-ND: First and foremost, Dino, I would like to thank you for being available for interview. The readers of The Nugg Doctor also thank you in advance. The Denver Nuggets are a very misunderstood team right now, and I think that with your perspective some light can be shed on what this team is all about. Alright, let’s get down to business.
-ND: First off, let’s talk about what is working. What is your opinion about the progression of Nene and how that is going to pan out for the Nuggets in the playoffs, assuming that the Nuggets do make the postseason?
-DC: Well, Earlier in the season he wasn’t impressing me at all. I don’t think he was impressing anyone. I think that his conditioning, and coming off of the knee surgery had a lot to do with it. He wasn’t able to jump and didn’t seem to be very active which I feel was due in large part to coming off the surgery and his continued rehabilitation. But lately, in the last week to ten days, he has seemed to have found himself a little bit and the legs seem to be coming back as he is getting stronger. I like what I am seeing out of Nene. He gives them a very very strong low post option. I don’t think he is a finished player by any means, but I think that he is still a guy that is learning how to play basketball and learning his strengths and his weakness. But, certainly he gives them a guy in the middle that in the event that Marcus Camby goes down for any significant portion of time, Nene should be able to step in there, maybe not to the same degree of success that Marcus has, but he is certainly a different kind of player than Marcus and a guy that is certainly to be reckoned with down low around the basket. And I think that as he continues to get stronger his game is just going to continue to get better. He hasn’t played a lot of basketball in the last few years because he has been banged up and injured, but I think that he’s got a chance to become a very solid NBA player provided he can stay healthy.
I also think that in a lot of the ways I have already talked about he gives them a guy who is not easy to move off the blocks. He is a guy that not a lot of other centers or front court men are going to like to match-up against because he is so strong and he is only going to get stronger. Assuming that he is going to stay healthy from this point forward and until the playoffs in the spring, he is going to be even a more difficult player for any opposition to guard. I like what I am seeing and I hope that he can stay healthy.
-ND: Following up on that, do you think it is wise for the Nuggets to start both Nene and Camby in their front line with Carmelo?
-DC: I think that he gives them an intriguing front court mix. Karl can go with two big guys with Nene and Camby and Carmelo up front and each of those guys brings a different flavor to their game and certainly provides a match-up problem for some opposing front courts. I think that it’s an intriguing line-up and is certainly one that I think that we’ll see more and more of as the season continues to progress forward. And again, this is contingent upon both Marcus and Nene staying healthy.
-ND: Sticking with the topic of starting line-up for a second… I have been calling for what I call the best five for the job to start. My opinion is that AI, J.R., Melo, Nene and Camby should round out the starting five for the Nuggets. If you are the coach of the Nuggets, who do you start and why?
-DC: I like that line-up. I think that the one guy that has had his development retarded a little bit since the arrival of Allen Iverson has been J.R. Smith. He was an eye opener earlier in the season and is still doing some good things. But, I think that’s a line-up there that gives them their best scoring options by getting J.R. in the line-up as often as possible. If you’re going to take J.R. off the bench, I can live with that as well, but I think that what the Nuggets struggle with sometimes is getting off to good starts in the first quarter and then finding themselves later on in the game coming from behind and sometimes this year they have not been able to catch up all the way and go on to win. So if they are not going to start J.R., I would like to see him in earlier in games.
-ND: Carmelo Anthony has been playing the most complete basketball of his young career as of late. Do you feel this trend is a reflection of his maturation process that started this summer in the FIBA games or just a spat of greatness before more one dimensional play resumes?
-DC: No, I give Carmelo the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t think that there is anyone in the Denver sports community that’s been more critical of Carmelo than I’ve been. The reasons why I have been so critical of him in years gone by is I contend that he was not A) a complete basketball player and B) I didn’t see in him the willingness to put in the time, effort, and commitment to become a completely well-rounded basketball player, but I have been very impressed with just about everything that he has done this year. His passing this year has been exceptionable and that is something we didn’t see in his first couple of years in the league. His ability to play unselfish basketball is also something that I have noted. He has also rebounded better this year and he has played more aggressive defense. I think that Carmelo is really pushing himself to get better and better and I am hopeful that we continue to see Carmelo continue on this path because he was a good player before. But he’s got the chance to be a great player and to be a great player you got to be willing to put in the sacrifice to be a great player. I wasn’t so sure that he had that sacrifice in him, but it obvious to me now that he is working on becoming a much more complete basketball player this year.
-ND: Defensively is where the majority of the questions surrounding this team are rooted. With that said, how can the Nuggets toughen up on D with the players that they currently have?
-DC: Listen, I think playing defense is all about the will to want to play defense. My positive commentary about the Nuggets either on the radio or on TV this year have always been after I see the Nuggets play what I consider an aggressive form of defense. They’ve got the players to play defense when they want to play defense. It is just a matter of them committing themselves on the defensive end. I just think that this team needs commit themselves to playing good defense all the time because it has been the initiator and the igniter of everything positive that they have done on the offensive end and if they play consistent defense, if there is a will to play defense and a want to play defense, the Nuggets have enough talent on this team to be a very tough defensively. Certainly I don’t think they are the first, second, or third best team in the Western Conference, but certainly they can be better than the seventh or eight best team in the Western Conference and it’s all in the way they play defense.
-ND: Alright, let’s start talking “what if” with the Denver Nuggets.
