At first glance, one would venture to say that Denver’s roster is stacked! Carmelo, AI, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year-Marcus Camby, Nene, and former All-Star Kenyon Martin have all carved out their respective places in the NBA. Denver also has a budding talent in the form of Linas Kleiza, an All-World hustle player in Eduardo Najera, and a new sharp-shooting point guard in Chucky Atkins, but never has a single one of the aforementioned been able to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy. In fact, not a single player on the roster has. So, could this be the year that Denver finally brings it home?
Two things are going to dictate how far the Nuggets travel in the 2007-08 campaign. The first is team chemistry. If the Nuggets can find a way for their players to work together, while also achieving the individual accolades, they will surely go deep into the playoffs. Remember, if the spirit of the late Wilt Chamberlain doesn’t possess Kobe Bryant last March it was Carmelo Anthony who would have probably won the NBA scoring title. In addition to this, the Nuggets added a future HOFer and former scoring champion in Allen Iverson midseason, along with other less notable roster shake-ups, and the Nuggets just never really found a way to ideally mesh all their talent. Furthermore, losing Kenyon Martin for the season after the first two great games he played, and Nene needing to lose some weight after returning from his own season-ending injury and you can start to see just how pivotal this year’s team chemistry is going to be.
Equally important for this year’s Nuggets is to not get bitten by the injury bug. For too many seasons now the Nuggets have had an intricate part of their squad go down in their first handful of games. Vashon Leonard, Nene, and Kenyon Martin (twice) are just a few of the Nuggets in recent memory to become seriously hurt in the infancy of a season, not to mention names like LaPhonso Ellis and Calvin Natt come to mind from Denver rosters from further back in the history books. I’m also looking in the direction of Marcus Camby, who has always had his ups and downs with injuries, despite playing in 70 games (second highest total number of regular season games in his career) last year. In summary, Denver has historically been a hotbed for injured NBA players and the Nuggets can ill-afford this trend to continue if they are going to become a team of destiny.
So, aside from those two biggest contingents facing the Denver Nuggets, this team is a solid ten deep. The starting five of Chucky Atkins (14.2 points and 4.6 assists), Allen Iverson (24.8 points, 7.2 assists, and three rebounds), Carmelo Anthony (28.9 points, six rebounds, and 3.8 assists), Nene (12.2 points and seven rebounds), and Marcus Camby (11.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 3.2 assists) can match up offensively with anyone in the league. Denver then has the five of J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera, Kenyon Martin, and the newly acquired seven-footer Steven Hunter all ready to spring off George Karl‘s bench. Round out the roster with a young defensive specialist like Yakhouba Diawara and an offensive specialist like Von “Nilla” Wafer and you can see why the expectations are so lofty in the Mile High City.
Finally, building off their regular season record of 45-37 last year and their frustrating/familiar first round exit in the playoffs, the Nuggets need to take the good and separate the bad to take this franchise further than ever before. Individually speaking, George Karl needs to stop coaching through the media, Carmelo needs to rebound more, AI would benefit this team greatly by having less turnovers, Camby, Nene, and Martin all need to stay healthy, J.R. Smith needs to improve his shot selection, Atkins needs to act as a supercharged motor on the fast break, and Linas, Eduardo, and Steven Hunter all need to find their niche for this team to improve. Otherwise, the team with the third highest payroll in the league, a team of destiny if you will, could become a team of disappointment real quick! And by disappointment I mean just barely being better than .500, limping into the playoff picture with a low seed, and consequentially being bounced in the first round yet again while having to suspend one of their pivotal players.
Destiny or disappointment, Denver. What is it going to be?