Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Players acquired via draft:
When you spend $162 million on only three players in one offseason, you’re generally making a commitment to those as core players. Denver did this last offseason with Nene, Carmelo Anthony and Reggie Evans, investing in two power forwards despite also having the massive contract of Kenyon Martin firmly entrenched at the position, as well as Joe Smith and Eduardo Najera on hand to stand around looking sheepish.
When you then trade your only significant expiring contract and both first-rounders this season (and Andre Miller) for soon-to-be-fading star Allen Iverson, you’re making a subsequent commitment to go for it all with what you have. You’re foregoing the few assets you have, placing yourself deep into luxury tax territory to try and put your team over the top.
It’s noble. And they could not realistically turn down the Iverson deal because of the small price tag. But, in the short-term at least, it hasn’t really worked.
Denver hasn’t had their shooting guard position solved for a number of years. The days of the Kiki Vanderweghe era saw such greats as Predrag Savovic and Vincent Yarborough blemish the position, and while Vanderwghe did pursue a number of options to fill the position (ranging from Manu Ginobili to Clyde Drexler, of all people), the best he could manage was a brief flirtation with Voshon Lenard. New GM Mark Warkentein picked up The Prodigy Formerly Known As J.R. Smith from Chicago as a potential solution to the problem, but all that brought Denver was a tidal wave of emotions: from amusing highs (a career-high 37 points vs Chicago) to some severe lows (being benched for stupidity during the playoffs, being called out by his coach, his friend’s death in a car accident). And the two-headed monster of Yakhouba Diawara and Von Wafer isn’t getting it done.
You would think that trading for Allen Iverson, one of the finest scoring guards of all time and still at the peak at his game, would solve the problem. Yet Denver is currently experiencing what Philadelphia had to figure out for all those years: it’s all right having Allen Iverson, but who do you put alongside him?
Iverson and Steve Blake made for an effective offensive pairing for their brief time together last season, with Blake’s pass-first nature complimenting the pass-last style of Iverson, and with Blake’s jump shot making a brief return after a half season away. But defensively, the duo combined to give Marcus Camby his inaugural Defensive Player of the Year award, unable to keep anybody in front of them and without the height to in any way trouble shooters.
So what did the Nuggets do to rectify this?
They lost Blake to Portland, and replaced him with the aptly named 5’11 Chucky Atkins, a man with Iverson-like ambitions but with Chucky Atkins-like ability.
Brilliant. There’s the needed compliment right there.
In their only other offseason move of note, Denver made another trade with Philadelphia (note to all GM’s out there – they’re onto something here. It’s good to trade with Philadelphia), swapping 85th-string power forward Evans (by the way, why did they pay their fourth stringer that much?) for Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones. Jones, should he make the roster, adds little of value, but he does have an unguaranteed contract, which could turn out to be a nice saving for a team mired deep into luxury tax territory. And Hunter, if nothing else, is a man capable of playing the centre position, even if he does play it only occasionally while rebounding without due care and attention. More importantly, they save on a year of salary, even if that saving is three years down the road. Every little helps, and all that.
It would be nice if I was able to open this stanza with a comment along the lines of “A lot depends on whether star Kenyon Martin can bounce back from injury and finally fully realise his potential”. But I can’t. Because it’s not happening. Not only is Kenyon Martin not a star, but he’s also not getting back to where he was – microfracture surgery in each knee can do that to a man. A player who relied almost exclusively on explosiveness isn’t much good when you take that explosiveness away. If Martin can return as a rebounding role player, he can help the team. But if he doesn’t, he’s just dead weight. Very expensive dead weight, at that.
Still, only four years and $60 million to go.
Being without Martin didn’t hinder the Nuggets on-court progress, though, as Nene had something of a breakout season last year. Given a six-year, $60 million contract despite only having played three whole minutes the previous season – bad business that they’ve gotten away with so far – Nene performed well, putting up 12 points and 7 rebounds in only 26 minutes a game, while providing good interior post defence. The pairing of he and DPOY-winner Camby went some ways to counteracting the Nuggets’ porous perimeter defence, while also making for a decent offensive pairing.
If nothing else, the Nuggets can boast a starting line-up of Camby/Nene/Anthony/Iverson/whoever, one of the league’s most talented line-ups out there. Who the “whoever” is going to be, though, remains a concern. If it’s Atkins, they have problems – the man is a bench scorer, pure and simple. If it’s J.R. Smith, they have problems – the man is a liability, pure and simple. If it’s Yakhouba Diawara, they have problems – the man is not very good, pure and simple. And if it’s someone else, I’ll be amazed.
More important than who the fifth starter is, though, is the age-old question of whether Iverson and Anthony can co-exist (and by “age-old”, I mean “nine month-old”). This question was never definitely answered last year, and it’s the key to Denver’s entire future.
If they can co-exist effectively, and if the team stays reasonably healthy (they’ll never be truly healthy while they have Iverson, Camby and Martin, but, you know) they could drag a Denver team into a position to surprise a few people, winning homecourt advantage and maybe making some inroads in the playoffs.
But if they don’t bring the best out of each other, and if the Nuggets have their usual woe with injuries or worse, then this Nuggets franchise is again looking at a low playoff seed and a first round exit. And at that point, they’re possibly a season away from losing Iverson and starting again.
With a youth movement currently consisting of J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza, they could do with avoiding that kind of mediocrity.
(Well, and Carmelo. He’s useful, I guess.)