The Denver Nuggets had a great season in 2008-2009. After acquiring Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson in early November, the Nuggets started playing like we had hoped they would for a few years. The attitude (and the tattoos) remained, but Denver was focused on winning every night and it showed in the standings. On the strength of star play from Billups, Carmelo Anthony, and Nene, the Nugs equalled San Antonio and Portland’s mark of 54-28 at season’s end. They peaked at the right time, too, as they took care of the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks in five games apiece before running into the juggernaut called the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals. It took an inspired effort from the eventual champions to defeat the Denver Nuggets in six games. The Nuggets went down, yes, but this team is right there.
For a team that’s right there, a team that’s in luxury tax territory, there’s not much to be expected in terms of off-season moves. We’ve seen G.M. Mark Warkentien pull a few strings this summer, though:
1) The acquisition of Ty Lawson, who fell all the way to #18 in the draft. For a team that needed a backup point guard, this is fantastic. Lawson proved he could penetrate at will in the NCAA and should be able to step in as a primary backup right away. He should benefit greatly from the tutelage of Billups, as well.
2) The re-signing of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who became a fan favourite in Denver last season. The five-year deal they gave him is questionable, but the Nugs were determined to keep the hustle guy around. It would be silly to ignore his contributions to the team’s impressive run last season.
3) The acquisition of Arron Afflalo, for nothing more than a late 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft. This could be one of the most underrated moves of the off-season, as it negates the loss of Dahntay Jones, who signed an extremely generous contract to play for the Indiana Pacers this summer. Afflalo should replace, if not improve on Jones’s production from last season, while making less than half of what Jones makes.
4) The acquisition of Malik Allen for spare parts. While Allen is probably not much of a difference-maker, he adds a veteran body to their frontcourt. There is no doubt that Nene, Kenyon Martin, and the Birdman will eat up most of the minutes at the 4 and 5, but if one of them was to go down with an injury, their options were extremely limited. Allen is a guy that can play spot minutes if necessary, and he fills a need that is particularly glaring when you consider how unlikely it seems that Denver will come to an agreement with Linas Kleiza.
None of these moves are comparable to what Cleveland, Orlando, or San Antonio have done this off-season. Denver hasn’t added a superstar; they haven’t made any headline-grabbing trades. This is why this post isn’t as long as some of my others. That’s quite alright, though – the Nuggets are a great team as-is. Are they favourites to reach the conference finals again? It’s too early to tell, but probably not. The Western Conference should be very, very competitive next season. If you liked last year’s Nuggets, though, there’s good news – you’ll be able to watch them play again, with Billups being present at training camp this time. You can safely bet they’ll be back in the playoffs. You can bet, too, that several teams hate the thought of seeing them there. Despite their fairly boring off-season, if these guys catch an Orlando-esque break with the right matchups in April and May, there’s a chance they could still be playing come next June.