-ND: Let’s assume for a second that the Nuggets limp into the playoffs with either the seventh or eighth seed in the West. Who do you think they have a better chance of making noise against, Phoenix or Dallas?
-DC: (Laughs) well, pick your poison ya know? I would probably say that they have a better chance going up against a team like Phoenix, believe it or not. I know they got Amare Stoudemire, but when you have to contend with the inside-outside game of a big man who can run the floor like Dirk Nowitzki that presents them with some problems. Now Phoenix, on the other hand, I’m not convince that the Suns are going to be able to win in the postseason playing the style of basketball that they are playing. They play a style that the Nuggets are more suited for and I think that the Nuggets’ game matches-up better against Phoenix than it does against Dallas. I think that Dallas will give them more problems. Dallas brings up a deeper bench than does Phoenix and listen, they are both going to be tough match-ups and the Nuggets are going to be significant underdogs against either of those teams, but I mean, roll of the dice, if you ask me now which team I think the Nuggets could have more success against it may seem crazy to think so, but I would have to say Phoenix.
-ND: Are the Nuggets capable of moving up any higher in the seeding if they can put all the pieces on the floor in the final thirty games?
-DC: There is a long way to go. It’s not out of the question as I said in my show last night. The Nuggets can go on a significant run here sometime soon, but ultimately it will boil down to if they are healthy post All-Star break and are able to really play their full compliment of players on a consistent basis. I don’t know if they can make it all the way to the five seed, but if they can really go on a tear and hope that some of the other teams drop back a little bit, I wouldn’t be surprised if they go on a tear and win something like 12-15 or 14-18 or something like that because certainly the talent is there. I actually think that this team is going to be a real good team next year with a full season of training camp together under their belt and whatever alterations they may make to their roster during the off-season. I think they are 50 win team next year, and if they are not, there is certainly something very wrong here. However, I know they can be problematic for any team if they can stay together and play together with a full compliment of players and develop some of that cohesion.
-ND: If you had to lay a bet, do the Nuggets make it out of the first round this season, or is it their fourth straight year that they get bounced?
-DC: I think that they are going to get bounced out, I hope I’m wrong, but I think that they are going get bounced out in the first round. Listen, we are assuming that they are going to make the playoffs. And at this point I would be shocked if they didn’t make the post season, but if they didn’t, it would be an utter embarrassment and I think that George Karl should pay for it with his job. Something tells me though that even if they didn’t make the playoffs George Karl would still retain his job, but I guess that is for another conversation (We both laugh).
-ND: Ok Dino, two more and you’re off the hook.
-DC: You got it.
-ND: Regardless of how the Nuggets fare this postseason, once again assuming that they do make it, what are some of the moves, especially concerning the log jam at the four spot with Nene, Kenyon Martin, Najera, and Reggie Evans, that you think should be made this off-season?
-DC: Well, they do have a log jam, as you mentioned, at that position. They can try all that they can do and I don’t think that it’s out of the question that they are done dealing this year. I think that they could make another trade before the trade deadline comes up in a few weeks. They do have a positional problem there because they have so many players that play the position and because of that in a lot of instances the Nuggets are handicapped in their efforts to try and move one of those guys. Other teams know they have got the Nuggets over a barrel in a sense that the Nuggets are wanting to make a trade so bad to free things up in there. I just think that the Nuggets have got to work hard to make prudent basketball decisions that are going to help this team in both the short and long term. It’s not going to be easy, but guys like Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman, and Brent Bearup get paid big money to make those decisions and that’s why I’m not getting the big money they are.
-ND: Finally, do you believe that with the moves made this season, and with any maneuvering this off-season, that the Nuggets are any closer to winning their first NBA championship than they have been in the past or is this just a high-profile team that lacks the goods to take Denver to the promise land?
-DC: Well, I mean, it all remains to be seen. They have got superstar players on this team. When you say Carmelo, when you say The Answer, those are two high-profile guys and you don’t even have to say their last names and people know who you are talking about. Mark Kiszla, a man’s opinion who I respect greatly, has been around this Nuggets team for twenty-some-odd years and he tells me that this is the most talented team he has seen since the early 1980’s. But, listen, it takes more than just sexy names. It takes a team that is willing to be committed to playing unselfish basketball, to work hard, and to be a team that is well-rounded and well coached. From a player’s stand point they have a job to do, from a coaches’ standpoint George Karl and his staff have a job to do, and I am not certain that this is a finished product. I’m not certain that even with this being the most talented team the Nuggets have had, if you want to say that, that this is a team capable of winning a world title because I think that they need to make a couple of moves in the off-season to continue to strengthen this team. So, are they exciting? Yes. Are they compelling? Yes. Can they beat any team in the league on given night? Yes. Are they capable of sustaining a consistent style of basketball that is going to allow them to move through four rounds of post season and win a world title? It remains to be seen. At this point, I think doubtful, but it sure is going to exciting to see what they can do.
ND: Great stuff Dino, once again thank you on behalf of the Nuggets Nation and the readership of The Nugg Doctor for taking the time to talk Nuggets hoops with me.
DC: Thanks to The Nugg Doctor and to all the readers. I wish them a prosperous 2007 and go Nuggets!
If you have liked this interview and want to know more about all that Dino is involved in I encourage you to go to http://www.dinocosta.com/ to get show times, background info, and anything else under the sun that Dino has to offer. It was a pleasure to interview him and I look forward to future meetings with Dino.