron James. What we have in Denver is a team that’s going to win 50 games a year—year after year—but it can’t compete for a championship. If the Nuggets want to win a title, they have two choices: They can fire-bomb the team and hope to get a generational player—which didn’t work for them in the '90s—or we can hope for a dumb-luck draft pick where the Nuggets pick up a phenomenal player in the first round. That’s about it.