Digging for Gold

With a new coach, a new front office, and at least four promising new players, the Nuggets’ 2013–14 season is certain to be a roller coaster ride of transition. We mined the history books and picked the brains of local analysts—and of the Nuggets’ new coach himself—to give you an insider’s look at the franchise’s past, present, and future. 

October 2013

Table of Contents:

Bouncing Back

When the 2012–13 Nuggets followed their NBA franchise-record 57-win season with a long playoff run, fans couldn’t wait to see what coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri would cook up next for the budding Western Conference powerhouse.

That’s how a 2013–14 Nuggets preview might have started if not for the series of unanticipated changes, setbacks, and regrettable behavior that defined our team’s spring and summer. First, the white-hot Warriors ran the Nuggets out of the proverbial gym in April. The upset, in part, cost Karl his job, and Ujiri soon followed him out the door. When the team’s top free agent, Andre Iguodala, defected to Golden State, sports outlets far and wide dubbed Denver one of the offseason’s unqualified “losers.”

Are the naysayers right? True, Karl was last year’s NBA Coach of the Year and is a likely hall-of-famer. Yes, Ujiri was the 2012 Executive of the Year and is a rising front-office star. Yes, replacing AI’s defense and all-around play will be difficult. And yes, the tough Western Conference—especially the Clippers, Rockets, Wolves, and Blazers—has become considerably tougher.

But before we spiral into freak-out mode, let’s take a closer look at the Nuggets’ new roster. No one they have now can defend like Iguodala; the holdovers might not even be as good on D as the also-gone Corey Brewer. However, neither Iguodala nor Brewer could shoot. At all. (The pair barely hit 30 percent of their almost 600 attempted three-pointers, an unconscionable display of bricklaying.) In new guards Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, the Nuggets have far superior gunners from both three-point land and the free-throw line. In tandem with Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, the developing Evan Fournier, and (eventually, when he recovers from his knee injury) Danilo Gallinari—accomplished shooters all—the Nuggets’ wingmen should be far more efficient than last year’s group.

Down low, the team will be even more gritty and athletic: Scrappy newcomer J.J. Hickson will back up Kenneth Faried, and the electric JaVale McGee finally gets his long-clamored-for chance to take starter minutes from the departed (and leaden) Kosta Koufos. McGee will be a wild card until we figure out whether his—let’s say, offbeat—noodle can catch up to his incredible physical gifts. (In 2012, buzzfeed.com affectionately named him the NBA’s weirdest player.) Overseeing this revamped unit will be first-time head coach Brian Shaw, who’s long been considered one of the brightest young minds in basketball. That the Nuggets were the team to finally give him his chance isn’t just an overdue move—it should be considered a coup.

We’re not suggesting the Nuggets will match last year’s 57 wins. But with its core intact (and the anticipation of Gallinari’s return, rumored to be around the end of December), something in the range of 42 to 48 wins and a playoff berth seem possible. And if Shaw can coax mental and physical excellence from this youthful squad of explosive athletes, the Nuggets’ next era could be pure gold.