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Competition Discussion: Denver Nuggets

The season is still two months away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Denver.

Last year's record: 50-32

In: Chris Anderson, Renaldo Balkman, Dahntay Jones
Out: Marcus Camby, Eduardo Najera

Projected starting lineup: Anthony Carter, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene.

Key themes:

  • Can George Karl regain control of this club?
  • Can the defense approach the level it played at early in the season, or was its collapse in the last four months indicative of how it'll play this season?
  • How do they replace Marcus Camby?  Better yet, how will the players react to how he was basically given away?
  • Can J.R. Smith continue to improve?
  • If they start to struggle, what happens to Allen Iverson, as he's in the final year of his contract?
  • Carmelo Anthony improved his rebounding last year, but it came at a cost to his defense and scoring efficiency.  Can he become a more complete player?
  • Can Nene and Kenyon Martin stay healthy and effective?

Back in the saddle with the Nuggets today.  Something about a Gilbert Arenas injury got me sidetracked.

As odd as last season was for the Nuggets, people forget they still managed to win 50 games.  That's hardly a major accomplishment, because they expected more with Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, but it was still a five-game improvement.  Matter of fact, the franchise hasn't won that many games since 1988.  But because of the strength of the West, the weight of expectations and the playoff sweep to the Lakers, last season becomes a major letdown.

Because of last season, the Nuggets are cutting costs and beginning the rebuilding process.  At least I think they are, because how else do you explain the Marcus Camby trade?  Sure, they saved a ton of money, but couldn't they at least have gotten somebody young and promising in return?  To the Nuggets' credit, they made a shrewd trade with the Knicks to get Renaldo Balkman, but they surely could have done more. 

The thing is, Camby is overrated on the court, as Pickaxe and Roll loves to say.  He looks like a great defender, but only because he picks up a lot of blocks and rebounds.  He never is assigned to the opposing teams' best big man because he is so skinny and undisciplined.  He's terrible at covering pick and rolls, allowing perimeter players tons of open looks.  Offensively, he shoots too many jumpers and can't finish around the rim.  In terms of his tangible impact, I don't think Denver will miss him much.

The problem I see with trading Camby for nothing is that it'll tear apart this fragile team mentally.  Even with tons of expectations, this team didn't play hard at all last season.  Now that management has dumped an incredibly popular player for nothing, what incentive do the players have to work hard?  They could easily play the "management doesn't care anyway" card and go completely in the tank.  Add in the situation with Allen Iverson -- they were right to not give him an extension, but he probably isn't too enthused about it -- and the problems with George Karl, and I could easily see these guys completely self-destructing.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  The Nuggets certainly aren't better, but they should at least be in the mix for the 8th spot in the playoffs.  I see them falling short, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the exact same playoff finish this season.

Prediction: 43-39, third in Northwest, ninth in West

Previously (predictions are me/Jake/Truth)...