I really liked the Denver Nuggets last season. They were a fun, young, mostly-untested group running the floor chaotically while their opponents wheezed in the mile high air. Denver earned the No. 3 seed in the West, almost never lost at home and did it all while playing one of the most exciting brands of basketball in the league
The Nuggets seemed like a model franchise. The guy who traded Carmelo Anthony won Executive of the Year, and the guy who coached the players Denver got back won Coach of the Year. Sure, they lost to the Warriors in one of the most enjoyable series of the playoffs, but it seemed like there were exciting things ahead for the guys in the garish powder blue and yellows.
Many things have changed four months later. The Nuggets might still make the playoffs in 2014, but this offseason was a disturbing cluster of poor foresight, misfortune and confusing decisions that almost seemed like a concerted effort at franchise deconstruction. The tumult continued Monday when Ty Lawson was arrested, for the second time this year, this time on physical harassment charges. New general manager Tim Connelly and coach Brian Shaw have a lot of work to do to restore the Nuggets to the heights of last season.
Here's a step-by-step look at the Nuggets' failed game of Jenga.
The Nuggets and the Raptors were both vying for Ujiri, and for good reason. He skillfully navigated Anthony's desire to leave his team and held the Knicks hostage for a ransom of talented players that would help make up Denver's core. He capitalized on Orlando's desire to do the same thing to get Dwight Howard by making the Nuggets a part of a four-team trade that netted Denver Andre Iguodala for Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo. As such, he deserved his 2013 Executive of the Year award.
But Denver couldn't keep him, in part because Toronto simply paid more money ($15 million over five years).
It's understandable that teams don't want to pay big bucks for GMs. They're behind the scenes when teams already have enough expenses. Unlike players, there's no predictable career arc. But it's a rare opportunity to spend uncapped money on making your team successful, and there's plenty of bang for the buck.
Instead, Denver watched Ujiri leave at the end of May, and immediately began to pay the price.
Karl was a perfect fit in Denver. He's eminently likable, had his team play fast and, dammit, he's good at coaching basketball! In 24 seasons as an NBA head coach, his squads have made the playoffs 21 times, including all nine in Denver.
And 2013 was arguably his best work: He fashioned his squad into a bunch that won more games than any in Nuggets history and by the end was named Coach of the Year. But it wasn't good enough for management, who weren't sure whether to give him a contract extension in light of another playoff failure. So, they fired him in June.
"I think I called it stupid," he said, recalling his final meeting with Kroenke, the one where he was dismissed after eight and a half seasons. "I think I did say, 'I want you to know I think this is really stupid.'
Shaw's supposedly a great coach in the making after stints under Phil Jackson and Frank Vogel, but they already had one of the best coaches in the league. Now, they have somebody who has never coached an NBA game. Maybe a great move, maybe not.
I didn't mind this one that much. But Koufos seems like the better player -- he's a year younger, a more efficient scorer and much better rebounder. Arthur's a stylistic fit and the team has a glut of centers, so it's not a bad trade from a roster perspective. We'll get to that glut of centers later.
Gobert was a first-round talent. At 7'2 with a 9'7 standing reach, he was dunking all over the French league at 21 years old. Sure, he was a draft-and-stash type player, but they ended up taking Erick Green with the 48th pick, and he'll be playing in Italy this year. So, cash for a worse prospect.
You could say there's nothing Denver could've done -- their five-year, $60 million offer was as lucrative as the Warriors four-year, $48 million offer on a per-year basis. They put the money on the table for Iggy, a defensive ace who took the team to the next level this past year.
But maybe firing the coach who used Iguodala well in his lone season in Denver wasn't the best idea? And the Kings actually did outbid both of them, initially offering $13 million a year. And since the Nuggets had Iguodala's Bird rights, they could have paid him as much as they wanted.
You can't solely pin this on poor management or a desire of Iguodala to change scenery, but his departure happened because of some combination of the two.
On the plus side, Denver spun this into a sign-and-trade that netted them Randy Foye. Wait, what's the plus side again?
Remember that thing I was saying about the Nuggets' having too many big men and trading away one of them to make up for it making a slight talent downgrade acceptable? Then they signed J.J. Hickson.
Well, actually, I like this a lot. I guess my point is, the Nuggets' best move this offseason was SIGNING NATE ROBINSON.
The Nuggets probably won't be bad in 2014. They still have a young core that's easy to enjoy, starting with Lawson when he gets his legal troubles behind in, continuing with Danilo Gallinari once he's healthy again, and Kenneth Faried. But there were so many swings this offseason, and so, so many misses.
And we wonder what the big picture plan is, if there is one.