From December 12th to opening night, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the Denver Nuggets. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.
When I decided to become a full-time blogger, I had to figure out what to do with myself.
I never wanted to be a reporter. I don’t have that desire and I honestly don’t think I would be any good at it. I wanted to be an opinionist. Now, my Microsoft Word spell check is telling me that this isn’t a word, but I’ve always assumed it should be. In the summer of 2007, I created my first website. I had no idea what I was doing. I built it using Dreamweaver software and realized very quickly just how little I knew about anything. There was a lot of trial and error, and if there had been people reading the site for the first year, they would have realized just how over my head everything was. I gave myself five years to get a job doing this. If I couldn’t create a career for myself in writing in five years then I needed to find something else to do.
I persevered on though. Through working a regular 8-5 job and pretending to do work at my desk while I was really just writing about basketball and building my website, I was able to put in a lot of necessary time during the day, in order to have time to watch the games at night. I would wake up at 6am, get to work around 8 (really let’s just say it was closer to 8:45), get my actual work done by 10:30, work on my writing and website for the rest of the day as I maintained my job work, sneak out at 4:50, get home by 6, turn on basketball, watch until 11:30 (TiVo is the best), write until 2am, and then go to sleep.
I did this process for two years. In the summer of 2009, I was asked to join the TrueHoop Network, starting up Cowbell Kingdom as the Kings blogger. It was at this moment that I needed to take a risk. I quit my job. I decided that I would give myself one year, starting in September of 2009, to figure out if I had any realistic chance on getting a job.
When you go from essentially working 18 hours a day to being your own boss of sorts, it’s a very liberating and yet completely vulnerable position. You’re instantly responsible for everything. You don’t know what to do with yourself. You have to be an adult and mature about the decisions with your time. Sure, you want to spend the majority of the day playing Call of Duty or figuring out the best drafting strategy for your Wolves franchise in NBA 2K10, but really you can’t waste the day away pretending you’re on summer vacation in grade school.
You find yourself with bucket loads of free time and have to step back and figure out the next step. I didn’t do that at first. I enjoyed the liberation I was experiencing. I slept in a little longer than my accustomed 6am wakeup time. I wasted a lot of time during the day. I played a lot of video games and finally began my “work day” around 1pm PT. It was really detrimental to my writing process because I was no longer working hard.
After a couple months, I realized I was discarding valuable time that I needed to hone whatever craft I was trying to acquire for myself. The refractory period of revolting from a lifestyle of office work to being pantsless on the couch doing nothing had to end. I needed to move forward.
The Denver Nuggets seem cornered in a similar situation. For months, they had the impending doom of Carmelo Anthony’s free agency grinding them through the season. Maybe they could re-sign him to a contract, since they had his Bird Rights, but there was also a legitimate chance he would walk away during the summer of 2011 and find a new home. They’d be left with nothing.
The tricky part was wondering where this team would be without him. With Melo, they had made the playoffs every year of his career. Opponents and fans perennially regarded him as one of the best players in the league. He was a top selling jersey and signed to the Jordan brand. Getting rid of him before it was officially his decision was a risk they needed to take.
And so they did. They traded him to the Knicks because that’s basically what he told them to do. They complied with his wishes because it was better than potentially calling his bluff and losing him for nothing. In return, they got a plethora of coveted role players. Without the stresses of wondering when the team dynamic was going to change, the Nuggets took off during the second half of the regular season and had the time of their lives.
They were essentially sleeping in, NoobTubing kids in Call of Duty, making afternoon runs to Taco Bell, and just enjoying no longer having the shackles of a daily mental grind. They were now the darlings of the NBA media world, courting fans of other small market teams and showing them there was another way of doing business. There was hope if you had to get rid of your star.
But then the ride was over. They were ousted in a fun THUNDERNUGGETS first round series, half of their team entered into free agency, and all of the cap flexibility and roster versatility was now working against them. The lockout hit and they lost all of their franchise momentum and luster. J.R. Smith went to China with Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin without Liam Neeson to come extract them from a foreign land. Nene became an unrestricted free agent and began flirting with every team in the league that had money to spend.
At the end of the 2010-11 season, the Denver Nuggets were punching opponents in the throat with a point differential uppercut. Now, they’re barely fielding a team that was locked in free agency limbo. They’re no longer running 10 players deep. Assuming they re-sign Arron Afflalo, they’re looking to plug in castoffs from other teams and unheralded rookies in hopes of regaining the momentum this franchise was accumulating before the NBA closed its doors.
It’s not to say they won’t be able to eventually rebuild into a playoff mainstay with this bunch. Nene is still very efficient, Ty Lawson hasn’t gotten any slower, and they have a decent amount of role players who are ready to prove their worth. However, with a fifth of their team and about one-third of their rotation from last year stuck in China, it’s hard to assume this team is going to be anything close to the scrappy team many fell in love with.
The Nuggets’ front office has to step back, realize the free time is over and figure out where they’re taking this new find era in their lives. How are they going to spend their free time building this team? What are their options?
So now what?