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Nuggets First 50 Win Team To Be Swept In First Round

Nuggets are swept.The Denver Nuggets have the honor of being the only second 50 win team in the history of the NBA to be swept in the first round of the playoffs (since the best of seven format began). Here’s what went wrong:

> Bad defensive habits.

The much-maligned Nuggets defense improved in the last year, but not enough to overcome their chronic lack of focus. The Nuggets spent just as much time this season playing bad defense as they did playing good defense. They often played to the level of their competition – like beating a tough San Antonio team twice in Denver, then losing a “must win” game to a young Seattle team during the last week of the season.

> Melo’s lack of maturity.

Carmelo is a tremendous scorer, and he’s becoming an excellent passer and a solid rebounder. Unfortunately, he’s yet to develop into a leader. His meltdown after game 3 in the Lakers-Nuggets series underscored his biggest problem – his lack of maturity. He doesn’t understand that his individual defensive efforts would translate to better team defense. Not to mention his DUI that came the week before the playoffs. He’s the best player – he needs to set the tone.

> Chemistry.

It’s clear from comments made by players and coaches this year that the Nuggets lack chemistry. From George Karl’s lack of emotion (he looks like a man that just doesn’t care anymore), to Allen Iverson’s veiled threat to opt-out last October, to Melo’s obvious disdane for his team following game 3 of the playoffs, it’s easy to see this group hasn’t clicked. Only a major change can fix this problem.

Here’s what the Nuggets have to look forward to:

> More time with George Karl

Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has a tendency to drag out tough decisions. Even if Kroenke is confident it’s time to let Karl go (and it probably is), he’ll find a way to drag it out well into next season. Besides, Karl’s got two more years of contract left. Kroenke doesn’t like to buy out coaches.

> A difficult negotiation with J.R. Smith.

Don’t be shocked if Denver looses J.R. Smith during the off-season. Granted, he played extremely well in the second half of the season, but he’s not going to be worth much more than Sasha Pavlovic money – $4 to $5 million a year. That puts him squarely within many team’s mid-level exception. J.R. is enough of an ego maniac to kill the goose that laid the golden egg (a la Anderson Varejao), so he’s likely to turn down whatever offer the Nuggets produce. For all I know, J.R. might be thinking he’s a max contract type of guy (yes – he’s that delusional).

> Saying goodbye to Eduardo Najera

Based on how the Nuggets season ended, it would have been wise to trade Najera when they had the chance (if only I had a time machine). Najera is a tremendously popular in Dallas, and the Mavericks would gladly bring him on board for the spark he provides off the bench. Even if the Mavs pass on his services, San Antonio, Cleveland, Boston, and Detroit would pay him as much as $3 million a year for his defense and hustle. Najera is as good as gone.

> Trading Marcus Camby, Nene, and/or K-Mart

Denver needs to make a change – someone has got to go. The team needs new blood, and a big off-season trade always has the benefit of changing the dynamics in the locker room. Denver also needs to find a way to bring in some new players without paying out any more money, and that means trades. Aside from Iverson and Carmelo, Denver’s biggest salaries and most trade able pieces are (in order of most valuable trade bait to least valuable) Camby, Nene, and K-Mart. Dumping K-Mart’s contract would be a miracle, so that means Nene and Camby are most likely to be traded. Camby provides defense and rebounding to a team that’s trying to get to the next level, and Nene offers youth and potential to a team that’s looking to rebuild. I would like to see Nene and K-Mart traded for Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal provides defense, scoring, and size, and taking on his contract is no worse than sticking with K-Mart’s contract.

A front court of Camby, O’Neal, and Carmelo would be as formidable as any in the league. Here’s to hoping…

Ballhype: hype it up!

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2. By Melvin on Apr 29, 2008 | Reply

    really seems you hate denver dont you? and they just dont follow my guidelines:
    http://basketballnonsense.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-do-you-stop-black-mamba.html

  3. By busterjonez on Apr 30, 2008 | Reply

    Actually, they aren’t even the first 50 win team to be swept by the Lakers in the first round.

    The year after the Lakers won their first championship, they played a 50 win Portland Trailblazers team and swept them.

    Coach: Mikey Dunleavy

  4. By Anthony on May 7, 2008 | Reply

    Great job on the breakdown. To me the Nuggets slowly but surely are becoming the new Portland Trailblazers with a bunch of talented guys with bad attitudes. That series was a disgrace. The key to defense in the NBA is the team concept and rotation, and being able to defend the pick and rolls. The Nuggets like to say that they have guys like Camby and Iverson who rank highly in certain defensive categories but that means squat. As you pointed out they have poor team chemistry which leads to poor team defense. The best defensive teams in the NBA (a la Boston, Detroit, and San Antonio) all have guys who play well with each other. The Nuggets enjoy one side of the ball (offense) and fall asleep on the other end.

  5. By Chris Iafolla on May 7, 2008 | Reply

    Nice summary JL. Clearly, this Nuggets team is in need of a major trade. The problem is, while offensive firepower might give you 50 wins in the regular season, it alone will never bring a title. As you stated, the Nuggets are good in highly overrated statistical categories. Not to underrate Camby as a shot blocker, but his numbers are a bit inflated because of the horrid defense in front of him. Iverson, sure, he picks up a lot of steals, but he can’t be bothered with on the ball defense. The good news is this team is not far off. Rather than focusing on the big signing, they need to focus on adding the role player types (Kurt Thomas, James Posey, etc..)

  6. By JL on May 8, 2008 | Reply

    Anthony – I hope the Nuggs don’t become the Jailblazers, but who knows…Melo hasn’t been very impressive between throwing sucker punches and DUI’s. Still, he’s young. I think he’s a good enough person.

    Chris – Signing a good role player or two will definitely make a difference. Kurt Thomas would be awesome. I’m thinking they’ll try and get Tyronn Lue. He’s a solid vet that defends and shoots well from the point. He’s not a great PG, but considering how well Steve Blake and Antony Carter have done, I bet he’ll be good enough. Having a decent sized shooter at PG would be huge or Denver’s offense, and a guard that can defend would be bigger.

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