The Nuggets are in Trouble

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I awoke to news Friday morning that Denver had signed free agent center Timofey Mozgov to a three year deal worth about $14 million, with the third year being a club option. Not a bad deal for a 7’1″ 27 year old, especially in an offseason where Tiago Splitter inked a deal for four years/$36 million. Mozgov, if you forgot about him (don’t worry if you did) was supposedly a linchpin in the mega trade Denver completed with the Knicks that most people remember as “the Carmelo Trade.” Several reports at that time claimed that the Knicks were unwilling to part with the young center and that the Nuggets had no interest in completing a deal that didn’t include him.

Last season, Mozgov only appeared in 41 games, averaging 8.9 minutes, 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds a game.

The Nuggets had a surprisingly good run last season. They finished the regular season with a record of 57-25, a mark that was good enough to secure the three seed in the West. Assembled by mastermind Masai Ujiri and led by NBA Coach of the Year George Karl, the Nuggets ran an uptempo attack that allowed their mile high home court advantage to be a real weapon that people feared heading into the post season. But just before the playoffs kicked off, Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL and Kenneth Faried badly sprained his ankle. Those two injuries made what was one of the deepest teams in the league pretty vulnerable, as the Nuggets were upset by the Golden State Warriors in a series that most people remember as being Stephen Curry’s coming out party. Nuggets fans remember it differently. For them, it was the beginning of the end.

On May 31, reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left the Nuggets for the same job in Toronto. Ujiri’s decision to leave Denver was one that the Wu would sympathize with, as Toronto offered him a 5 year, $15 million contract to turn around basketball north of the border. A week later, after failing to come to an agreement on a contract extension, reigning Coach of the Year George Karl was fired with a year left on his contract. Karl, who had figured out how to create organized chaos on both ends of the floor, fell out of favor with the ownership after getting knocked out of the first round, but perhaps was already on the ropes. Many believe that ownership felt Karl did not give JaVale  McGee, who had just signed a 4 year/$44 million deal, enough opportunity to develop over the course of the season. While I understand why ownership would want to see more from their big investment, we’re talking about JaVale McGee!!

Soon after Karl’s dismissal from the team, ultimate wing defender Andre Iguodala opted out of the final year of his contract. Iggy, while not a player who can carry the scoring load for a team, is one of the most valuable guys in the league as he can guard just about everyone. Iguodala, who may have been motivated to leave after seeing his coach get axed, took a “if you can’t beat em, join em” approach to free agency and joined forces with Curry and the Warriors.

On draft night, the Nuggets decided to remove the player who was impeding on JaVale’s progress by trading starting center Kosta Koufos to the Grizzlies for Darell Arthur, a solid backup power forward, but not a game changing asset in any regards. Koufos, who was set to make $3 million this season (less than what Mozgov just got), was part of the Nuggets most and third most used five man units. His presence will certainly be missed next season.

Backup small forward Corey Brewer left for Minnesota not soon after on a deal that Denver would have been silly to match, but his departure is another blow to the depth of a team that used to have more bodies to throw on the floor than any other team in the league. The Nuggets signed bench scorer Nate Robinson to a cheep deal that will hopefully bring some of the spark to the second unit that Brewer did last year, but a 5’9″ point guard can only have so much impact on the success of a team.

Denver replaced Karl with former Phil Jackson assistant and alleged architect of Indy’s stingy defense Brian Shaw. While many people believe Shaw is ready for his first head coaching gig, it concerns me that he had to interview with so many different clubs before finally being given a chance. While I have no insight into what a team is thinking about during a coaching search, it seems strange that Shaw has seemingly been linked to every job in the past couple of years but was passed over again and again.

The West got better this summer. Golden State, Houston, LAC, New Orleans, and Portland all added pieces to their team that will make them a more formidable foe. San Antonio, Memphis, and OKC didn’t make any notable offseason splashes, but we pretty much know what we’re getting with those squads. The Nuggets, who three months ago looked like a team that would challenge the Western elite for the next several years is suddenly looking like a team that may miss the postseason entirely.

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