This has not been a fun season for Nuggets fans to say the least. Denver finds themselves with a poor record of 27-36 under first year head coach Brian Shaw, and are going to miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade. The Nuggets are pretty much in no man’s land right now, stuck in the 11th seed in the always loaded Western Conference. This team has suffered through multiple injuries this year, losing multiple key players(Gallinari, Robinson, McGee etc…) and really has no clear direction in which they’re headed for the future. It doesn’t help that new general manager Tim Connelly, has shown little to no initiative to improve this roster or make any major moves, to help bolster a somewhat lifeless team this season.
The Nuggets find themselves with the same problem as many other teams in the NBA are facing right now, they have no identity. A big reason for that is that they have a roster full of solid, role players…that’s it. There is no franchise cornerstone in place, to build a team around. Many fans are hoping that the team tanks even harder or that the Knicks continue to struggle, so that Denver can have a high pick in this year’s highly touted draft. Personally, I would love to see the Nuggets somehow get a top five or even seven pick and get a player like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon. However, there is always a good chance that whatever player Denver drafts won’t end up being some franchise changing star and that they won’t even end up with a top five pick.
One of the teams I think the Nuggets could look to follow in terms of there rebuild, is the Houston Rockets. Like Denver, Houston suffered a roster over-haul recently when they lost both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Much like the Nuggets did when they traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, Houston acquired multiple assets when they traded McGrady in 2010 to New York. The Rockets went on to miss the playoffs the next three seasons but, stayed competitive compiling a record of 119-111 during that span. Houston ended up landing a gem in drafting forward Chandler Parsons in 2011 and acquiring four first round picks in 2012. The Rockets eventually flipped three of those first rounders and guard Kevin Martin to Oklahoma City for budding star James Harden in 2012. Houston had finally found there franchise cornerstone and Harden didn’t disappoint, when given the chance to be the go to guy. Harden averaged 26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game, was selected to his first All-Star game appearance, and led Houston to there first playoff birth in three seasons. Now with a young All-Star at the helm the Rockets were a contender on the rise and the following summer Houston went on to sign All-Star center Dwight Howard, forming one of the best duo’s in basketball. The Rockets now sit at 44-20 and are a legitimate title contender for the forseable future.
The Rockets showed that you don’t have to be horrible for five years and tank to become a legitimate contender. Houston was able to rebuild there team quickly, by making smart financial trades, acquiring draft picks and being aggressive. They showed that you don’t have to get the #1 pick to re-build your team and this is a formula, I think Denver should utilize in rebuilding there team. The Nuggets have plenty of tradable, attractive assets just as Houston did in 2012. The Nuggets have young players on cap-friendly contracts such as Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, Quincy Miller, Timofey Mozgov and Kenneth Faried. Plus the fact that they have the Knicks first round picks in this years draft and in 2016, gives the Nuggets flexibility to be aggressive.
The Nuggets could pair any of those two or three players I mentioned, plus those first round picks to compile a attractive trade package for some team. Like Houston did with Harden, Denver should target a budding young star and build around that player. Two potential targets for the Nuggets in this case should be, Golden State guard Klay Thompson and Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins. Thompson would be a great fit here and flourish under Brian Shaw in my opinion. The 24 year old guard is averaging 18 points per game this season and shooting 41% from the three point line since entering the league. In Golden State, Thompson is relegated as the third option and takes a backseat to Stephen Curry and David Lee. In Denver, Thompson would be the featured option in Shaw’s system and create a phenomenal running mate in the backcourt for Ty Lawson. Thompson could blossom as a scorer and defender under Shaw, while being the piece Denver can finally build around.
Cousins on the other hand would be the riskier and less likely option of the two. The fourth year center has been a force since entering the NBA, averaging 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and a block per game for his career. This season he’s posting career highs in points(22.4), rebounds(11.6), assists(2.9), minutes(32.1) and field goal percentage(49%). Many pundits have questioned Cousins maturity and leadership ability, as he’s seen his fair share of on and off the court issues. However I think Shaw could help the big man grow and challenge him on his maturity issues. Cousins has been stuck in a wasteland in Sacramento and getting a fresh start is what he could need. Cousins would give the Nuggets a low-post presence that they’ve been missing for years and even allow Shaw to integrate more of the triangle into the offense, as Cousins possesses a good jump shot and the passing skills to flourish in Shaw’s system.
Now all this of course is hypothetical thinking and more than likely, not gonna happen. It’s another option though, that the Nuggets and there fans should look to in terms of what the team could do to take that next step to becoming a contender. Tanking and hoping for a top three pick isn’t the only hope for Denver fan’s, the Houston Rockets have showed another blueprint that the Nuggets could utilize for a great turnaround.