The Denver Nuggets rose to greet their Tuesday with some of the best NBA news of all – a game against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers was scheduled for that night!
That good cheer turned to dread almost immediately as the tanking Sixers raced out to an early lead on their way to a 105-98 victory over Denver, the Nuggets’ tenth loss in 11 tries. Following that embarrassing loss, the dread likely turned into something even worse as scores of reporters will no doubt ask the players about the most recent comments made by head coach Brian Shaw about the team’s sluggish play.
Shaw has been on his team, and rightfully so, all season for poor defensive play and an overall sense of apathy, but he saved his harshest comments for a post (90 minute) practice and (30 minute) meeting with his players following their embarrassing 22-point Saturday night home loss to an injured Charlotte Hornets team.
Shaw said he suspects his players may be trying to lose.
“It just looks like you almost have to try to lose as bad, and in the way we’ve been losing,” he said. “At that point, something gives. The decision-makers at some point are going to make a decision. And everybody is going to have to live with it. Then it’s out of our control.
“I can’t make the ball go in on the floor. I can’t slide over and take a charge, or slide my feet and keep somebody out of the paint. I can’t do it,” Shaw said.
No, Shaw cannot do that. And it’s become increasingly apparent that the Nuggets have no interest and possibly no ability to do as much consistently, either.
This is a lost roster, and by extension a lost franchise, without direction. At least when Nuggets players rebelled and boycotted a last-second practice called by then-coach Dan Issel midway through the 2000-01 season, the team had assets worth working with. This time around, the team seems to only boast Team USA darling Kenneth Faried (the subject of much of Shaw’s ire) and project rookie big man Jusuf Nurkic.
Nurkic has been fantastic this year, but referring to him as a “project” isn’t a swipe at his game – he is still just 20-years old and has a lot to learn on both ends in ways that don’t involve highlight blocks or dunks. The same goes for Faried, the darling of last year’s Team USA run, as even his offense has taken a step back this season.
JaVale McGee? He’s owed $23.25 million combined this year and next, and he barely plays.
Arron Afflalo? The guy that was supposed to put Denver over the top and back into the playoffs has taken a major step back on both ends.
Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler? The two (active, at least) centerpieces of the 2011 Carmelo Anthony deal are injured and ineffective. In Gallinari’s case, he’s confused.
Ty Lawson? At times limping, at times struggling, at times in trouble with the law to a frightening and dangerous degree.
Timofey Mozgov? The former starting center was dealt to Cleveland for a draft pick, and he might jump center in the NBA Finals this year.
Beyond that, the Nuggets are a wasteland. The team was built to contend for a playoff berth following the exodus that saw coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri flee the franchise after being awarded recognition for being the best at what they did the previous season, and that plan has backfired terribly. Denver entered the season nearly paying luxury tax money for a team that is now boasting a 19-30 record, working some 8.5 games out of the Western playoff bracket.
And with Lawson set to make over $25.6 million over the two seasons following this and McGee ($12 million) and Gallinari (nearly $11.6 million) due eight-figure salaries next year, who is going to line up to take Denver’s mismatched roster out of Colorado?
Worst, it’s not entirely clear if Shaw is just as much to blame. No, this was never going to be a loaded roster, and George Karl’s 57-win turn with the team in 2012-13 had as much to do with mostly pristine health to Danilo, Lawson and others as anything, but he’s failed to create something. Even if we do make excuses for this being an ill-fitting collection of players, the Nuggets routinely take games off.
Shaw, via his comments above and throughout this season, clearly has noticed. How much of that is on him, though?
Denver, unfortunately, has seen plenty of bad basketball over the last quarter-century. At the Nuggies’ worst, though, the team was often entertaining. Even the squad that revolted against Dan Issel in 2001 – with George McCloud whipping assists around and Nick Van Exel playing all Nick Van Exel-y – was fun to watch on its way to a competitive 40-42 record. Those teams were fun, even in defeat.
You can’t say the same thing about this Nuggets squad. Even if the team’s head coach has plenty to say about his team.
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