Amid an unexpectedly humbling summer for the Nuggets and their fans, this week we finally got something a little more majestic. ESPN Magazine‘s annual Body Issue arrived with shots of an unclad and Adonisian Kenneth Faried soaring through the air in a kinetic pose familiar to the Pepsi Center faithful, a reminder of how exciting Faried and his teammates can be.
The photo shoot is a fitting addition to the recent Nuggets coverage, because we’re all feeling a little naked right now. It’s not often that a promising and dynamic team, fresh off a record-setting campaign, jettisons its hall-of-fame coach and lets its award-winning general manager skip town while also failing to re-sign its (stated) top priority free agent. (If anyone has another example of this, I’m all ears.) But that’s where we are.
Now that the Nuggets have let Andre Iguodala fly to Golden State, general manager Tim Connelly and president Josh Kroenke should brace themselves for the backlash, because AI will absolutely thrive in California. However, this is because he’ll be playing alongside otherwordly shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and his game blends perfectly with their skill sets. The Nuggets’ shooters, outside of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, are simply too streaky to take full advantage of AI’s abiilities.
But as much as it might hurt to see Iguodala go in the near term—particularly from a defensive standpoint—committing almost $50 million to a borderline all star (who’s on the down side of borderline) was a move Kroenke and Connelly wisely chose not to make. They were able to get hard-nosed guard Randy Foye in return, so they didn’t walk away with nothing.
The Nuggets also made one of the NBA’s most underrated free-agent moves when they signed JJ Hickson to replace the departed (and underappreciated) Kosta Koufos. Last year, fans clamored for George Karl to give more playing time to the explosive but mercurial JaVale McGee. As tantalizing as his talent and athleticism has been over about 18 minutes per game, no one knows what he’ll do with the other 12 to 15. Don’t be surprised if the workhorse Hickson ends up being one of new coach Brian Shaw’s most trusted big men and difference-makers.
The other problem the Nuggets will have in 2013-14 is that some of their Western Conference counterparts have gotten a whole lot better. In addition to Golden State, the Houston Rockets and LA Clippers each improved significantly; the Spurs, Thunder, and Grizzlies are already good; and the Blazers and T-Wolves will be rejuvenated. (Silver lining: The Nuggets should be able to whup up on the Lakers.)
Perhaps the most recent, albeit imperfect, analogy to the Nuggets’ situation is the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. That team won the World Series, then saw hall-of-fame manager Tony LaRussa step down and let the wildly popular Albert Pujols sign elsewhere. They replaced LaRussa with the bright young mind of Mike Matheny and used the tens of millions they would’ve spent on Pujols on a collection of players that currently owns the best record in baseball. With Shaw, Kroenke, Connelly, and a still-potent lineup, the Nuggets have gotten significantly younger almost overnight. The guess here is that in time, they can be a whole lot better, too.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.