FLANNERY: I'm going to say something I haven't said since the halcyon days of Carmelo Anthony in cornrows and something I haven't truly meant since Fat Lever was a god: I am intrigued by the Denver Nuggets. It was only a year ago when we were both like, yo, what are they doing? And a year later, we're beginning to get our answer.
In Nikola Jokic, they have the possibility of a stud center. In Emmanuel Mudiay, they have an exciting, albeit erratic, point guard prospect. There are more rookies like Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley, and more youngsters like Gary Harris. I haven't given up on Jusuf Nurkic, either. These guys can play!
Throw in a healthy Danilo Gallinari (knocks on all the wood) and contributions from some of the veterans they like to keep around, and I can kind of see a playoff dark horse here. This is dumb, right? Tell me I'm dumb.
ZILLER: Paul, I have bad news: I'm not taking the bait.
I am not particularly enamored of the Nuggets. Gallinari and Wilson Chandler always seem to be hurt. (Gallo has played in at least 75 percent of his teams' games once in the past five seasons.) Mudiay wasn't appreciably better than D'Angelo Russell (if at all) last season, right? I mean ... Will Barton is the most reliable Nugget, isn't he? Heavens bless Will Barton, but playoffs? This team won 33 games last season and added rookies, a summer of internal growth, and maybe some health. I don't see 10 more wins in there.
FLANNERY: To be sure, a lot of things would have to break right in their favor. Better health, for one. Bad fortune for some of the teams ahead of them.
But I'm not giving up on this so easily, Ziller. Point guards improve dramatically from Year One, the big guys are legitimately good, and there's a ton of depth on the wing if the veterans break down again. I'm also expecting a decent bump in their defensive execution with a year under Michael Malone.
Give me this, at least: The Nuggets are heading in the right direction. It might not be a straight line, but you can see where they want this to go, yes?
ZILLER: Yes, there is progress. Yet this is also the team that made a major bid for Dwyane Wade. The Nuggets contain multitudes.
I'm particularly excited by Jokic, who looked like the real deal as a rookie. Nurkic, of course, looked like the real deal a year prior, but struggled with injury and a new coach last year. One or both of them should be pretty good this season, and there's always Kenneth Faried. Which is to ask ... what is Kenneth Faried still doing in Denver?
FLANNERY: Takes two to make a trade and there isn't a ton of interest in his services. That could change given that his deal now looks like a relative bargain.
Gallinari is the interesting guy here. We all know about his injury issues, but he's productive as hell when he plays and he's got one year left on his contract before he can opt out. I'd think they could get an awful lot for him, but from what I understand, they haven't really engaged on the idea.
All of that leads to the ultimate question with Denver: Who are they and what are they trying to accomplish? I offer nothing more than my gut on this one, but I'm maintaining my original thesis that the Nuggets could make a legitimate run at a playoff spot. As you've noted throughout this chat, there are perfectly valid and sensible reasons for thinking I'm on my own on this one, but what the hell, I've been wrong before.
ZILLER: I posit that Gallinari is basically a somewhat younger, more efficient but far less reliable and more expensive Rudy Gay. There, I said it. It strikes me as hilarious that so many fans enamored with the idea of trading for Gallinari dry heave at the specter of Gay. If you value reliability — which you should — they aren't all that different.
I think the Nuggets are rebuilding and doing a good job of it. Rebuilding teams in the West don't usually shoot up the charts. It's a tough slog. Maybe Denver is still looking for its No. 1 star; maybe that will be Mudiay within a couple of years. There's a high-potential core developing, plus a bunch of misfit veterans. Malone is trying to find the team's identity. This is all fine. It takes time. The Kroenkes appear willing to let management use that time as long as there's progress. Patience is appropriate and in evidence.
FLANNERY: Damn, Tom.