It feels like it’s been a decade since the Denver Nuggets sealed the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed with a franchise record 57 wins.
On April 17, the Nuggets cruised past the bottom-dwelling Phoenix Suns 118-98 behind 21 points from Wilson Chandler and 20 points from Andre Iguodala. That win, the 57th of the regular season, isn’t the one that sealed the Nuggets’ No. 3 seed, but it did mark the end of the greatest regular season in Nuggets history.
How much has changed since then? Quite a lot.
- The Nuggets, despite losing Danilo Gallinari to an ACL tear, were looking at possibly making a deep playoff run. That fantasy was halted when Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors buried the Nuggets with a six-game, 3-point barrage. The Nuggets had their issues in the series: they struggled vastly defending the perimeter, they were vastly out-rebounded and they struggled to shoot efficiently from the perimeter. It’s easy to say that the series wasn’t really an upset after the fact, but all 18 of ESPN’s experts picked the Nuggets.
- The franchise’s front office cornerstone and the league’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, left Denver to return to the Toronto Raptors for the same position. Toronto does feel like home for Ujiri, as he said in Tuesday’s press conference, but $15 million over five years is an intriguing option that can’t be turned down. Especially when the team you were employed by, the organization that you saved in the face of demise, offers you less than half of that. The Raptors also reportedly will also be more lenient paying a luxury tax which gives Ujiri even more flexibility in creating a roster that he wants. That type of flexibility was never given in Denver.
So nothing else can change, right? Well, actually, a lot can change over the next few weeks.
- It’s not plausible but it’s possible that Nuggets head coach George Karl could leave the team for the same position with the Los Angeles Clippers. Karl has one year left on his contract and has expressed interested in signing an extension. But Denver hasn’t confirmed whether they will re-sign the reigning Coach of the Year after next season which gives Karl more incentive to look to take his services elsewhere. According to ESPNLA, Karl is “unsettled” with Ujiri’s departure and could be a candidate for the Clippers who are looking to add a successful, established NBA coach with a lot of experience. Who is more experienced than Karl? I’ll wait.
- There’s also the very real possibility that Andre Iguodala will leave the Nuggets in the free agency period. This will surely anger some of the more fiery fans but it’s completely understandable from Iguodala’s standpoint. Iguodala wants to win a championship. Is his best chance with a team who won’t commit to a front office? Ujiri was an important piece moving forward. He was the type of savvy GM who would make the right moves to put Denver in position to compete for titles. If the ownership can’t commit to him, then how committed are they to actually competing for titles? Iguodala isn’t a dummy. These are the type of things he has to be thinking.
Still, there’s a bright side to all of this. It may sound like I’m writing an obituary but there should be optimism moving forward.
Ty Lawson is a bright young point guard on a favorable contract. Danilo Gallinari, though he may not return until February, is a fantastic two way player and the type of guy you can use on your roster moving forward. Kenneth Faried is a high-energy guy with a winning attitude. His defense leaves a lot to be desired but he’s still young and one has to think he can only get better on that end of the floor. JaVale McGee, for all of his shortcomings, is still a super athletic center who can be used as trade bait, if nothing else. Fournier looked promising in his minutes near the end of the season. Quincy Miller is an interesting prospect and he’s only 20 years old.
What the Nuggets need to do is make the right hire for their general manager position. The right guy will be left with a young roster that just won 57 games, financial flexibility and a No. 27 pick in this year’s draft. That doesn’t sound like a bad way to start your tenure. The sexy pick for GM right now is Pete D’Alessandro.
D’Alessandro has worked for the Nuggets for the last three seasons. Last season was his first as assistant GM. Prior to his stint in Denver, he worked in the Golden State Warriors’ front office from 2004-08. D’Alessandro is well respected in basketball circles for his statistical analysis and knowledge of the salary cap. An in-house promotion is the cleanest option and if D’Alessandro is anything like Ujiri, then the Nuggets will be in great hands moving forward.
As for now, the GM search continues. And there are other options out there. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!, Tommy Sheppard of the Washington Wizards could be a candidate to pop up. Sheppard has spent 10 years with the team and previously worked with the Nuggets Senior Director of Team Services and Player Relations. With the Wizards his responsibilities include salary cap management, contract negotiations, draft preparations, player evaluations and domestic and international scouting. Those are the types of tools needed to become a full time general manager.
Whoever takes the general manager position will be faced with a lot of questions moving forward, but it’s better than it could have been thanks to Ujiri.
Follow @lashy on Twitter.